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Part two in a series - part one is here.
On reasons for success in Iraq - from part one:
In reality both the increase in US troops and the development of "awakening councils" were crucial. For example, recall that with no safe havens in Anbar, al Qaeda fled to Baqubah in Diyala Province. Months would pass before that could be addressed, but as Mike Yon would report, the combination of US surge forces and the 1920's Revolution Brigades (who like the Anbar tribes had turned on al Qaeda) were able to secure the area.
THE SURGE IS NOT WORKING... The reduced violence in Anbar Province is the result of cooperation between American forces and Sunni tribes, which started more than 18 months ago, long before the surge.He's wrong on all counts of course, including his guess at how long ago the people of Anbar had joined our fight against al Qaeda. Like most Americans, Barack Obama knows very little about Iraq.
In fact embracing (or perhaps outright creating) the "Awakening" movement did prove to be the lynchpin in the success of "the surge" - without which the Awakening Movement would have failed.
Here I must acknowledge what some may perceive as a bias. I was part of the surge. In the Winter of 2007, as I explained the surge and discussed tipping points I was also preparing to go. By Spring I was in Iraq with a unit in Multi National Division-Center, the division formed as part of the surge.
I was glad to see the model of the Awakening Movement embraced from the earliest days:
What I have the opportunity to do now with my soldiers is get out and engage with the population. For example, in MND-Center's battlespace, we have 23 sites where coalition forces are living amongst the population. And we have a chance to engage with the population. They're tired of the violence. They're tired of the attacks. And now they're mounting forces to help us and help the Iraqi security forces evict the extremist networks from their country.That key point was ignored by a media that instead fixated on this:
Q: General, this is Andrew Gray with Reuters. You mentioned that as you surge, you see the enemy surging as well. Can you give us any examples of that?You may recall the "Enemy is surging too!" headlines that followed.
But by August, the important trend would be obvious:
And that's what's happening as we work these surge operations. We get to an area, the locals there, the first question they ask is, "Are you staying?" And once they're convinced we're staying, the question then becomes, "How can we help?" What we see as a result of that commitment is Iraqi citizens are coming forward and they're indeed saying, "What can we do to help?"(The end result can be viewed here.)
Over the last four months, we've seen an interesting shift. Iraqi citizens are coming to us to provide information. These citizens are speaking up about what they've seen, they're talking about what they've heard and about any activity that jeopardizes the rebuilding of their country.
From that, we're now having concerned citizens programs operating in both Sunni and Shi'a areas alike, with local Iraqis manning checkpoints and giving us important information on insurgents and weapons caches, and that's led to a dramatic turnaround in the security situation in some areas; not all the areas, but in some areas.
This upswell of almost 10,000 concerned citizens has enabled our soldiers to go in and restore normalcy as much as possible to these communities. With our help, the Iraqis are starting to realize that they can establish order and accountability in their lives.
As I said before, we assumed this mission about four-and-a-half months ago. My last brigade combat team closed in as part of the surge into Iraq in early June. Since we arrived, we've been implementing the plan, and what's been accomplished so far has been surprising in its implications.
Residents of former al Qaeda safe havens have flipped to the side with the coalition forces against the enemy. And with the security that's resulted, we've seen the Iraqi people benefit from a window for reconstruction and the growth of local leadership. Overall attacks are down by 26 percent in Multinational Division-Center. Civilian casualties have decreased by 36 percent.
Since the 15th of June, we have killed or captured 16 high-value individuals throughout our battlespace. Removing these leaders not only weakens the enemy network but also keeps pressure on the remaining elements and shows them we will continue to hunt them down if they continue their activities. In addition to that, we have either killed or captured now 1,000 of the enemy insurgents.
In the absence of violence, growth has taken place at the local level. And with the nurturing of the concerned citizens groups, the Iraqi people are helping us consolidate our gains in security by stepping up and taking responsibility for securing their own town.
But it should be no surprise that the 3d ID had successfully embraced the awakening movement in their battlespace. Major General Lynch was also in Iraq the year before, as the ongoing effort to recruit Iraqis against al Qaeda began to see results. From February, 2006:
In Anbar Province, an insurgent hotbed that borders Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, US and Iraqi officials say they have a new ally against the Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists: local tribal leaders like Jadaan and home-grown Iraqi insurgents.Even then the project was nothing new. In fact, the American effort to recruit Iraqis (Iraqi insurgents, in fact) to turn against al Qaeda began much earlier, as Time Magazine's Michael Ware reported in February, 2005:
"The local insurgents have become part of the solution and not part of the problem," US Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters at a press conference last week.
Until recently, many of the Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar and local insurgent leaders collaborated with Islamic extremist groups whose funding and manpower is thought to come largely from abroad. They had a common goal: drive out the Americans.
But Mr. Zarqawi's indiscriminate killing of innocent Iraqis has alienated many of his erstwhile Iraqi allies. His shadowy militant group, known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, is believed to have assassinated four prominent Anbar sheikhs. And in January when hundreds of Anbar men turned up at an Iraqi Army recruiting depot in Ramadi, the provincial capital, a suicide bomber killed 70 would-be soldiers.
"We are ready," he says before leaving, "to work with you."The London Times updated the story in June, 2005:
In that guarded pledge may lie the first sign that after nearly two years of fighting, parts of the insurgency in Iraq are prepared to talk and move toward putting away their arms—and the U.S. is willing to listen.
Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that "there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents" but that the U.S. has joined "back-channel" communications with rebels. Says the observer: "There's a lot bubbling under the surface today."
Hard-line islamist fighters like Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda group will not compromise in their campaign to create an Islamic state. But in interviews with TIME, senior Iraqi insurgent commanders said several "nationalist" rebel groups—composed predominantly of ex-military officers and what the Pentagon dubs "former regime elements"—have moved toward a strategy of "fight and negotiate."
Behind the scenes, the U.S. is encouraging Sunni leaders and the insurgents to talk with the government. A tougher job may be to convince the leaders of political parties about to assume power—many of whom were brutalized by Baathists now coordinating the insurgency—that it's in their interests to reach a peaceful settlement with their former tormentors. In the U.S. command, there is increasing skepticism that the insurgency can be defeated through military might alone. Says a senior U.S. officer: "The Iraqis are the solution to the insurgency, and they are the solution to our departure."
In meetings with Sunni tribal leaders, Lieut. Colonel Rick Welch, the senior special-operations civil-military affairs adviser to the commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, put word out that the military was willing to talk to hard-liners about their grievances and that, as Welch says, "the door is not closed, except for some very top regime guys." Welch, a reservist and prosecutor from Morgan County, Ohio, told TIME, "I don't meet all the insurgent leaders, but I've met some of them." Although not an authorized negotiator, Welch has become a back channel in the nascent U.S. dialogue with the insurgents. Insurgent negotiators confirm to TIME that they have met with Welch.
The new U.S. policy of engagement is aimed at driving a wedge between nationalist insurgents and the jihadists. But al-Zarqawi and his allies have silenced nationalists by threatening to kill them if they negotiate. The Western observer close to the discussions says, "Al-Zarqawi keeps pulling the process away from 'fight and negotiate' to 'pure mayhem.'"
While some in the Bush Administration might find the idea of backing an accord with archenemy Baathists distasteful, the Western observer says, "I think you've got a pretty flexible [U.S.] government." Now it's up to the others to follow.
AT a summer villa near Balad in the hills 40 miles north of Baghdad, a group of Iraqis and their American visitors recently sat down to tea. It looked like a pleasant social encounter far removed from the stresses of war, but the heavy US military presence around the isolated property signalled that an unusual meeting was taking place.The issue of timetables might have been one reason results did not follow immediately thereafter. And according to the Times, by the next meeting the Americans were making demands of their own:
After weeks of delicate negotiation involving a former Iraqi minister and senior tribal leaders, a small group of insurgent commanders apparently came face to face with four American officials seeking to establish a dialogue with the men they regard as their enemies.
The talks on June 3 were followed by a second encounter 10 days later, according to an Iraqi who said that he had attended both meetings. Details provided to The Sunday Times by two Iraqi sources whose groups were involved indicate that further talks are planned in the hope of negotiating an eventual breakthrough that might reduce the violence in Iraq.
Washington seems to be gingerly probing for ways of defusing home-grown Iraqi opposition and of isolating the foreign Islamic militants who have flooded into Iraq to wage holy war against America under the command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi’s group, which has been blamed for many suicide bombings and beheadings, has not taken part.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment to make on the Iraqi claims despite repeated requests for confirmation.
Coalition military intelligence has identified at least four separate strands of anti-American opposition, including Zarqawi’s jihadists, former members of Saddam’s regime, Sunni Arab nationalists and criminal gangs.
The Iraqis had agreed beforehand to focus on their main demand, “a guaranteed timetable of American withdrawal from Iraq”, the source said. “We told them it did not matter whether we are talking about one year or a five-year plan but that we insisted on having a timetable nonetheless.”
The demand did not meet with a favourable response from the American team, perhaps because a timetable is the one thing that President George W Bush has declared he will not agree to.
Both Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, insisted last week that setting a timetable would be an invitation to the insurgents to “wait us out”, as the president put it.
Ibrahim al-Jafaari, the Iraqi prime minister, also rejected a timetable during his first visit to the White House on Friday.
This meeting did not go well. “The tone of the Americans was different,” the Iraqi insider said. “They were talking with a tone of more superiority, arrogance and provocation.”
After a discussion about Al-Qaeda activities, the Americans bluntly advised the Iraqis to “cease all support, logistics and cover for Zarqawi’s group”. Only if links to Al-Qaeda were severed would the Americans be ready to discuss Iraqi demands.
“Our response was that we will never abandon any Muslim who has come to our country to help us defend it,” the commander said.
“That was a right and prerogative of ours, just as they felt they had the right to ally themselves with other foreign nations in a coalition force to invade Iraq.”
The meeting reached another inconclusive end but the two sides agreed to keep talking, the Iraqi source said.
Time magazine reported in February that a meeting had taken place between one representative of the insurgents and two US military officials. Earlier this month it was claimed that indirect negotiations had begun through an intermediary.
The meetings described to The Sunday Times appear to have been the first formal talks between the two sides.
Other experts suggested the mediating role of Iraq’s tribal sheikhs showed that Sunni leaders were tiring of the violence but dared not say so publicly for fear of being seen as American stooges.
“My gut hunch is that the tribal leadership are practical men of affairs,” one specialist said. “Their view is that the insurgency is bad for business, but they can’t come out and say that without risking a bullet in the head.”