What with the Crocker/Petraeus report and Maliki's rapidly crumbling position, everyone involved in the Iraq issue is gaming the coming month, calculating the angles and trying to position themselves for whatever changes may be forthcoming. Iyad Allawi, of course, is making his bid for power by seeking American backing. Jalal Talabani's emergency summit produced a political coalition based upon the Maliki 4 - a sectarian four party bloc (the two Kurdish parties, SIIC and Dawa) which prefers to call itself "moderate" (it isn't) or "the majority" (it isn't). A few days ago, the Maliki 4 managed to get Tareq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Tawafuq Bloc to sign on to an agreement which promised movement on some key issues, including Sunni prisoners and an end to deBaathification.
This agreement was likely produced for the sole purpose of giving Ryan Crocker something to bring back to Congress (and is what I expected weeks ago). But it doesn't actually solve anything: Hashemi has made very clear that he has no intention of rejoining Maliki's government, the agreements exist only on paper at this point, and nothing has been done about the deeply sectarian nature of what passes for the Iraqi state.
It's important for Hashemi, though, because he and the other national Sunni politicians are desperate for something, anything to show for their decision to work with Maliki and the American (and Iranian) backed political process. Hashemi and the Tawafuq Bloc are struggling to maintain their own influence within the Sunni community on two fronts - against the tribal shaykhs of the various Awakenings, who at last count are not planning to offer up replacements for the Tawafuq Bloc in Maliki's government (but the story changes twice a day), and against the insurgency groups who are trying to form their own political front. Their rather forlorn hope is that they can get the Americans to deliver enough to maintain their standing, since they know perfectly well that left to their own devices the Shia-Kurd Maliki 4 bloc would offer nothing.
What about the insurgency? For months now, insurgency groups have been trying to formulate some kind of public political front, but seem to be consistently frustrated by internal struggles and the fragmented nature of the insurgency itself (among the latest developments, we've got the 1920 Revolution Brigade denouncing anyone using its name while cooperating with the Americans while accusing Hamas Iraq of being the real collaborators, and the Islamic Army of Iraq indicating that it's striking a truce with al-Qaeda in Iraq). It's in that context that I wanted to draw attention to an essay published today under the title "September and a political project for the mujahideen" on the al-Haq Agency, one of the major internet outlets for the Sunni insurgency, by Abd al-Rahman al-Ruwashdi.
Ruwashdi complains about politicians stepping forward to claim the fruits of the insurgency's victory without having made its sacrifices or paid its costs. It is therefore time, he argues, for the real insurgency groups to come together and form a viable political front. While there have already been some efforts to form a political front, he notes, the expected changes in September mean that there's no time to lose. He quotes Hareth al-Dhari, who argued that the principled rejection of participating in the political process under occupation does not mean that groups can not organize to prepare to fill the political vaccuum. He warns the Sunnis that not preparing for the period after the American withdrawal would mean making the same mistake as the Americans, who failed in Iraq because they did not plan for the period after the war.
He therefore calls for a political front of all active jihadist factions in the Iraqi arena, a single unified front which can work for common objectives and coordinate to act effectively. This front should issue a political program rooted in sharia but sensitive to the diverse fabric of Iraqi society. More controversially, he calls for coordination with all movements and actors resisting the occupation - which could be read either as a call to cooperate with al-Qaeda or as a call to cooperate with the Mahdi Army. He calls for more active efforts to secure Arab and Islamic support. Finally, he calls on the politically influential leaders of the insurgency to step forward and reveal themselves, to prevent others from exploiting their victory and claiming to speak for the Sunni community. We are confident, he writes, that those who defeated the American project can also build a viable political alternative.
This isn't completely new, of course, but it's another significant example of how insurgency strategists and leaders are trying to plan for a post-American political future. At the same time, the essay is revealing of the complete lack of a concrete political agenda: there are calls to unify, coordinate, step forward... but nothing on what exactly it is that this new political front should demand. We can make some guesses. They begin from a deep belief that they are the ones who defeated the United States (and they do believe that they are winning), and that they are a majority in Iraq (a few weeks ago I think I wrote about a statement by the head of the Islamic Army of Iraq which claimed that Sunnis made up 60% of Iraq's population). They also believe that the current Iraqi state and government are thoroughly controlled by Iran, and that the Shia are determined to ethnically cleanse them from (at least) Baghdad. I would guess that a serious insurgency political program would demand not just an end to ethnic cleansing but the return to the status quo ante - i.e. all the Sunni refugees and internally displaced persons returning to their homes (just try to imagine the security implications of such a restoration, under conditions of deep mutual distrust, recent history of reciprocal mass killing, and a heavily armed population) . It would probably also demand more than just a seat at a Shia-dominated table - the idea popular with surge-enthusiasts that getting more Sunnis jobs with the police will give them a stake in what they see as a Shia-dominated system badly misreads their worldview. Do you see why the benchmarks so popular in American discussions of Iraq - even if they were being met - are so irrelevant to the real issues in play?