Monday, May 14, 2007
you should never have opened that door:
If the dominant U.S. interest in Iraq is the suppression of al-Qaeda, Harith al-Dari's denunciation of the Qaeda-sponsored Islamic State of Iraq to Bobby Ghosh of Time is profoundly important. al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a premier locus of Sunni rejectionism, is one of the most important men in Iraq. The ISI should have never capped his nephew. Earlier this month, al-Dari called on bin Laden himself to reconcile the ISI with anti-al-Qaeda Sunnis, and bitterly denounced U.S.-complicit anti-al Qaeda Sunnis like Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi. Since the killing of Zarqawi, al-Qaeda in Iraq has almost systematically dismantled its connections with the Sunni insurgency out of a desire to control it -- and this is despite putting ever more of an Iraqi face on its operations. The evidence just keeps accumulating that al-Qaeda can miscalculate even worse than the United States, which gives the U.S. a chance to mitigate the Iraq misadventure somewhat.


Increasingly, it's possible to classify the Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere into two categories, which are admittedly reductionist and imprecise: U.S.-complicit, anti-al Qaeda Sunnis, like these guys profiled by Eli today; and anti-U.S. anti-Maliki anti-al Qaeda insurgents, like the "Reform and Jihad Front" (via Abu Aardvark). al-Dari clearly falls in the latter category. At some point these two groups are going to vie for power, if they're not already: al-Dari and the RJF reject al-Q in part for its usurpation of resistance against the U.S., so there's little reason to believe they can peacefully coexist with men like al-Rishawi, whom they view as a collaborator. And all things being equal, the U.S. should side with those willing to side with it against those who'd prefer to kill U.S. troops and civilians.

But what if the RJF faction is stronger than the al-Rishawi/Anbar Salvation Council faction? In other words, what if the destruction of al-Q is more than al-Rishawi can provide? I won't pretend to be able to adjudicate the relative strengths of each movement, but it at least seems likely that the latter faction is the one with more ex-Baathist military officials in it, which speaks to its relative competence as a force. If that is indeed the way it shakes out, then the U.S. will need to find a modus vivendi with people who clearly will never accept Shiite rule. al-Dari:
Al-Dari also remains inflexible in his hatred of the al-Maliki government, which he accuses of "serving foreign masters" — a reference to the close ties of leading Shi'ite politicians to Iran.
The RJF:
The RJF’s goals are to “fight all kind of occupations” (that is, American and Iranian) and to “make Iraq an Islamic State and guarantee its unity under an Islamic flag.” The RJF has also vowed to “target occupation forces and their agents and not civilians” to “promote moderate Islam and denounce all parties which do not differentiate between good and evil” to “abolish all decisions adopted by the American government including de-Baathification” and “to work to release all prisoners.” The RJF announced that they will never recognize the al-Maliki government and that upon taking power they will abolish the current constitution.
If al-Rishawi can deliver on everything he says -- dismantling al-Qaeda in Iraq, giving Maliki at least a listen -- then the point is moot. But if not, then the U.S. will find itself needing to choose between which of its reduced-tier goal for Iraq is the imperative: to deny al-Qaeda a base of operations or to foster an Iraqi state. Add into the mix that there's a significant propaganda value to pointing to a credible insurgent operation that hates the U.S. and still rejects al-Qaeda -- and rejects them violent and successfully.
--Spencer Ackerman