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And: This was the surge.
A spate of stories of US negotiating with terrorists in Iraq followed the June, 2005 London Times report. That weekend, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the rounds of network television's weekend news talk shows. While witholding details, during his appearances Rumsfeld obliquely confirmed that meetings were indeed taking place. He also discussed (and dismissed) the need for more troops in Iraq ("...the implication of the question was that we don't have enough to win against the insurgency. We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency... Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency"), and without using the terms, introduced the concept of "reconcilables" and "irreconcilables":
FOX NEWS SUNDAY' HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Good morning again from Fox News in Washington. Let's begin, as always, with a quick check of the latest headlines.An odd aside - at the time, the argument against Iraq was that while there had been tremendous political progress, violence was ongoing (an anti-war argument that would be reversed in the wake of the surge):
The Sunday Times of London reports that U.S. officials have held two secret meetings with insurgent commanders in Iraq. There were no breakthroughs in efforts to end the violence but more meetings are said to be planned.
And a congressional delegation spent Saturday at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. One Democrat who has called for the installation to be shut down said conditions have improved, and it was not the prison they had been hearing about for years.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and top Pentagon brass were grilled up on Capitol Hill this week about progress on the war in Iraq and treatment of terror prisoners. Our sole guest today is the secretary of defense.
Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.
WALLACE: Thank you.
Let's start with these reports of these direct meetings between U.S. officials, including allegedly a representative of the Pentagon, and insurgent commanders. Did they happen, and, if so, what did they accomplish?
RUMSFELD: Well, the first thing I would say about the meetings is they go on all the time.
Second, the Iraqis have a sovereign government. They will decide what their relationships with various elements of insurgents will be. We facilitate those from time to time.
And if you think about it, there aren't the good guys and the bad guys over there. There are people all across the spectrum.
There's the government, people who strongly support the government, people that are leaning and not quite sure what to do, people who are leaning the other way and not quite sure what to do, and then insurgents and people who oppose it, which is a mixture: There's the jihadists, there's the Zarqawi group, there are criminals, there's the Sunni Baathists who would like to take back the government.
Meetings take place all the time...
WALLACE: Were there direct meetings with insurgent commanders?
RUMSFELD: Look, my understanding is that some London paper reported this and everyone's chasing it. I would not make a big deal out of it.
Meetings go on frequently with people. The wonderful thing about what's happened since the election is the Shias have said, "Let's reach out to the Sunnis."
The Sunnis made a mistake not participating in the election as fully as they could have. They now know that. They said they've made a mistake. They're leaning in.
The Shia could have said, "Well, you didn't play, you're out." They didn't. They said, "Let's get the Sunnis in. We want to have one country, the Kurds, the Shia, the Sunni."
WALLACE: But let me ask you specifically about these reports. Is there an effort -- you talk about this, sort of, spectrum...
RUMSFELD: I can't comment on that.
WALLACE: But let me just ask you about this one specific idea. Is there an effort -- you talk about the spectrum of groups -- to try split off the homegrown insurgents from the foreign fighters, the Zarqawi group?
RUMSFELD: Well, sure, my goodness, yes. The first thing you want to do is split people off and get some people to be supportive.
The same thing's going on in Afghanistan. President Karzai is reaching out to the Taliban. He doesn't want those that have blood on their hands, but he is reaching out to the lower-level people and saying, "Look, let's have one country."
So I think the attention to this is overblown.
We had Secretary Rice on last week, and she tried to make the same argument I think that you are, sir, that while the political progress -- and there's no question there's been political progress. There's been an election, there's been the forming of a government, the forming of a constitutional committee.
But while all that's going on, the insurgency...
RUMSFELD: There's still violence.
WALLACE: ... seems to actually be on the increase.
RUMSFELD: It goes up and down. I think the level is about -- it's about level actually in terms of the number of incidents. The lethality is up. There's no question but that the enemy is a thinking enemy, that their attacks are more lethal than they had been previously. They're killing a lot more Iraqis.
But if you think about the insurgency, they don't have any vision. There's no Ho Chi Minh, there's no Mao, there's no nationalistic -- this is led by Zarqawi. He's a Jordanian and he's doing it not against a dictatorial government, he's doing it against an elected Iraqi government.
He's the enemy of the Iraqi people. He is going out and beheading people. He's killing dozens of Iraqis and Iraqi security forces.
...the terrorists are killing Iraqis in large numbers. That is not the way to win the support of the Iraqi people. That insurgency doesn't have a vision. They don't have a Mao or a Ho Chi Minh. They are foreigners trying to impose their will against an elected government in Iraq, and they're going to lose it.
One quote from that interview with Secretary Rumsfeld would make headlines - but not for the reason that would prove significant in the long term:
Second, the implication of the question was that we don't have enough to win against the insurgency. We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.
Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency.
If that country were turned over to the people who do the beheading, and are out killing innocent men, women and children Iraqis, the region would suffer.
The "10 to 12 year" remark would be the news of the week. But a Washington Post follow up to the story that actually mattered would indicate that talks with insurgents had been in the works for months before the Time Magazine story appeared in January:
Other parts of the U.S. government, including the State Department and CIA, have also been holding secret meetings with Iraqi insurgent factions in an effort to stop the violence and coax them into the political process, according to U.S. government officials and others who have participated in the efforts.
The military plan, approved in August 2004, seeks to make a distinction between Iraqi insurgents who are attacking U.S. troops because they are hostile to their presence, and foreign insurgents who are responsible for most of the suicide bombings -- which have killed more than 1,200 people in the past couple of months -- and whose larger political aims are unclear.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, who as commander of the U.S. Central Command is in charge of the war in Iraq, told CNN yesterday that "U.S. officials and Iraqi officials are looking for the right people in the Sunni community to talk to in order to ensure that the Sunni Arab community becomes part of the political process. And clearly we know that the vast majority of the insurgents are from the Sunni Arab community. It makes sense to talk to them."
But, Abizaid added, "we're not going to compromise with Zarqawi."
Excised from the headlines by Rumsfeld's 10-12 year remark, reporters would quickly forget the "US negotiating with terrorists" angle, and the story would vanish from the media for several months. Typical news coverage of Iraq from that period (and all others) offered little more than the running death toll, and bore headlines like the one on this story: Bombings Across Iraq Kill More Than 50 People.
In the deadliest of Monday's attacks, two bombings killed 30 people in the volatile northern town of Tall Afar, hospital officials said.A follow up story the next day would add "balance" to a report that al Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi had been shot:
The first bomb exploded late Monday outside the home of a Shiite tribal leader, according to an emergency room director who identified himself only as Haidar and a hospital director who said his name was Saleh. A second bomb exploded as crowds gathered to help the wounded from the first blast, the medical officials said. The second bomb claimed most of the victims.
Insurgent Chief Wounded, Aide SaysAs with Rumsfeld's 10 to 12 years remark, the Zarqawi possibly shot angle garnered the vast majority of American media attention. (Only after he was actually killed in a coalition strike would the media reveal that he was actually a pathtic fool whose importance was over-emphasized by Americans and whose death only strengthened al Qaeda in Iraq.)
Zarqawi Reportedly Shot; 9 U.S. Troops Die in Attacks
Two back-to-back bombings Monday in the northern city of Tall Afar unleashed vigilante violence and retaliatory killings. Witness and police accounts said at least 14 people had been killed in retaliatory attacks Tuesday after Monday's bombings killed 30.
An Associated Press special correspondent reported seeing civilians with assault rifles manning checkpoints in Shiite neighborhoods of the city on Tuesday, and residents and authorities spoke of Sunni checkpoints elsewhere in the city.
"Shiites' armed men are walking around looking for Sunnis to kill," police Col. Salih Jameel Sultan said.
As for the situation in Tall Afar, Moqtada Sadr announced he was going to send "help":
However, Moqtada Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric based in the southern city of Najaf, said the fighting in Tall Afar involved two tribes and that news media were exaggerating its sectarian nature. Sadr said he would send aides to the city.
Sadr told reporters that he expected "positive results in coming days" from a peace pledge his aides were circulating among prominent Shiites and Sunnis.
Although it rarely appeared in the news as other than a place where someone was killed, the importance of that obscure northern town of Tall Afar had been explained one year previously in a Christian Science Monitor report:
Iraq Battles Its Leaking BordersIn spite of heroic individual and unit efforts, the American experience in Tall Afar over the next year would stand as an example of how not to conduct counter insurgency operations. In fact, by the time of Secretary Rumsfeld's "We're not going to win against the insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency" comment, certain limitations in the American approach to achieving that noble goal should have been clear.
Iraq's prime minister called on Syria and Iran Sunday to help check flow of weapons, fighters.
Border controls are vital because once inside Iraq, foreign fighters are finding sanctuary in cities such as Tall Afar, a diverse city of 227,000 people that has become both a way station and base for attacks on US and Iraqi forces. "It has links to the [border crossing at] Rabiah and rat lines from Syria, so its traditionally a way station between Syria and Baghdad," says Captain Beaty.
Moreover, current Tall Afar leaders have "no real intent of denying their town to criminals, terrorists, or any type of bad guy" says Rounds, indicating that provincial officials are prepared to replace them if they fail to act.