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Iraq: Baghdad Working With U.S. To Bring Insurgents To The Table

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari (file photo) The United States and Iraqi officials have reportedly begun discussions over the drafting of an amnesty policy for insurgents wishing to lay down their arms and participate in Iraq's political process. The policy remains in its early stages, and officials from both countries have remained rather tight-lipped about any future policy.

Prague, 16 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Political and military analysts in the United States said this week that the Iraqi government has no choice but to initiate a dialogue to convince as many insurgents as possible to lay down their arms and join the political process. But the process may not be so easy. Giving an insurgent a political stake in the process may not be enough to win him over. Large portions of the insurgency are driven by an Islamist agenda that views the transitional government -- and any likely successor government -- as an apostate government conflicting with their radical Sunni doctrine that calls for the establishment of a Wahhabi-style Islamic state.

Other portions of the insurgency may be easier to sway: these are the so-called former Ba'athists and Sunni disenfranchised who work with "secular" insurgent groups and even Islamist groups -- not because of ideology, but rather for profit. Alleged terrorists in Iraqi custody have said they were paid between $100 and $1,500 by insurgent groups to carry out attacks. Many said that although they believed the attacks were immoral or against Islamic doctrine, they carried them out anyway, citing pressure from the groups they worked for and because of the money.
"No official dialogue with any side that carries guns and fights has taken place."

As Iraq develops stronger law enforcement, it will be better able to rein in the criminal elements of the insurgency. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein released thousands of prisoners in an October 2002 general amnesty; these elements are assumed to be responsible for a large percentage of criminal attacks, kidnappings, and violence in Iraq today. Several alleged terrorists said in confessions aired on Al-Iraqiyah television in May that they carried out car-jackings, kidnappings, theft, and murder on behalf of insurgent groups, including Islamist groups.

The most difficult task in persuading insurgents to lay down their arms may be the "public opinion" factor. A recent survey in Iraq sponsored by the U.S.-led coalition found that nearly 45 percent of those polled said they supported insurgent attacks. While it is likely that the number of true supporters is much lower, the survey demonstrates that Iraqis, for whatever reason, may feel it is socially unacceptable to say otherwise. This could indicate that the "man on the street" cannot be won over until the Sunni leadership says, and demonstrates, that it is acceptable to do so. Other analysts have argued that the tide may only turn when Sunni Iraqis turn against the insurgency. The true answer may be somewhere in the middle.

The Sunni leadership, however, remains quite fractured with no cohesive stance on the issue of participation. While several Sunni groups agree that they want to play a role in the government and constitutional drafting, the conditions or "red lines" of each group are different. In addition, a number of Sunni political groups are internally fractured, a factor that will limit progress, at least in the short-term.

Sunni leaders with suspected ties to the insurgency, however, will remain outside the political process and not negotiate, leaving the government in need of an alternative Sunni representation. In some cases, tribal leaders could play a key role in bringing Sunnis into the government and reining in the insurgency. Local governance may just make the difference in the center.

Two armed groups announced last week their willingness to disarm and begin negotiations with the government for their participation in the political process, the daily "Baghdad" reported on 9 June. Citing former Electricity Minister and Sunni leader Ayham al-Samarra'i, the report said that political leaders from the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Al-Mujahedin Army expressed in meetings with him their readiness to disarm. Sunni sheikhs and tribal leaders in Al-Fallujah vowed to assist the government in enhancing security in a meeting with Interior Ministry officials in the city, "Al-Mada" reported on 13 June. Tribal leaders in Mosul have also agreed to hand over wanted suspects to security officials, the Defense Ministry announced in on 13 June.

Transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari has shied away from the amnesty issue in his statements to reporters this week, saying that no dialogue is under way between the government and armed groups in Iraq. Instead, al-Ja'fari said multinational forces have undertaken a dialogue, through which the insurgents' have conveyed messages to the transitional government. "No official dialogue with any side that carries guns and fights has taken place," he said, adding: "The remaining issue is that of the mediator as it is not always true that you are the one who chooses the mediator. The other [side] might be sending you messages through the coalition or multinational forces, which means that it was not you who chose the mediator."

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not acknowledge U.S. involvement in the proposed amnesty, telling reporters at a 14 June press briefing: "To the extent you can get a tribe that has a portion of its people opposing the government and a portion of the people supporting the government pulled in [to the political process], why, that's a good thing." Rumsfeld said any amnesty decision would be solely for the sovereign Iraqi government to take, "not an American decision."

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