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Negotiations Now!

Posted By Justin Raimondo On June 30, 2004 @ 12:00 am In Uncategorized | No Comments

It’s summer vacation time!

Yeah, one whole weekend of it. Oh well, it’s better than nothing.

I was going to write about how the Green Party’s vice presidential candidate isn’t even sure she’s going to vote for herself, but, suddenly, a wave of ennui swept over me, and I decided that vacationing would be the better part of valor, or something to that effect.

In any case, I’ll be back on Monday.


The Iraq war always had a Seinfeldian air about it: it was, and is, a war about nothing – fought over nonexistent WMD, and a non-threat posed by a regime that had no links to 9/11, ending in a non-victorious “victory.” The latest non-event to not really occur is the much-anticipated “handover” of sovereignty to the new “interim” government – a furtively unceremonious ceremony carried out two days earlier than scheduled in order to forestall any trouble, with all of six people in attendance.

Everything about this war is a lie, or an illusion, including the “sovereignty” of a nation occupied by foreign troops and still bound by former Viceroy Paul Bremer’s edicts. The phantom pseudo-”government” is merely the U.S. military hiding behind an Iraqi mask. When George W. Bush took office, we were assured that now “the adults are in charge,” but there is something oddly childish about all these pretenses: it reminds me of my little nephew playing peek-a-boo, who really believes he’s invisible when he puts his hands in front of his face.

But the Bush administration is going to have to face reality sooner or later, and they might as well start now. After all, what have they got to lose? The majority of Iraqis already hate their guts, and their handpicked puppets can hardly step out of their fortified compounds without being assassinated. Short of withdrawing altogether, there is very little the administration can do except hope the American casualty count doesn’t reach 1,000 too close to election day. We can’t leave, or so the conventional wisdom would have it, and we can’t stay. It’s the very definition of a quagmire.

However, there is one step Washington could take – short of coming to its collective senses, cutting our losses, and getting the heck out – that would reduce casualties on both sides. It would also take the heat off the administration politically, and pave the way for some minimal level of security, without which no real handover of sovereignty is ever going to occur. As Fareed Zakaria, who supported the war, suggests, we could start talking to the insurgents.

Zakaria’s idea is for Iyad Allawi to do the talking, but that is unlikely: instead of calling for negotiations, Allawi is trying to live up to his reputation as a tough guy, and has vowed to crush the insurgency. But the new Saddam has no Republican Guard to enforce his will, and no army capable of controlling his own capital city, let alone the entire country. The hollowness of Allawi’s threat only underscores his utter irrelevance. No matter how many schoolboyish notes Dubya passes to Donald Rumsfeld, everybody knows who holds the reins of power in Iraq.

Forget Allawi. The U.S. needs to negotiate with the insurgents directly, and an opening to begin doing so exists in the widespread hostile reaction to the recent terrorist attacks that killed over 100, almost all Iraqis.

From the moment resistance to the occupation began to manifest itself, the Pentagon has been telling us that it’s the work of Saddam’s “dead-enders,” and mysterious “foreign fighters” vaguely allied with Al Qaeda. But now the real anti-occupation forces are up in arms about these foreigners, as the Washington Post reports:

“Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.

“The objections – from anti-U.S. Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders, including rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters in the embattled city of Fallujah – arose in part from revulsion at the fact that victims of the car bombings and guerrilla assaults in six cities and towns Thursday were overwhelmingly Iraqis. But they also betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the fight against U.S. occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi … Friday’s show of disgust – expressed in mosques and, in Sadr’s case, with fliers calling for cooperation with Iraqi police – marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the insurgency, for which Zarqawi has increasingly asserted responsibility.”

Foreign terrorists are killing Iraqis at an alarming rate, and the insurgents must respond to this, or else lose popular support. This opens up a window of opportunity for the U.S. to achieve its ostensible goals: establish order, win Iraqi cooperation, and pave the way for democracy. Sadr’s militia has offered to fight the foreign terrorists, and the other Muslim militias are at the beck and call of clerics like the influential Sunni cleric Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, who railed at Zarqawi:

“Which religion allows anyone to kill more than 100 Iraqis, destroy 100 families and destroy 100 houses?” raged Samarrae in his sermon. “Who says so? Who are those people who do this? Where did they come from? . . . It is a conspiracy to defame the reputation of the Iraqi resistance by wearing its dress and using its name falsely. These people hurt the Iraqis and Iraq, giving the occupier an excuse to stay longer.”

The resistance in Fallujah was so eager to distance itself from Zarqawi that they held a news conference, standing in front of reporters reading a statement that said, in part:

“The American invader forces claim that Zarqawi, and with him a group of Arab fighters, are in our city. We know that this talk about Zarqawi and the fighters is a game that the American invader forces are playing to strike Islam and Muslims in the city of mosques, steadfast Fallujah.”

The Sadrists, Samarrae’s followers, and Fallujah’s fighters all spoke with one voice, differentiating “the true resistance” from foreign intruders, and giving the insurgency more national and ideological cohesiveness, as disparate elements united around a basic program of Iraqi nationalism. If the guerrilla war in Iraq really is the central front in a global struggle against Al Qaeda and its allies, as the administration insists, then they’ll seize this moment to isolate and destroy the Zarqawi gang by cutting a deal with anti-occupation groups also opposed to the terrorists. This is the only way to implement “Iraqi-ization” – not by waving our sock-puppets in their faces, but by agreeing to concrete terms under which we could start the withdrawal process, as Iraqis begin to take responsibility for their own security.

Thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation, Iraq is faced with a foreign threat, and not only from suicide bombers. Rising Iraqi nationalism is bound to run up against a wave of Kurdish nationalism, and it will be little short of miraculous if civil war can be avoided. Certainly such a result is altogether likely if sentiments such as those expressed by Jabar Abdullah, a senior Kurdish leader based in Irbil, are widespread:

“We have the right to have our own country. It’s the dream of every Kurd. But for the time being, our future is with Iraq.”

Mayor Abdullah is hopeful that Irbil’s brand-new airport will become a permanent U.S. military base, and, in making his case, apart from the economic and security issues, the Mayor gives voice to an appeal that seems designed to enrage virtually every other group in the country:

“Kurds represent the nucleus of a democratic, pluralistic system, and our values match those of the Americans. Until now, the U.S. has had only one democratic ally in the Middle East – Israel. Now it has two.”

That’s a pretty fast confirmation of Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker report that Israel is seeking to shore up its “strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.” The decision reportedly “involves a heavy financial commitment,” and I wonder how much they had to pay Mayor Abdullah before he’d agree to make such a provocative statement. It had to have been a lot – and now we know where at least part of the billions we send yearly to Israel is spent.

Americans can sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the spectacle of an Israeli-engineered civil war in Iraq: after all, they paid for it. The big problem with that is our troops will be caught in the crossfire.

The only alternative to a protracted and increasingly bloody pacification campaign is a negotiated settlement, accelerated elections, and withdrawal with honor. The first step along this road is a basic agreement with the anti-occupation forces to maintain security against the threat of foreign intervention. The U.S. should accept the Sadrist offer to fight Zarqawi, and allow Sadr to enter the electoral arena. It was a huge mistake to disband the Iraqi army, and, for the same reason, it will also be an error of similar proportions to insist on disarming the party militias. These are currently the only indigenous military forces of any consequence in the country: without them, the entire responsibility for keeping order falls to the occupiers.

But all this assumes a sincere desire on the part of the Bush administration to see Iraq united, democratic, and free of the need for foreign troops to keep order. There is evidence, however, that points in another direction entirely. “Creative destruction,” as one warmonger of note infamously put it, is the real goal of the War Party.

The “war on terrorism,” in neoconservative circles, simply means the subjugation and break-up of the Arab states, from Syria to Saudi Arabia, on to Tehran and beyond. As Richard Perle protégé Laurent Murawiec put it in a memorable Powerpoint presentation before the Defense Policy Board:

  • Iraq is the tactical pivot
  • Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot
  • Egypt the prize

Planned chaos rules Iraq today, and may rule much more of the Middle East tomorrow, if the neocons have their way. But there is a way out. We can play the Iraqi nationalist card, if we have the imagination to pick it up. We must seize the moment, before it passes – or else risk losing everything we have so far bet – including the lives of 800-plus American soldiers, and thousands of wounded.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Say hello to Jason Ditz, who joins the Antiwar.com team in the Research Department, but will be our new authority on technical matters as well. Now, at last, maybe Eric and Jeremy can stop working 17-hour days, and perhaps even learn to relax, if only momentarily. At any rate, he’s just in time. Jason is a 25 year old from Saginaw, MI, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in ’01 with a B.S. in Optical Physics and Mathematics. He’s been a faithful reader of Antiwar.com since 1999, and from what I hear he’s got the computer skills that are really going to be an asset to those of us who depend mightily on this site.

Welcome Jason! You’ll be okay, just as long as people don’t start mistaking you for some character named Justin ….

Read more by Justin Raimondo


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