Let Beasts Devour Beasts
June 19, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >
Let Beasts Devour Beasts
BY NIBRAS KAZIMI
June 19, 2007
I hereby declare victory. I believe the Sunni insurgency in Iraq has collapsed, and all the casualty tallies that the insurgents are desperately trying to ratchet-up won't convince me otherwise. The odor of defeat hangs heavily around the "dead-enders" — a term I'd like to bring back into vogue because it's an apt description for those gangs that remain to be hunted down, and who will be responsible for the baseline violence we will continue to see there, but at levels Iraqis can live with and still prosper.
Three months ago, I wrote a column on these pages, "Jihadist Meltdown." In it, I envisioned the endgame of the insurgency — the prospect of jihadists turning on jihadists. Over the last two weeks, the Sunni strongholds of western Baghdad have witnessed street battles between the two main insurgent factions responsible for the bulk of violence in Iraq: Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Army.
This is how it ends, with the remaining vigor of the insurgency being marshaled by violent men against like-minded violent men, releasing that unique anger and resentment that splintering groups reserve for those nearest to them in ideology. The Sunni insurgency, initially unleashed against the American project for a new Iraq, has become an internal Sunni problem. Its concluding phase shall be a process of attrition among Iraq's Sunnis that they must endure over the next decade — to be spent stamping out the embers of the fire they so foolishly started.
But before adopting a celebratory tone, we must be alerted to a disturbing symptom of America's stomach for sacrifice. Washington at war is a city of artificial deadlines, ones tending toward a hasty declaration of defeat rather than being engaged for the purpose of victory.
The next such deadline is supposed to be General David Petraeus' testimony in Congress sometime in September on the results of the Baghdad security "surge" he'd been tasked to conduct. Will the politicians fathom the positive trends of jihadist infighting, or will they play up the panic of mounting American casualties to score a resonating sound byte in the election tussle?
Another persistently dangerous symptom of America at war is the inability of its diplomats and bureaucrats to tell friend from foe. There is reluctance among America's leaders to hold diplomats and bureaucrats accountable for not toeing the line when it comes to sticking by America's principles.
American character should loathe an alliance of convenience with those who have American blood on their hands. But the bureaucratic instinct is to empower the Islamic Army — who remain boastful of killing American soldiers — by throwing them a lifeline of reprieve should they turn on Al Qaeda.
The architects of this approach are still in charge or have been promoted. The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is being feted around New York City as the new envoy to the United Nations, and the point person on Iraq at the White House, Megan O'Sullivan, has just been delegated as President Bush's political envoy to Baghdad. Both have nothing but shame to show for two years of backburner negotiations with the Islamic Army.
The quick fix is in: inviting the Islamic Army to the table among the forces that have joined the Iraqi political process. Wait a minute. Is this the same Islamic Army that adopted Al Qaeda's anti-Shiite rhetoric? The same Islamic Army that blew up American soldiers in retaliation for Israeli incursions into the West Bank? The same Islamic Army that has assassinated the family members of those Iraqis who are already at the table? To hell with this macabre banquet of ghouls, beheaders, and murderers. Let Al Qaeda weed out the Islamic Army, let beasts devour beasts.
The Islamic Army didn't listen to the reasoning of Messrs. Khalilzad and O'Sullivan. It turned on Al Qaeda because the latter went too far with her declaration of an Islamic State, and then promptly tried to force the Islamic Army to pledge allegiance to it unwillingly. They split over shades of ideology, not on practicalities or any hints of reawakened scruples.
The Islamic Army may be more numerous, but Al Qaeda is more active and ferocious. Al Qaeda shall triumph in a test of wills between the two. It shall squelch the Islamic Army in the ongoing battle over diverging ideology and diminishing turf and resources, but it shall do so at much cost.
A weakened and unpopular Al Qaeda will be easier to pick off by American and Iraqi forces. The Islamic Army has recently resorted to leaking critical intelligence of Al Qaeda to the Iraqi government in a desperate attempt to hold their new enemies at bay. They know each other intimately, having fought alongside one another for years. They also know where they live, and where they hide their arms caches.
A measure of the intelligence windfall is that we know the identities of those who lead both groups. Al Qaeda's candidate for the caliphate, an Iraqi, "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi" cannot hide behind a pseudonym any longer. It is almost certain that he is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, a Sunni fundamentalist who used to own a car registration business during the Saddam days.
The head of the Islamic Army, who goes by "Abu Usama," is likely one of Saddam's ex-generals, Brigadier General Muhammad Abid Mahmoud Ali Al-Luheibi, whose older brother, Lieutenant General Ali Al-Luheibi, used to lead the notoriously savage Saddam's Feddayeen and now manages negotiations for his brother from Istanbul.
Feeling the pressure, the Islamic Army has declared a one-sided truce with Al Qaeda on June 6. But truces and ceasefires are made to be broken in the Middle East. Both sides are gearing to finish off the other one. Iraqi and American interests converge in sitting back and comfortably watching the enemy fight itself.
Yet another of Washington's follies is its tendency to scapegoat others when things don't turn up peachy. The bête noirs of the day are the neoconservatives and the government of the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. Unfortunately, a cowed President Bush is more than willing to pass on blame and offer sacrificial lambs to the partisan bonfire. Hence his administration's shameful stance on the Scooter Libby trial and verdict.
Another easy target is Mr. Maliki, who is being burdened with an impossible political timetable that Washington has convinced itself will bring peace in Iraq. Those closer to the fire though understand that it will only conflagrate the flames.
Washington wants a full reversal of de-Baathification, even to the point of bringing back to their jobs the worst of Saddam's torturers and thugs. The thinking is that these mass murderers — many of whom found work with Al Qaeda and the Islamic Army — will stop killing American soldiers if they can get back to the habit of taking out their evil on Iraqis. This will not fly in Baghdad, and there's nothing that Mr. Maliki can do when someone of Ayatollah Ali Sistani's stature has signaled his opposition to this particular revision of the Iraqi Constitution — in which de-Baathification is enshrined.
The political process is maturing in Iraq according to its own pace, giving Mr. Maliki and the state he heads the confidence to battle the terrorists more determinedly and effectively.
Another measure of how much things have improved was the ability of Mr. Maliki's government to contain widespread sectarian violence in reprisal for Wednesday's repeat bombing of the holy Shiite shrine in Samarra — an act that the "dead-enders" thought would turn the tide back in their favor, but were sorely disappointed.
Iraq is heading toward safety, but America is mistaken if it believes that its battle with terrorism is over. History is being propelled forward according to a timetable set by the violent acts of violent men, and the malicious spirit that perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Such violent men will find many other opportunities, and battlefields, to do much harm. If America intends to continue winning, then we can't assume to win by default, whenever the enemy blunders. Washington at war needs to take a deep look at its poor political conduct toward Iraq so that the same mistakes are not repeated — giving comfort and encouragement to a jihadist enemy determined to win whenever the next round presents itself.
Mr. Kazimi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
June 19, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >