... while the rest of us cry. (No, I didn't sign up, but I was there in spirit.) Will Cubs fans shut up about their stupid little curse fetish now?
... while the rest of us cry. (No, I didn't sign up, but I was there in spirit.) Will Cubs fans shut up about their stupid little curse fetish now?
As meaningless, non-binding symbolic Senate resolutions go, Joe Biden just managed a doozy. By passing with 75 votes a meaningless, non-binding symbolic Senate resolution in favor of the partition of Iraq, Biden managed to simultaneously: infuriate nearly all Iraqis, who have virtually unanimously condemned the resolution (as have the Arab allies of the US, for that matter); let Senate Republicans off the hook by allowing them to say that they voted for change even though they continue to vote against anything real; and endorse an unworkable plan which would massively increase human suffering while working against American interests in the region and not actually solving the problems.
I've never understood the appeal of "soft partition" to anyone other than dedicated pro-Kurdish activists. It sounds like such a nice, clean exit strategy. But near as I can tell, it would actually mean heavy and active involvement of US troops in facilitating "transfer" of peoples (ah, how delicate that sounds) and a long-term military commitment to protecting the new entities (especially the Kurds). It would simultaneously exacerbate Shia-Shia conflict while enhancing Iranian influence in the Shia areas. It would infuriate the Sunnis who cling fiercely to the principle of a unified state and fuel the most radical trends in those areas while undermining more moderate leader. It would guarantee that the crisis of the internally displaced and refugees will never be solved, promoting instability in the country and the region for decades (while also rewarding sectarian cleansing strategies and encouraging them in the future). And - most ironically - it would probably go along quite nicely with the current Bush strategy of ignoring the national government and focusing on the local level. At least there could be some return on otherwise wasted investment, though: the security forces we've spent the last four years training at least have some valuable experience and a fine track record in carrying out the sectarian cleansing that the plan would require.
Good for Barack Obama that he decided not to vote on this embarrassment, though I'd have preferred he vote no. Hillary Clinton voted yes.
I've been following the controversy over Blackwater in Iraq the same as other people, and reading scathing commentaries by Arab pundits like Fahmy Howeydi, Naji Hussein, Faisal Jalloul, and others. But I don't pretend to know very much about the details of private security contractors. Luckily, I do know Peter Singer of Brookings, author of the excellent Corporate Warriors and someone with real perspective on the full scope of the problem. Singer has just published a timely and deeply interesting report called "Can't Win With Them, Can't Go To War Without Them" (warning: link is to PDF) which argues forcefully that "the use of private military contractors appears to have harmed rather than helped the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq."
His argument applies specifically to Iraq, where he identifies a series of very specific ways in which the use of private contractors has undermined the counter-insurgency mission, and more generally to its pernicous role as an "enabler" of poor strategic decisions.
At the level of grand strategy, he warns that the availability of contractors "allows policymakers to dodge key decisions that carry political costs, thus leading to operational choices that might not reflect public interest." In other words, it allows the US to fight wars beyond the means of the all-volunteer army, thus allowing for a more aggressive foreign policy than an electorate might prefer. He details the many functions of these contractors, from logistical support to armed roles in the battlespace, and concludes bluntly that "the war in Iraq would not be possible without private military contractors." Where that could be used as testimony to their usefulness, Singer views it as an "addiction", a cheap fix which allows for poorly conceived military interventions beyond the real means of the United States.
More directly, he argues that the reliance on contractors undermines the very counter-insurgency doctrines on which the military's hopes currently rest. The availability of these contractors feeds a set
of perverse incentives - their financial interest is to build huge bases, for instance, with
elaborate (and expensive) logistics which alienate Iraqis and go
against counterinsurgency best practices as outlined in Petraeus's
manual. More significantly, perhaps, he shows in some detail how the contractors "inflamed popular opinion against the American mission through operational practices that ignore the fundamental lessons of counterinsurgency" and "participated in a series of abuses that have undermined efforts at winning 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi people." He identifies a lengthy trail of contractor misconduct which did not begin a few weeks ago, pointing out that they are often "the most visible and most hated aspect of the American presence." A security contractor's job is, say, to get an official from point A to point B safely - not to win hearts and minds along the way. In a counterinsurgency which deeply depends on winning local support, this is a problem. As he quotes one Iraqi official, people just view the contractors as Americans. That they are above the law shines a glaring spotlight on the shortcomings of Iraq's alleged sovereignty, while also (and this is my interpretation of what Singer is saying) insulting the professional American military personnel who are operating under clear chains of command and codes of behavior.
There's a lot more there, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the background and wider implications of the current Blackwater controversy.
Last week I wrote about a talk I gave as part of a panel discussion at the Cato Institute. Through the wonders of modern technology, you can now watch "Assessing the Surge" for yourself. Here's part of my talk, complete with some embarrassingly dramatic framing footage:I'm afraid I can't talk about the current status of the negotiations over movie rights.
Too busy to post at any great length, but I wanted to draw attention to two recent articulations of a political program by important Iraqi Sunnis.
First, Tareq al-Hashemi (head of the Islamic Iraqi Party and for now still Vice President) offered a political program aimed at overcoming the current political stalemate (fun fact: Aswat al-Iraq tells you how many people have read each story, and I was the first person to read this one - yay, me). Hashemi, who has been making the rounds of Sunni areas over the last few weeks to meet with tribal and local leaders, put forward his new political program in a press conference today (Wednesday). It's significant because Hashemi is the highest ranking Sunni in the Iraqi government, and has been at the center of the crisis facing Maliki's government. He's also probably the single Sunni leader most invested in the current political process, and therefore a key to any hopes of a formal political reconciliation (although for the same reason he takes a lot of abuse from insurgency factions for his "collaboration" with the Maliki government, and has to work hard to prove himself with Sunni audiences).
The program calls for "united federal Iraq" which respects the legitimacy of the national resistance (al-muqawima al-wataniya) against the occupation. According to the article, Hashemi called for a concerted effort to reach a new consensus among Iraqis and to overcome the growing mutual mistrust and fear which has paralyzed the country's politics. Overcoming violence, he argued, requires first uniting the vision of the fundamental questions about the country's future: no military solution without a political reconciliation, in other words. He called for moving these discussions out of the closed rooms where they are being considered and involving the country's people in a real public debate - and for making it an authentically Iraqi agreement without foreign intervention (he left unspecified, as near as I can tell, whether this meant either/both Iran or/and the United States).
He then offered a 25 point program around which he hoped to achieve a national consensus, including: Iraqis are equal as citizens before the law with no discrimination based on religion or sect or origin or political membership; shedding Iraqi blood should be considered forbidden; extremism such as takfir should be condemned and combatted; legitimacy should flow from the ballot box and there should be no acceptance of coups or despotism; and recognizing the special status of the Kurdish region. It demanded that the armed forces be the property of all Iraqis, not of one party or sect, and rejected all militias or armed groups outside the context of the national state. Finally, while condemning "terrorism" it endorsed the legitimacy of "resistance to the occupation". This seems like as close to the state of play in national-level Iraqi Sunni politics as you're likely to get, so it will be interested to see if it generates any movement. Supposedly it has been circulated to other political groupings, but no word as of yet about any response.
The other intervention comes from Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Qissi, spokesman for the Reform and Jihad Front, whose interview with the Yaqin News Agency has been posted on the al-Buraq forum (and probably others) but does not yet appear on the RJF's own site. The Reform and Jihad Front, you might recall, is one of several efforts by the insurgency factions (including the Islamic Army of Iraq and the Mujahideen Army) to form a united political leadership - and therefore might be considered "state of play" for the "nationalist-jihadist" insurgency factions.
Qissi made a number of familiar points: the primary goal is to drive the occupation out of Iraq, a jihad which would never be abandoned no matter its price. He claimed that the jihadist factions were the only legitimate representatives of the (Sunni) Iraqi people, but they reject and will seek to abort any political process which gives legitimacy to the occupation or helps it to achieve its goals and reject the legitimacy of a constitution devised under occupation. He specifically rejected any Iranian intervention in Iraqi affairs. As for a positive political project, he mostly talked about Islam and sharia. He demanded a unified Iraq while nodding towards Kurdish distinctiveness. In what I take to be an interesting innovation (it is bolded in the text), he said that one of the RJF's most important goals is to reject any discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or sect, which could be a (fairly weak) attempt to reach out to Shia.
He didn't offer a totally rosy picture of the insurgency, however. He acknowledged that the resistance had not been able to protect the Sunnis of Baghdad as they would have liked, attributing this to the US construction of walls and security operations which favored the Shia militias and hindered their ability to protect Sunnis. He also acknowledged that some factions had worked with the occupation, a decision he regretted but which he hoped would be changed as they saw the light and realized their mistake. The overall tone of the interview was defiant but not exuberant, at least as I read it.
Once again, I'm just throwing these out for people to chew over, not really offering any arguments one way or the other about their significance at this point. As always, I think that what Iraqi figures are saying to their own people should be taken into account at least as much as what they say in English to American journalists, even if both are useful bits of information in their own way. Make of them what you will.
One last thing: I wanted to be sure to link to Nir Rosen's latest outstanding dispatch, this one focusing on the Iraqi refugees.
Morning update: did I really start a post by saying "too busy to post at any great length" and then proceed to write a 1000 word post? I think I need more, or less, coffee.
More importantly, Tareq al-Hashemi has reportedly said that Ali Sistani welcomed his initiative, which would be something of a big deal even if Sistani's influence doesn't seem to be what it once was.
The Next Iraq Problem
Iraq’s refugees tell heartbreaking accounts of suffering, displacement, and shattered dreams, but these refugees represent more than mere human interest stories. Collectively, the outpouring of millions of Iraqi refugees into a very small number of neighboring countries poses a dramatic security threat to the Middle East, and there is no sign that threat is going away.
In the lead up to the Iraq war, most of the U.S. government discussion about refugees assumed that refugee flows would be sudden, massive and brief. When more than a million Kurds fled Iraq into Turkey and Iran in 1991 to avoid Saddam’s wrath, camps were set up within days. The U.S. military dropped food and supplies, and provided protection for those trapped within Iraq’s borders. A few months later, the crisis was over, and refugees returned to their homes.
Iraq’s refugees now are not like the refugees then. They have fled slowly, not suddenly. They live in capital cities such as Damascus and Amman, not in open fields or encampments. And they are not peasants or craftsmen who can eke out a living on meager resources; they are white-collar workers with education and training but little future in their homeland.
Iraq’s refugees give little sign of returning home, and it is no wonder why. Iraq continues to unravel, and life is especially dangerous for the cosmopolitan petit bourgeoisie whom many assumed would inherit post-Saddam Iraq. Today’s Iraq is no place for a doctor or a professor, especially one with a young family. Sectarianism plays in as well. Perhaps half of the refugees are Sunni Arabs, a group that represents about a fifth of the Iraqi population but had been the backbone of Saddam’s regime. They see their country sliding not only into Shi’a control, but to rule by a Shi’a mob that is bent on revenge.
In many ways, however, fleeing the country provides only a brief respite. Few refugees are allowed to work in their new homes, and savings are running out. Children are sometimes barred from school, and others go to schools bursting at the seams. Health care, when it is available, is often expensive. The refugee flow has dramatically boosted housing prices, not only raising costs for the new émigrés, but also squeezing the young and working class in countries such as Syria and Jordan who see affordable housing sliding beyond their grasp.
The refugee flows are massive, and they are squeezed into a very small number of countries. Syria alone claims to have more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees—representing about eight percent of Syria’s population—mostly concentrated in the Damascus area. The economy is far from booming: foreign subsidies have dried up, the country’s small oil reserves are fast depleting, and foreign investors balk at penetrating a government bureaucracy that is slowly reforming but remains profoundly opaque. While some Iraqis maintain businesses back home while living in the safety of Damascus, desperation forces many more into prostitution and other crimes.
Syria periodically raises the possibility of cutting off the refugee flow or pushing Iraqis out, but doing so would require a dramatic shift in the ruling party’s pan-Arab ideology. The government seems caught, yet determined to muddle through.
Difficult as Syria’s problems are, Jordan’s are even more dire. Jordan has accepted 750,000 Iraqis, who now constitute more than ten percent of Jordan’s population. When combined with the 60 percent of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, the ruling Hashemites and their East Bank Jordanian allies have become an even smaller minority in their own country. Jordan has always been more homogenous than Syria, but the influx of hundreds of thousands of Shi’a Arabs has put an end to that.
Jordan’s refugee problem is compounded by a crisis brewing on its western border. With Hamas’ rise in the Palestinian territories, and the Fatah-led government’s determination to squelch it, instability there leaches into Jordan’s majority Palestinian community. The peril increases as U.S. policymakers and others push Jordan to deepen connections to the West Bank as a way of improving conditions in Palestine and supporting President Mahmoud Abbas. It may all work out well, but the danger is that Jordan falls prey to the crises on its eastern and western borders.
Other countries have taken smaller numbers of refugees but many have taken few or none. It is here, perhaps, that the United States is leading by example. The United States accepts 70,000 refugees per year worldwide, and only a small fraction have been from Iraq. Post-September 11 security concerns are partly in play, but more important is a reluctance to admit the magnitude of problems in Iraq and the likely permanence of the refugees’ displacement.
For too long, the Iraqi refugee problem has been seen merely as a humanitarian problem. It is that, but it is also a strategic one. Hundreds of thousands of increasingly desperate, unassimilated refugees can do dramatic things, and among them is threatening the stability of their new home. Assimilating these populations has its own challenges, especially in essentially authoritarian systems with limited resources and existing patronage networks.
For the United States, the strategic implications of Jordanian instability are clear, so deep is the military, intelligence, and diplomatic cooperation with that country, and so important is the Jordanian role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Instability in Syria is feared less, although it could make the country even more hostile to U.S. interests. In addition, few have contemplated the long-term impact of violent extremists mixed into these refugee populations, networked throughout the region and representing a new and virulent threat to their host societies.
No amount of money or time will make this problem go away. It is an international problem, and it will require international cooperation. More refugees will need to be absorbed outside of the Middle East, and lives will need to be put back together. There will need to be extensive screening of migrants, and robust intelligence cooperation. Making all of this work will require leadership, and the United States has not led nearly as much as it needs to.
Alterman raises issues which I see as ever-more central to the future of Iraqi and regional politics. While it's been good to see some public pressure on the United States to do more about admitting a few thousand Iraqis who have worked with the US and to whom we most certainly have some moral obligation, this strikes me as largely beside the point. The Iraqi refugee problem isn't just about American moral obligations - it needs to be understood as a deep strategic problem shaping both internal Iraqi and regional political outcomes. I don't think there's been enough thought given to the complex ways in which this issue could reformulate Iraqi and regional politics over the next few decades.
Alterman lays out the destabilizing impact around the region. I'd go further than the immediate effects on regime stability. If the Iraqi refugee problem is not dealt with, it will likely "default" into precisely the conditions which have made the Palestinian issue so potent and so destabilizing over the decades: a large population of permanently de facto stateless persons spread across multiple Arab countries, whose personal and communal traumas resonate deeply with core political narratives (Arabist or Islamist or sectarian). Might they be expected at some point to form some kind of diasporic political movement like the PLO? Might they become a receptive audience for and instrument of new forms of transnational politics, mobilized by ambitious Arab leaders or movements against their host regimes? Could an Iraqi "state within a state" form in parts of Jordan or even Syria? Will these Iraqi refugees be eventually integrated into their societies, or will they be confined to refugee camps? Or will they become a UN mandate, along the lines of the uneasy UNRWA custody of the Palestinian refugees? Will they suffer the kinds of enforced marginalization experienced by Palestinians in Lebanon? Are these questions even being asked?
Their effects will be felt deeply inside Iraq as well, of course. These internally displaced persons have scarring, recent memories of their sectarian cleansing - of their loved ones being slaughtered, of their homes being lost, of their communities fragmenting - which are by the day crystallizing into the kinds of hardened, deep narratives which make the prospects of any kind of negotiated reconciliation deeply unlikely. If they are unable to return to their homes in formerly mixed areas (something which even the most optimistic scenarios on offer these days rarely even touches upon), Iraq will face deep problems of internal irredentism. In the event Iraq has anything like a democracy in its future they will become a constant constituency for radicalism and the carriers of a deep, burning resentment which will not likely be assuaged by the kinds of benchmarks for political reconciliation currently on offer (think: Bosnia).
For more, I highly recommend the new issue of Middle East Report, which features a package of articles on the topic including Julie Peteet's depressingly useful overview which explores the Palestinian comparison in some depth.
UPDATE: .... and let me add a link to Nir Rosen's latest excellent dispatch, which coincidentally looks precisely at the Iraqi refugee question.
This morning I took part in a panel discussion at the Cato Institute called "assessing the surge." It appears that last week's fireworks did not exhaust interest in the subject; the room was full - the organizer estimated about 150 people. The other panelists were Daveed Gartenstein-Ross from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Weekly Standard (pinch-hitting for Clifford May), James Dobbins of RAND, and Chris Preble of Cato. Luckily, my worst fears were not realized; nobody wanted to talk about Ayn Rand.
My comments for the most part won't surprise anyone who reads the blog regularly. In the first half, I outlined where I agreed with the Petraeus/Crocker report: there has been no political progress at the national level and in fact things have regressed - and therefore, by the original logic of the surge, it has failed; there has been little progress in the south, where intra-Shia violence is escalating; sectarian cleansing of Baghdad proceeds apace; and there have been some changes in the Sunni areas. I pointed out that the reduction of violence in Baghdad and other mixed cities results in part from the brutal fact that sectarian cleansing has succeeded - and that there is no prospect on the horizon for the return of these refugees and displaced persons, who constitute a new Iraqi community likely consumed by sectarian resentment fueled by immediate harsh experience and formulating new communal narratives which are the farthest thing from "bottom up reconciliation." I gave my usual argument about what happened in the Sunni areas, which I won't recapitulate here. I concluded with my mind-boggling experience yesterday of watching an American neoconservative on al-Jazeera lecturing a Sunni Iraqi tribal shaykh - in English - about what is really going on in the Sunni tribal areas, and warned against believing our own propaganda about the Sunni areas.
All the speakers were interesting: Garenstein-Ross gave a much more sober and guarded assessment than I had expected from a Weekly Standard writer, and we actually ended up agreeing about more than we disagreed (though I don't understand how he could argue that the Bush administration's spin was misleading and overly optimistic in 2005 and 2006, while simultaneously expecting us to believe that now, in 2007, we should take their claims at face value). Preble gave a sobering analysis focused on domestic politics which argued that the real model was Korea and that the US was not leaving Iraq any time soon in spite of the strategic failures and the hostile public opinion.
I found James Dobbins the most interesting speaker (including myself). Drawing on his own long experience as a diplomat and as a student of interventions, he argued forcefully for a version of the Iraq Study Group's 'diplomatic surge' which would bring all of Iraq's neighbors into a Dayton-like (or Bonn-like) conference. The US brought Milosevic and Tudjman to Dayton knowing perfectly well the amount of blood on their hands and the boost it would give to their domestic political fortunes, because that was the only way to end the violence - and it worked. He argued that no civil war can ever be resolved if the country's neighbors don't want it to be resolved; the US can either contain Iran or stabilize Iraq, but it can't have both.
At the end, I elaborated on Dobbins' Dayton example by suggesting an alternative lesson of the Anbar model which is rarely discussed. After years of failed warfare against the Sunni insurgency, the US decided to talk with and then cooperate with "former" insurgents with a lot of American blood on their hands. They discovered that it worked (at least for the short term). It's ironic that the same people who currently most vigorously defend the "Anbar Model" of working with these "former insurgents" usually strongly oppose any serious dialogue with Syria or Iran. If there's one good thing which could come out of the current American Sunni strategy in Iraq, perhaps it will be the recognition that talking to one's enemies can sometimes have positive results.
I'll put up a link to the video when Cato puts it online.
UPDATE: Ilan Goldenberg offers up his thoughts on the panel; he was also impressed by Jim Dobbins.
Thanks to Shomik Dutta, a wonderful former Williams student of mine now working for the campaign, I got to attend a small evening reception with Barack Obama last night. He arrived almost two hours late and clearly exhausted after a big youth rally in DC in the afternoon, but then stayed on long after the event had been scheduled to end (reminded me of a Bruce Springsteen show I saw in Chicago many, many years ago). While I don't want to get into primary politics here, I've thought for quite a while that Obama was the most interesting and exciting candidate in the race on either side, and that he's been putting out some great ideas about foreign policy and especially Iraq, but this was my first chance to meet him in person. I was reallly impressed, especially by his answer to a question about exactly how a withdrawal from Iraq would increase American security and by his discussion of the urgency to reach out to the Muslims of the world with a positive alternative (suggesting a more comprehensive understanding of the problems of public diplomacy and anti-Americanism than I've heard from other candidates). I'm not going to go in to the details of our short chat about Iraq policy and about Middle East reform issues, but I was more interested in just seeing how he interacted with people. He came across, despite being exhausted, as confident, warm, interested, and genuine - especially when Chicago or sports came up (I had to tell him that since I'm a passionate Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers fan, we were sworn enemies, but let's just say that he didn't pander). I got to see his passion and his command of detail, and his ability to engage in easy conversation with a (somewhat) wide variety of people. He also showed the ability of a good professor to quickly move up and down the ladder of abstraction, if you will, moving from soaring rhetoric to detailed pragmatic analysis with ease. I came away from the evening even more perplexed by the emerging media narrative about his alleged gaffes, few of which actually look like gaffes to me (the Pakistan "gaffe" came out of a really excellent speech on terrorism, and he was obviously right about the need for Presidential diplomacy).
Also, I got to hang out for about ten minutes with Shawn Springs, the stellar defensive back for the Washington Redskins. Nice guy. He thinks they're going to do well this year, in case your interested, and he looked healthy to me. He was full of praise for new quarterback Jason Campbell, who he described as having tremendous potential and feeling very comfortable in the offense. He showed due respect to Brett Favre, but declined to offer any thoughts about how the Packers would do in the Super Bowl this year.
Al-Jazeera just aired a half-hour interview with Ibrahim al-Shammari, spokesman of the Islamic Army of Iraq (which is one of the largest of the "nationalist-jihadist" Sunni insurgency factions). I'd been seeing discussions about the interview in the Iraqi-oriented forums for a couple of days before it aired, suggesting considerable interest in what the IAI would have to say about the Crocker-Petraeus report. I'm not sure when it was recorded, but no mention was made of the murder of Sattar Abu Risha, so if I had to guess I'd say it was done September 12- after the Congressional hearings but before the assassination. I didn't notice any particular innovations in his discourse, but it's worth pointing out his major arguments and themes.
Ibrahim al-Shammari, screen capture from al-Jazeera.
In response to a question about the Petraeus report and the role of the surge in Anbar, Shammari replied that the Islamic Army of Iraq saw nothing new in the report. It claims to see progress in the tribal areas, but, he said, the American forces haven't done anything in those areas. What happened in Anbar is the al-Qaeda Organization turned itself into a state, and terrorized anyone who had a different opinion, and this caused great unhappiness among the tribes and the factions who turned against it. Then the US intervened and tried to exploit the differences, spreading money around and trying to buy support, but the troops they sent didn't accomplish anything. This narrative actually doesn't deeply conflict with the Petraeus narrative about what happened last year in the Sunni areas, but of course diverges sharply when you get to the end about the significance of the US role and the nature of Sunni cooperation. He didn't seem particularly concerned about the Anbar Salvation Council or its counterparts elsewhere, treating them as perfectly compatible with the resistance's agenda and a response to al-Qaeda's transgressions but not a threat to the role of the factions.
The interviewer interrupted to say that the operations against the Americans did go down, a claim which Shammari rejected. Attacks against American forces have not gone down, he said, operations against the Americans continue ever day (he claimed over 50 a day for the IAI alone). Shammari acknowledged that some "sons of the tribes" were cooperating with the Americans, but insisted that the cooperation was strictly limited to self-defense and to fighting against al-Qaeda - nothing more, nothing less. The street remains with the resistance, he claimed, and it was absurd to try to distinguish between the resistance and the tribes. When pressed on the nature of Sunni-American cooperation, he responded by harping on the levels of US-Shia cooperation through the Iraqi state, and military and police forces.
Shammari talked a lot about the Sunni-Shia conflict, trying to draw a sharp distinction between the Shia - with whom there could be no conflict since at the societal level there were no differences - and the Iranian-backed Shia forces. The two problems facing Iraq, he said, are Iran and the occupation, and in the absence of the occupation the Shia would turn back to their natural affinity with other Iraqi Arabs rather than to Iran. Iraq is not a sectarian (ta'ifi) society, he argued, and it was only the occupation which had sowed the seeds of sectarianism (which led to a lengthy argument over Iraqi history). He insisted that the IAI and other factions were Sunni, but fought in defense of all Iraqis whether Sunni or Shia - liberation from occupation was the goal of all, he claimed. He rejected the suggestion that Sadr's Mahdi Army might be a partner in this fight, however, claiming that the Mahdi Army's only problems with the occupation were over Iran and not over liberating Iraq.
On al-Qaeda, Shammari took a rather calmer tone than in past IAI statements (forum discussions had suggested that he was going to be far more aggressive, so it's interesting that he wasn't). He acknowledged that the IAI had worked with al-Qaeda in the past - back then all the factions cooperated against the occupation, he said. But then al-Qaeda changed, he said, and began pursuing a private secret agenda which nobody could understand. He called for all factions to come back to a clear agenda of national liberation. In a line singled out already in the forums, he rejected insults to al-Qaeda, instead calling for it to come back to the shared agenda of the resistance. At the same time, as befits the "nationalist" in "nationalist-jihadist", Shammari stressed the Iraqi national interest and put the jihad in service of national liberation - which has for almost a year been the argument at the core of the doctrinal arguments between the IAI allies and the al-Qaeda allies.
Finally, he repeated the IAI's frequently articulated position of refusing to negotiate or sit with the Americans until there was a clear and binding commitment to withdrawal - at which point, the IAI would naturally be willing to talk to the Americans about the terms of the withdrawal. He said that there was no political process in Iraq to join right now, anyway. It had come to its end, collapsing on itself, and everyone was looking past the failed institutions. He decried all plans for federalism and partition as an American long-term agenda to weaken and divide Iraq, and went on at some length appealing for a united Iraq. He looked forward to an Iraq ruled by all the nationalist-jihadist factions, which would seem to suggest an expansive rather than limited agenda on their part.
No particular further comment here, just wanted to pass on info about a fairly important intervention in the Iraqi Sunni political field. I'll update if/when I see interesting discussion of it. One point I did want to make, though: you'll notice that Shammari in the screen capture above is still veiled in shadows to protect his identity. If these insurgency factions ever expect to advance an effective public political agenda, they are going to have to start putting forth some spokesmen who are not veiled in shadows.
UPDATE: just heard through a source that Shammari's interview was recorded in Qatar, not in Amman as I had assumed - and not in Damascus, as others might have assumed. If my source is right, that raises some very interesting questions about the relationship between the "nationalist-jihadist" factions and various regional governments - especially, given that Shammari complained in the interview that the Sunni Arab governments were not adequately supporting the resistance.
For those of you in the DC area, a few upcoming appearances over the next two weeks:
Cato Institute. "Assessing the Surge." Featuring Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute; James Dobbins, Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation; Clifford D. May, President, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science, George Washington University; and moderated by Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.
National Defense University, Center for Technology and National Security Policy. "The Battle of Ideas: Messages, Mediums, and Methods." Confirmed presenters and/or panel members include Dr. Harvey Rishikof and the Honorable Robery Reilly, professors at NDU, as well as Marc Lynch, Michael S. Doran, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, John Robb, author of Brave New War; T.X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone; Todd Helmus and Christopher Paul, coauthors of Enlisting Madison Avenue; and Kyle Teamey, coauthor of the U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual. (I think Jon Alterman and Michael Hudson are also slated to participate.) This conference is open to all, but registration is required by Friday, September 21, 2007. To register, please reply to CTNSP-NCO@ndu.edu. View agenda.