Friday, July 20, 2007

Straight talk

Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri, leader of the part of the Iraqi Baath party, says he is planning to call together Baathists and Iraqi islamist groups to consider forming a united front to "escalate the military resistance" to the occupation, on a common program of defeating not only the occupation itself, but everything that has been derived from it, including the government and the constitution, in order to make a clean start under occupation-free conditions. This was conveyed to Al-Quds al-Arabi by unnamed sources, who added that a rival Baath figure Ahmed al-Yunis, isn't being invited, but that another big Baathist name is expected to attend, namely Fawzi al-Rawi, leader of a wing that is said to be close to the Syrian Baath party. It is hard to know what to make of the internal Baath comings and goings, and similarly it is hard to know what to make of the list of a half-dozen Iraqi islamist groups, none of which are familiar names. Overall, as Marc Lynch noted in his thumbnail tag on this item, it appears al-Douri is responding to the fact that he and the Baath party were left out of the group whose existence was announced yesterday in the Guardian piece. The program is identical: Defeat of the occupation and all that it brought with it, while at the same time being prepared to negotiate the withdrawal process.

Awni Qalamji, a resistance figure who writes regularly in Al-Quds al-Arabi, notes in his op-ed piece today (pdf, bottom of the page) that there has been a recent wave of meetings and conferences and common fronts, although he doesn't specifically mention these latest two (the column may well have been already written when these last two common-front ideas were announced, but it applies just the same). He does mention a recent series of meetings held in various foreign capitals, for instance one Nuri al-Marsumi, organized a series of meetings with "[Iraqi] figures preaching nationalism and leftism, coming from London and other places", and he refers in a similarly dismissive way to a recent series of meetings by the better-known Iyad Allawi, including a meeting in Cairo with the participation of a Kurdish figure opposed to Talabani, and with people from the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian Mukhabarat. This whole meetings fad is based on expectations of an American withdrawal, Qalamji points out. This isn't the first time rumors of an American withdrawal led to a flurry of this type of meetings, and he refers specifically to mid 2005 and a meeting in Beirut (which if I knew something about it I would insert it here). Qalamji's point is that there isn't going to be an American withdrawal, so this whole conference fad is based on a mistake.

It is true, he writes, that Bush is under a lot of pressure, not only from Democrats, but from his own generals, who have often indicated skepticism about whether they are having anything you could call success. That is all quite true, he says,
but it is even more true that what is being proposed by the Democrats, under the heading of a plan to withdraw US troops by the end of 2008, is nothing but a scam to convince American public opinion, which is pressing for the return of their boys to their country safe and sound, and not in the black bags, in order to obtain votes in the coming presidential election....
These are points Qalamji has made before, but he thinks this is the time to re-emphasize them: What the Democrats are out to defeat is the Republicans, not the project for control of Iraq. The expression "withdrawal" is merely a cover for re-assigning troops so that the troops themselves are safer; Iraq will still be occupied. It is difficult for some to face this situation, and there is a temptation to cling to fantasies about an easy victory, an early withdrawal, or at least the idea that what Bush and the Democrats are focused on is finding a way to make an honorable withdrawal.

Consequently, says Qalamji, the times require us to re-emphasize the point that the role of the resistance is to fight the occupation and not to dick around with negotiations based on idle dreams, something that (as the heading to this op-ed piece puts it) risks "distorting the image of the resistance". And not only the image.

The resistance should aim toward the formation of a unified fighting organization, with joint leadership, and similarly on the political level the establishment of good relations with all of the bona fide nationalist organizations and movements, so as to arrive at a common political program that has the genuine support of the broadest possible popular base. This can't be done from outside the country, neither on the military side nor on the political side. Secondly, negotiations, if they are to come about, are themselves part of the struggle between the occupation and the resistance, and they can only begin when the occupation is no longer capable of defending itself and has to sue for an honorable exit, which would be on the terms of the resistance, not on their own terms. This implies things like negotiating damages at the same time, negotiating from a position of full sovereignty, and so on. And it implies the continuation of military operations right up until final agreement.
The thing everyone should keep in mind at this point is that when the Americans talk about an honorable withdrawal, their idea is to convince the resistance to lay down their arms, and by joining the political process and joining in the governing authority, actually help ratify the occupation [by the Americans] who, when they first came, came to stay, and not to leave voluntarily. If we put these discussions [about negotiating and joining the political process] to one side, and take up instead the language of reality, then what we hear from the American politicians with respect to Iraq is the exact opposite of what is actually happening, because the American forces, on the one hand, while continuing to talk about withdrawal, are in fact launching ever more violent attacks against Iraqi cities, using the worst weapons of killing and destruction, including banned weapons, while on the other hand you have Bush explaining that among the American options there is not the option called "failure", and that he is determined to break the back of the Iraqi resistance.
Qalamji, as I mentioned, doesn't talk about the latest two common-front-resistance announcements, that of the seven groups mentioned in the Guardian yesterday, or that of al-Douri and others mentioned in Al-Quds al-Arabi today, but I think his point would apply, and it is a cautionary one: Beware Americans talking about an honorable withdrawal.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awni Qalamji, a spokesman of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, an ally of the Ba’ath, is right of course.

I found the Guardian piece profoundly depressing. It was also puzzling insofar as several of the groups mentioned, including Mohammed’s Army and the Mujahideen Army, are, or were, Ba’athist formations. How come they are now going off at a tangent on the advice of Saudi Arabia (!) and Turkey. I couldn’t help smelling a rat – isn’t Allawi in regular contact with the intelligence chiefs of those countries? What we are witnessing is surely yet another covert attempt to split the Resistance and marginalise the official Ba’ath Party. It is regrettable that bone fide nationalists have apparently fallen into this trap.

All the political aims set out in the Guardian article have been part of the strategic programme of the Iraqi Resistance, developed by the Ba’ath Party, from the outset. However, there was a crucial difference. The Ba’ath programme envisages that Iraq would be ruled by a National Front made up of honourable patriots who fought the occupation, Ba’athists and non-Ba’athists, for a transition period of a couple of years before elections. By contrast, the groups nobbled by the US via regional intelligence agencies are advocating a transitional government of ‘technocrats’ selected with assistance from the UN – which would be headed, inevitably, by that old CIA agent Iyad Allawi, who has acted as intermediary in all contacts between the US and resistance groups. A recent Ba’ath Party statement, dated 17 July, includes telling references to the “misbehaviour” of patriots who “entered the arena lately without sufficient and necessary patriotic experience, and awareness” and committed errors against the Ba’ath.

This comment was posted in haste. I haven't had time to read up about Al-Douri's latest initiative yet....

3:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Qalamji's remarks make perfect sense if you listen to what Bush and congressional leaders are saying. American debate on the issue doesn't actually take into account what the politicians are actually saying, that the "withdrawl" plans are actually about redeployment within Iraq and reshaping a continued mission within Iraq. Military leaders, as expressed through WaPo's Thomas Ricks, have suggested a return to "containment" only with US troops on the ground in Iraq.

All of this, however, misses what is left unsaid and misses why people are saying and doing what they are doing(hint: it's not for the reasons publicly given). Bush has to say that failure is not an option because he's painted himself into a political corner. Bush will go along with "failure" once his hand is forced. Democrats have to refrain from calling for out and out withdrawal because in their timidity they don't feel like their position is strong enough for such calls yet. Democrats are calling for "redeployment" knowing that it is not the end, but merely a stepping stone towards full withdrawal. And congressional Republicans are continuing to support the President not because they actually believe in his "strategy." On the contrary, numerous Republicans express their desire for a way out in private but require a "decent interval" and an excuse to say so in public, this September's progress report will serve as that excuse and a decent enough interval will have passed to show the failure of the surge.

The public face put out by the various political actors are indeed important, but they do not necessarily signify unchangeable or even deeply held positions. One must understand that when actual negotiations take place, a lot of these face-saving positions will fall to the wayside in favor of secretly hoped for pragmatism.

Historical parallels exist in the Paris Peace Accords(1973) and the Geneva Accords(1988) that allowed US and Soviet interventions to come to a close despite official pronouncements to fight on to victory were made in both cases almost up to the end of negotiations.

Also, if these parallels are any guide, the current Iraqi government will survive on its own far longer than most people expect and will only fall with considerable outside pressure.

2:33 PM  
Blogger badger said...

If I understand you correctly, you're saying Republicans and Democrats both recognize deep down inside that complete military defeat will mean complete withdrawal, but they can't say that yet for domestic political reasons. If that's true (and thank God I know nothing about those people), then it seems there would be a lot of common ground there with Qalamji and his people: 100% defeat = 100% withdrawal. But first of all: (1) Qalamji's point (rephrased to meet what you've said) would be that while American politics will make the Americans say various things for domestic political reasons, the resistance has to assume that the underlying drive will be to stay and control the country, so any negotiation should be left to the fighting groups on the ground, who know what's actually going on. (2) The Baath, at least, think of Iraq as really a global cornerstone for the Americans, so that defeat there is really unthinkable for America until it happens, implying Iraq for the Americans is a lot different in terms of global power and economics from what Afghanistan meant to the USSR or even VietNam to the 1970s America.
I hope you're right about eventual pragmatism in Washington, but...

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should refine my point by saying that most Washington politicians don't have this mapped out in their minds now, indeed almost none have any strategy at all outside of for their own re-election which is part of why we're in this mess to begin with but also why these politicians are more receptive to end this unpopular occupation. I think that they have gut feelings that are held in place for the time being but will play themselves out as events on the ground shift. Defeat in Iraq is currently unimaginable to many(but fewer) Americans, but I believe that that defeat will sink in and life will go on after an initial period of wailing and teeth gnashing. My overarching point is that a lot of rhetorical red lines are in reality much more fungible than they seem on the surface. Given a little cover and a strong kick in the ass, all things are possible.

Barring a wildly successful Bush PR campaign to portray the surge as a success or some sort of insurgent collapse(both extremely unlikely), then the September progress report will unleash the scared/frustrated feelings within a significant minority of the Republican party. A large enough splinter of Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for a veto-proof "redeployment and draw down" strategy. At this moment there is only a large and slowly growing minority "out of Iraq now" faction within the Democratic party which has been downplayed in the press. This faction has had only limited success so far but once the Bush spell is broken and once limited withdrawal becomes a bipartisan and overwhelmingly publicly supported reality(not just a plan), the Democratic leadership will shift "to the left" to become the "out of Iraq now" party in accordance with the aforementioned faction. Indeed, I suspect that the main difference between the public advocates of full withdrawal and the advocates of redeployment are less about policy and more about political timing. Republicans will be dragged against their will in the same direction or suffer heavily in 2008(might happen regardless).

For the insurgency to assist this progression they have to display that the surge isn't working by maintaining or intensifying their tempo of attacks on the occupation. Sadly, mass civilian casualties would gain the most American attention thus make Americans more likely to throw up their hands in disgust with occupation. It's a Luttwak-ian strategy for ending this conflict: the American will to occupy needs to be complete exhausted before there can be a chance for the real conflict to play itself out(intra-Iraqi competition for power) and then for ultimate peace. Now if I controlled American strategy I would attempt to engage the insurgents in negotiations ASAP with an aim to cover a complete US withdrawal and leaving a stable but not necessarily Maliki-run Iraq. However, with a stubborn Bush-run America, if insurgents pause to began negotiations now before American will to fight has been exhausted, it will in effect give the US a chance to catch its breath, take some heat off Bush, and regain some additional will to fight and thus will only prolong the occupation. So in that sense there is indeed a lot of overlap here. The insurgency could also conceivably encourage limited withdrawal to turn into complete withdrawal by ensuring that Iraq doesn't descend into further chaos and by destroying the "Islamic State of Iraq," thereby completely eliminating any justification for the limited occupation that would no longer need to prop-up the current constitution of Iraq.

On the side note, I would argue that Vietnam was just as important to American leaders because of the negative domino theory legend that was firmly held and because the aura of American invincibility had never before been shaken. One could argue the oil angle, but I generally do not.

3:43 AM  
Blogger John Brown said...

Thanks so much for the insightful posts and commentary. It's tough here in the States to gain any sense of who's who and what's what on the ground in Iraq.

To those of us opposed to Uncle Sam's genocide there and in support of the Resistance's aims and objective, your nuanced analysis is priceless.

The successful propaganda campaign portraying the 'surge' as a success is well underway and has as its zenith the testimony by Petraeus before Uncle Sam in 6 weeks or so.

On the political front here, there is, within the Democrats, a faction opposed to continuing the occupation - but they have no institutional strength within the party and even less of an idea for 'what comes next' in terms of destabilizing the empire than anyone. In short, while I respect their sincerity, they're a pie-in-the-sky faction without much hope of achieving anything tangible until well beyond 2008.

The Out of Iraq caucus will continue to grow as the news from Iraq remains unchanging, but I simply cannot imagine their position (which ostensibly calls for a UN occupation to replace Uncle Sam's forces retreating to Kuwait and elsewhere).

Keep up the great work.


9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I now think that the likelihood of a successful pro-war PR campaign is much higher than it was a month ago and the pro-war propaganda effort is in full swing. The recent NYTimes Op-Ed is the most flamboyant example of an ongoing effort to change the subject from the obviously stagnant political situation to the narrow slice of the military situation that can be spun positively.

The fundamental ignorance of the American populace makes them all the more impressionable despite the steady stream of bad news over the past 4 years. Your average American doesn't know the difference between al-qaida in Iraq and other Islamic insurgents and so a set back for AQI looks like a setback for the insurgency as a whole.

If Petraeus says that progress is being made and if he asks for more time, you can kiss goodbye Republican support for a pull-out and that means the status quo will continue well into 2008. The White House has no credibility with anyone, but Petraeus is untainted and they will use his credibility to push their same message just like they did with Colin Powell. The anti-war crowd has shown it is unable to win the debate in US public opinion and so the fate of their cause is dependent on the outcome of the battle between pro-Bush propaganda vs. real events on the ground

Sadly, I think the only thing that will decisively defeat the pro-occupation line would be a devastating escalation campaign by insurgents that can't be ignored. But if the Iraqi government keeps limping along and if the tempo of insurgent activity remains relatively steady, the "give us more time" crowd may well win out.

One the other side though, the Democrats again voted to forbid permanent bases.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petraeus will say that progress is being made and of course will insist he needs more time. Like any unprincipled hack, he'll do what he's told. Cheney has already guaranteed it.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One the other side though, the Democrats again voted to forbid permanent bases."

So what? Won't stop the Pentagon from building them, as they are doing as we speak.

You say permanent, I say enduring.

10:06 PM  

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