The British media is reporting an Iraqi peace deal involving a deadline for US withdrawal and a political opening for the insurgency, to be announced in the next day or two. The first sign of a new direction was the op-ed by Iraq's new national security advisor in the Washington Post June 10 supporting a withdrawal of some 40,000 US troops this year and most of the rest by the end of 2008.
Arranging for America's Baghdad clients to invite us to withdraw has always been an option, one considered most likely by this analyst. But has the US made such a decision? Is the Administration divided? Is the purpose to deflect global and domestic anti-war pressure? We shall see.
Assuming a peace proposal is in the works, it will be problematic to reconcile with recent Republican rhetoric about "staying the course." Democrats and Republicans may react negatively against granting amnesty to resistance fighters, though that is how stalemated wars usually end. It may divide the Iraqi resistance forces over whether all their struggle is primarily about US withdrawal or more than a seat at the table in the postwar Iraq. And it could weaken the antiwar movement by diluting Iraq as a potent issue this election year.
Already, White House sources are distancing themselves from the call for significant troop reductions , according to the Financial Times of June 21. No doubt the stories are being leaked for a reason. As I wrote earlier this week, as background:
----A possible spectre facing the US occupation of Iraq comes from within the US-backed Iraqi government itself, among Iraqi officials desiring to make their own peace with the armed Iraqi resistance. The US may be struggling to keep its puppets from becoming peacemakers. Or is it supporting a long and murky negotiating process like that which began in Northern Ireland in the early Nineties?
Recent surveys show a remarkable 87 percent of all Iraqis favoring a US timeline for withdrawal, and 47 percent endorsing the right to armed resistance. Discounting the pro-American Kurdish population, that means nearly all Sunnis and Shiites favor a phased withdrawal, a consensus which their newly-elected leaders cannot fully ignore.
On May 1, President Jalal Talabani was reported saying it is possible to reach a peace agreement with seven insurgent groups he has been meeting in the company of unidentified US operatives. [LA Times, May 1, 2006]
The pace quickened with the seating of a new government with twenty percent Sunni representation, including eight ministers, and one vice-president. The Sunni bloc includes strong opponents of the occupation who are promoting negotiations as an alternative to continued bloodshed. In early June, a top Sunni official claimed a peace deal as “very close.” [Washington Post, June 15].
Last week, the new prime minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed an amnesty and talks with the insurgents. Headlined in the Washington Post as “Amnesty Proposal May Include Iraqis Who Attacked US Troops”, the proposal provoked a furious response from Senate Democrats even while they discussed an ambiguous peace proposal of their own. How dare the Iraqis consider an amnesty for Iraqis who fought against US soldiers?, Sen. Harry Reed asked. The offending Iraqi official immediately resigned.
In their quest to be macho, however, Democrats may be undercutting an avenue towards peace. All military stalemates end in agreements between enemies who have fought and suffered. If there can be no consideration of amnesty for those the US is fighting, then there can be no settlement short of US military victory. That is precisely the case made by the Bush Administration, which recently suggested that it wants permanent military bases and a long-term presence of 50,000 American troops in an occupied, and somehow pacified, Iraq.
But for the vast majority of Iraqis, losing their sovereignty to long-term foreign occupation is unacceptable. That is why a growing contradiction exists between some in the Iraqi government and their US sponsors. The Iraqis who supported the invasion did so to overthrow Saddam Hussein and minority rule, not to submit to foreign military and economic domination. US war college analysts are fully aware of the nationalist pride spurring the Iraqi resistance. The recent killing of Zarqawi, who advocated a more sectarian line, will hardly weaken this nationalist anger.
Nor will the inclusion of simply more Sunnis in the government. Instead, the resistance is likely to pursue an inside-outside strategy. Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice-president, Tarik al-Hashimy, openly supports the insurgents holding talks with US officials but says they should “not stop the fight...the stopping of fighting should be part of the final deal.” [NYT, May 15, 2006]
A recent analysis of Iraq’s new parliament suggests a majority of its 275 members today would support a one-year US withdrawal deadline if put to a vote. With the addition of the Sunni bloc, the projection of 140-160 peace parliamentarians seems realistic. Last June, by comparison, over one hundred parliamentarians signed an open letter calling for the swift end of the occupation, and denouncing the Iraqi executive for lack of accountability.
“The Iraqis are going to do this [make peace] on their own, because the Americans stand in their way”, lamented Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American restaurant owner in Washington DC, whose father was a ranking diplomat for the Arab League.
Until recently, the American media has remained inexplicably low-keyed towards this peace sentiment among high-ranking Iraqis. For example, the June 2005 public letter by Iraq parliamentarians was reported only by Knight-Ridder in this country. Whatever the reasons, the lack of public discussion perpetuates the illusion that American soldiers are dying to protect a majority of Iraqis who want us to stay. To borrow a phrase, it would be an Inconvenient Truth to report that the US embassy is having difficulty maintaining the loyalty of the very regime they helped install.
Most likely, a contradiction is unfolding within the American political hierarchy and national security establshment over whether this war is winnable. It also is a question of maintaining the American power posture, or its appearance. Those who know the war will end in defeat or quagmire favor a political strategy aimed at cutting losses, channeling the insurgency into talks and removing the issue from American politics in 2006. Others cling to the goal of eventually subduing the insurgency militarily and maintaining 50,000 troops permanently in Iraq.