Paradoxically, despite the rising Iraqi toll from terrorist attacks, the experimental talks with Sunni and Baath military leaders that the White House quietly authorized are going well and the Allawi government’s position appears to be stronger than it was when the talks began.
This is an interim summary obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly from a source close to the non-Iraqi Arab figure who has been acting as go-between in the talks for ending the guerilla war plaguing the country.
He spoke soon after more than 100 Iraqis died and twice that number was injured in a single day, Wednesday, July 28. Indeed, the first month of Iraqi sovereignty ended with 200 dead and 277 wounded compared with 35 dead and 122 injured in the preceding month of June. Almost all the dead were Iraqis.
Nonetheless, the Arab mediator, whom we may not name, perseveres in his 48-hour visits whenever negotiating sessions can be set up. His last visit, capping three weeks of talks, was initiated by the Sunni side. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s source found this encouraging because it indicates that the guerrilla leaders are coming to accept that the Americans cannot be forced out by violence. Their only hope lies in engaging Washington in negotiation.
The source also praised as correct the stance adopted by Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi. Publicly, he declares his determination to fight the guerrillas to the end and “pursue them to hell.” But in private conversations, the prime minister assures Sunni leaders and guerrilla commanders that the door is open for them to repent – provided they break away from foreign combatants, meaning Arab volunteers and al Qaeda.
The two tough challenges ahead, according to the source, are: “To bring the Sunni leaders and insurgent commanders to a consensus on halting war operations so that negotiations can pick up speed and advance to the finishing line. This stage is not yet here.” He explained that many of the field commanders, especially ex-officers of Saddam Hussein’s special operations units, want to fight on until Allawi and the Americans stump up better terms and more money. But, he said, they have begun to entertain the notion of the war’s end, and that is progress.
The other tough hurdle to overcome is the insurgents’ association with al Qaeda and other Arab fighters. The fundamentalist terrorists are alive to the attempts to alienate the Iraqis from their imported partners and are keeping their heads down. The most recent terrorist operations, including the Baquba suicide bombing that killed 70 Iraqis and injured scores on Wednesday, were not the work of al Qaeda operatives. They are doing very little in the way of terrorist attacks and making themselves scarce.
“We don’t know what they are up to,” said the source close to the talks. “Maybe they expect the talks to break down. But maybe too they are hiding deep underground expecting to surface only after the Sunnis and Americans come to an agreement. They will then break out with a new terrorist offensive in Iraq, replacing their Iraqi Sunni partners-in-terror with Iranian radicals.
“Anything can happen,” the source concluded. “But when you go forward, even if it is only bit by bit, you get there in the end.”
As we close this issue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources discover that, for the first time since the Saddam Baath regime was overthrown, all the guerrilla groups of the Sunni Triangle have secretly united in a framework called Popular Struggle Movement, dedicated to establishing a “free democratic republic.” In practical terms, these groups have turned their backs on the old Baath and created a new post-Saddam political party. At a secret convention this week, they elected a leadership that included Baathists hiding underground outside Iraq, and approved a political platform.
The new organization is prepared to negotiate an end to the American presence in Iraq on its terms and appears ready to challenge Alawi’s government as an opposition.