Some Insurgents Are Asking Iraq for Negotiations
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s national reconciliation plan, featuring a limited offer of amnesty to certain insurgents and prisoners, represents a profoundly advantageous strategy (now in embryonic broad conceptual goals) to combat the insurgency, temper and heal sectarian conflict, and build a sustainable peace in Iraq . However, major questions and tests remain surrounding the viability and actual efficacy of the plan. The language of the amnesty offer to insurgents and prisoners is vague. The intention is likely to provide flexibility in its application to those insurgent groups with largely nationalist and Sunni political empowerment motivations. Groups specifically excluded from amnesty are those associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq and Hussein loyalists?camps widely regarded as both the most politically-ideologically irreconcilable and the most violent. The amnesty seems to be targeting the more politically-ideologically moderate majority of the insurgency who are fighting for national liberation and Sunni insurgents who seek communal political empowerment and defense against a perceived menacing Shia-dominated government and Shia sectarian militias. Efforts to engage insurgents with political warfare and persuasion to abandon violence remain key instruments of an advantageous counterinsurgency strategy. However, it is important that the reconciliation and amnesty plan, if it is to gain traction, must demonstrate early on its viability and credibility. Some Sunni representatives have expressed disappointment with the government for not offering a definitive timetable for the withdrawal of US forces, a key interest of nationalists and many Sunni insurgents. Further, the government must demonstrate a willingness to engage the more violent insurgent elements not within the al-Qaeda and loyalist camps in an effort to move them away from hardcore insurgency. It remains critical that the full range of instruments and strategies of coercive engagement?amnesty, brokered ceasefires, political warfare, social welfare initiatives, military direct action?be utilized in a synergistic and holistic campaign to sap the militant motivations, fighting ranks, and societal support. The reconciliation plan may already be gaining a certain degree of traction with the insurgency. According Hassan al-Suneid, a legislator who belongs to the conservative Shiite Islamic Dawa Party, Sunni groups have already approached the government to negotiate. There are indications that as many as seven insurgent groups, reportedly mostly nationalist groups who have not attacked Iraqis, have signaled a willingness to negotiate. The New York Times reported that “In an earlier interview?with The Associated Press, Mr. Suneid, the Shiite legislator, did name six of the seven groups who he said had approached the government. They were the Al Ashreen Brigades, the Army of Muhammad, the Heroes of Iraq, the 9th of April Group, Al Fatah Brigades and the Brigades of the General Command of the Armed Forces?” While al-Maliki’s reconciliation plan could be an advantageous step forward for the government’s counterinsurgency efforts, of arguably greater importance to Iraq’s security and stability will be the efficacy of the plan’s strategies to convince the sectarian militias to disarm and demobilize and the processes by which the government will attempt to heal the ever-widening sectarian divide. The implementation of aspects of the al-Maliki government’s reconciliation plan in the coming weeks?and particularly the mechanisms to engage the insurgents and demobilize the sectarian militias?should provide trenchant indicators into the long-term efficacy, traction, and liabilities of the plan and the revisions necessary to achieve its goals.