The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most influential Sunni organizations in Iraq, has just released an unprecedented open letter to the "resistance". According to the Al-Haq Agency, this is the first time that the AMS has publicly addressed the resistance as a whole, making it a fairly significant event. Like the essay by Abd al-Rahman al-Rawashdi posted last week, the AMS argues that the time has come for the resistance to reap the fruits of its successful jihad against the occupation, but warns that if it fails to unify and put forward a political program then others will seize the rewards instead.
After praising the military valor and steadfastness of the insurgency, the AMS poses this sharp question: jihadist and resistance movements in the Islamic world have had many victories over their enemies, but most of them have failed to achieve their goals after the conflict. The AMS repeatedly invokes the Afghan experience of a successful jihad which then collapsed into factional warfare when the Soviets left. The presence of an occupation force helped unite the resistance, writes the AMS, but now is the time to ask: what comes after the occupiers leave? Those who fail to think about this question now, warns the AMS, will be surprised with a bitter harvest.
First, others will try to reap the fruits of the jihad and resistance than its legitmate owners - the occupiers will leave through the door the resistance opened, but it will try to pick successors to be its agents in running the country. And their first move will be to try and liquidate the supporters of jihad and resistance - a direct warning to those Sunnis currently working with the US to think about their future once they have served their purpose. Second, the occupation will never stop trying to sow discord (fitna) among the factions of the resistance, as a way of weakening it. The US has been defeated and wants to leave Iraq, but is only searching for a way to deny the jihad its victory; factional strife is its exit strategy. The resistance is on the brink of a great victory, argues the AMS, which only increases the danger of complacency.
It concludes by pointing out that it has been calling to unify the factions for months, and is pleased with recent moves in that direction. The occupiers will be forced to deal with it, directly or through intermediaries, because of the simple reality of its power which can't be ignored. Such a dialogue is acceptable, but only after the US has committed to withdrawal - a consistent theme among the "Islamist nationalist" resistance groups. The AMS warns against beginning dialogue with the US before it has committed to withdrawing, because any dialogue before then is only aimed at exploiting and creating differences among the resistance in order to weaken it.
Finally, one fascinating point: the AMS urges coordination with all voices and movements working against the occupation - explicitly including Shia factions which fit that description. The entire document is notably devoid of anti-Shia rhetoric: all attention focuses on the US. Even Maliki's government is criticized for being an American agent, not for being sectarian. Read that as you will.
I mention the AMS open letter not only because it's an important political move within the Sunni community, and yet another signal of what the nationalist insurgency groups are trying to do - come together around a political program and form some kind of leadership which can act effectively in a post-American Iraq. I also mention it because it's important right now to emphasize that these groups are simply not going to sit back and allow the currently America-friendly tribal shaykhs to dominate Sunni politics. They see what's happening, and they are actively strategizing about how to frustrate the American plan to consolidate an "acceptable", supposedly pro-US leadership in the Sunni areas. The Sunni turn against al-Qaeda, and the current willingness to work with the US military, depended on a tacit agreement between the major insurgency groups and tribal leaders on the need to defend their turf. But reading recent insurgency literature makes it painfully clear that these groups remain committed to an American withdrawal (no matter what the Anbar Awakening crowd says) but also that they are deeply suspicious of the intentions and aspirations of those tribal leaders sitting down with Bush. It's pretty clear who they think is trying to "illegitimately steal the fruits of the resistance's victory".
The open letter offers a window into what should be a perfectly obvious point: Sunni resistance groups who don't share the Bush administration's agenda are not passive observers of the emerging American Sunni strategy. These groups have always been the blind spot in the way surge partisans framed Sunni politics - with the juxtaposition of al-Qaeda and the Awakenings crowding out any consideration of the agency of the insurgency groups themselves. They still are - the constant use of the term "former insurgents" tends to occlude the fact that these groups still very much exist and have agendas of their own.
Now Fred Kagan and the administration argue that "moderate" (read "amenable to the Americans") will win out in the intra-Sunni competition, and that the political incentives will now undermine hard-liners. The lavish financial packages mentioned during Bush's stopover in Anbar are surely meant to sweeten their hand, as are the police and military jobs. But all of this relies on an astonishing number of rosy assumptions - about economic development, about Sunni preferences and expectations, and about the passivity of hard-liners in the face of it all. The AMS letter, sharply warning the resistance against complacency as well as factionalism, is clearly meant to ensure against that last one.
What's much more likely than a consolidation of moderate politics is that the continuing Shia domination of the security forces and the state, the political deadlock in Baghdad, the predictable failure of economic development promises, the nresolved refugee crisis, and the inexorable logic of civil war will strengthen the hand of hard-liners. They are almost certainly going to do what they can to push events in
that direction if they feel their influence seriously threatened, and they'll have plenty to work with. The Sunnis in the police and military in whom the administration is investing such hope will continue to face a sectarian stainless-steel ceiling, and there is very little reason to believe that their loyalties will shift to a national government perceived as sectarian and hostile. That's even more the case for the "former insurgents" who are not integrated into any national level institutions like the army, who really can't be described as anything other than US-sanctioned militias. The insurgency groups command a lot of guns, and the loyalty of their people - 1920 Revolution Brigade members cooperating with the US against al-Qaeda remain 1920 Revolution Brigade members, just like Badr Brigades in the Iraqi military remain Badr Brigades. And then there's the million-plus refugees and displaced persons, with harsh memories of sectarian atrocities, who will not likely be able to return home to an ethnically cleansed Baghdad and will likely be a powerful constituency for hard-liners. I could go on, but I think that's enough for now...