On June 25, the US-backed Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al Maliki, announced before the Iraqi parliament a 24-point "national reconciliation" plan, ostensibly an "olive branch" to Iraqi resistance fighters. At a Baghdad press conference held later that day, US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the plan a "good step to mend Iraq's wounds", adding: "I urge all insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political and democratic process in the new Iraq."
In the days before the plan was made public, it was widely reported that it would offer an amnesty to resistance fighters who had not engaged in deliberate attacks on Iraqi civilians. On June 24, for example, Newsweek magazine reported that it had obtained a draft of the plan, "and verified its contents with two Iraqi officials involved in the reconciliation process who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the plan's contents".
The magazine reported that the draft "follows a series of secret negotiations over the past two months between seven insurgent groups, President Jalal Talabani and officials of the US embassy. The insurgent groups involved are Sunnis but do not include foreign jihadis like al Qaeda and other terrorist factions who deliberately target civilians ...
"The distinction between insurgents and terrorists is one of the key principles in the document, and is in response to Sunni politicians' demands that the 'national resistance' should not be punished for what they see as legitimate self-defense in attacks against a foreign occupying power."
According to Newsweek, the draft called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops and granted amnesty "to insurgents who have attacked and killed American soldiers" and "the release of all security detainees being held without charges in the country, estimated at as many as 14,000".
However, the plan made public by Maliki did not include any of these proposals. The June 25 New York Times reported that "Maliki's plan, intended to reduce insurgent attacks through dialogue and amnesty, was weeks in the making, with all of Iraq's religious and ethnic political blocs participating. But Maliki opted for a version that did not stake out any new ground, simply repackaging previous pronouncements instead. The decision appeared to have been influenced by religious Shiites who form his base and by the US military command.
"A government pardon — which Sunni Arab leaders have called for in the case of [suspected] Iraqi resistance fighters who oppose the US occupation — will apply, Maliki said in a speech to parliament, only to detainees who 'were not involved in criminal or terrorist activities'."
The article reported: "'How can you call this amnesty?' said Sadoon al-Zubaidy, a Sunni Arab from the former Parliament. 'We're talking about releasing people who are either proven innocent or who have not been charged with anything. We have a twisted kind of logic here."
Muthanna Harith al Dari, a spokesperson for the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, which has supported the patriotic Iraqi resistance since 2003, told Aljazeera TV in a June 26 interview that Maliki's plan was different from what the AMS had expected, insisting that the original plan had been altered under pressure from US officials.
That same day, Time magazine's website ran an analysis of the plan that noted that while "many Iraqi politicians have distinguished between terrorism (attacks targeting Iraqi civilians) and resistance (attacks against the US and allied armies)", the paragraph that Newsweek had reported was in the original draft distinguishing between "terrorism" and "national resistance" had been "deleted in the final hours of negotiation" before the plan was announced.
Time observed that the "objective of Maliki's 'national unity' policy, strongly backed by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, involves trying to draw the Sunnis, including some mainstream insurgent groups, into the political process. (Though the Al Qaeda in Iraq element grabs much of the media attention, it accounts for no more than about 10% of the insurgency.) ... But unless the bulk of the insurgents who are mounting most of the daily attacks on Coalition forces are offered a path back into Iraq's political life on terms supported by their community, there's little chance of the new government succeeding where its predecessors have failed."
In its last quarterly update on the Iraq war to the US Congress on May 30, the Pentagon reported that from February 11 to May 12, Iraqi guerrillas had staged an average of 600 attacks per week. John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council on March 15 that "almost 80% of all attacks are directed against coalition forces".
In a study released by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the pro-US Saudi Arabian government, estimated that there are "77,000 fighters in the insurgency drawing upon hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect supporters" within Iraq's Sunni Arab population. Obaid's study was based on Saudi intelligence reports.
"According to senior Iraqi tribal leaders", Obaid wrote, "the insurgency is orchestrated mainly by former commanders and high-level military officers from the former Baathist regime, combined with a sizable number of mid-level
The "vast majority" of these commanders are "secular nationalists" who "derive from Iraq's former military services, including both commanders and soldiers from the Republican Guard", and the disbanded Iraqi Army and intelligence services.
"Another portion of the 'secular' insurgency comprises former officials of the Baath party, although they are much smaller and lack the infrastructure of the officer corps. Recently, their strength has further diminished due to internal divisions and lack of funding (which has since been diverted to the officer corps)."
On June 26, Associated Press reported that "seven insurgent groups have contacted the [Maliki] government to declare their readiness to join in efforts at national reconciliation ... The seven lesser groups, most of them believed populated by former members or backers of Saddam Hussein's government, military or security agencies, have said they want a truce, said Hassan al-Suneid, a legislator and member of the political bureau of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's [Shiite Islamist] Dawa Party."
The previous day's London Sunday Times had reported that a "senior commander authorised to speak on behalf of other groups" had told it that those involved in the negotiations with Maliki's government were "small groups both in numbers and military power, easy to reach because of the simplicity of their hierarchy and unable to sustain a long-term military confrontation for lack of finances, numbers and logistics".
The Sunday Times also reported that Iraq's "main insurgent groups" intended to reject Maliki's plan and present their own demands: "They want a rapid withdrawal of foreign troops, the release of all prisoners from American and Iraqi jails and compensation from the United States and other coalition countries to fund the rebuilding of infrastructure and homes destroyed in the war ..."
The paper reported that representatives of 11 rebel groups "have indicated that any future talks should be conducted with American officials under UN or Arab League supervision", but not with Maliki's government, which they regard as an illegitimate creation of the US-led occupation forces.
AP reported on June 28 that "eleven Sunni insurgent groups" had offered a truce on the condition that Washington committed to withdrawing all its troops from Iraq within two years.
The Mujahideen Shura Council — an umbrella organisation of al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Iraq — issued a statement on June 26 rejecting any negotiations with either the Maliki government or the US. The statement denounced Maliki's "reconciliation" plan as a "malicious project aimed at salvaging his crusader masters and their apostate lackeys", the aim of which was "to evade the mujahadeen [holy warriors], especially the mujahadeen groups that have a clear doctrine of denouncing the unbelieving devil and its new religion, democracy".
From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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