Negotiating with the insurgents?

Talking with the Enemy

ACE notes a Time Magazine article that covers some negotiations between the US military and the leaders of some insurgent groups:

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.” Although they have no immediate plans to halt attacks on U.S. troops, they say their aim is to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis and eventually negotiate an end to the U.S. military’s offensive in the Sunni triangle. Their model is Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which ultimately earned the I.R.A. a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. “That’s what we’re working for, to have a political face appear from the battlefield, to unify the groups, to resist the aggressor and put our views to the people,” says a battle commander in the upper tiers of the insurgency who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Marwan. Another negotiator, called Abu Mohammed, told TIME, “Despite what has happened, the possibility for negotiation is still open.”

Although I’d sure like to get unconditional surrender from each and every group that opposes us and the new Iraqi government, as a realist I know that that will take many, many years. If it can even be achieved at all.

Negotiation and compromise with groups that are willing to play ball shouldn’t be out of the question. A new Iraq is being formed, and a new era is dawning in the Middle East. It’s going to be important that some folks are willing to “start over”. The inability to do so on both sides of the Israel/Palestinian fence is why I have no optimism about that particular quagmire.

We can get to that point from where we are in Iraq. And we don’t want to.

What do the insurgents want? Top insurgent field commanders and negotiators informed TIME that the rebels have told diplomats and military officers that they support a secular democracy in Iraq but resent the prospect of a government run by exiles who fled to Iran and the West during Saddam’s regime. The insurgents also seek a guaranteed timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, a demand the U.S. refuses. But there are some hints of compromise: insurgent negotiators have told their U.S. counterparts they would accept a U.N. peacekeeping force as the U.S. troop presence recedes. Insurgent representative Abu Mohammed says the nationalists would even tolerate U.S. bases on Iraqi soil. “We don’t mind if the invader becomes a guest,” he says, suggesting a situation akin to the U.S. military presence in Germany and Japan.

The Germany/Japan model for our military presence is what I’ve been predicting all along.

Negotiating a compromise means giving up something that you want. If we give a little, some of these groups will have a way to back out of the fight while retaining their honor. Without a way to maintain their dignity, many will carry on the struggle if for no other reason than to avoid the shame of surrender.

You always give your enemy a way out, an avenue of escape. Unless you mean from the start to annihilate him totally and completely. In some (maybe even many) cases, that’s justified and warranted. But in many other cases it’s not necessary, and most of the time it will be counter-productive. Our strategy in the Iraq campaign is not to wipe out the country and own every square mile of territory. We want the fighting to stop, because our long-term victory in Iraq won’t be achieved through force of arms. We need that force to get there, but it’s a means and not an end. This sort of deal-making is how things are done, especially in that part of the world. We can bring our values and ideas into their game, which is what we need to do to succeed in the long-term anyway.

We must obviously be very careful about who we deal with and what we give in on. And the new Iraqi government must be part of what’s going down or we run the risk of our deal not being honored in the future, which will not only undo that deal but jeopardize others.

This development tells me that not only are we attempting to conduct this campaign in a reasonable, logical, wise manner, but that some of our enemies are on the verge of defeat. This is a huge development. If we’re firm but fair in our dealings, it could potentially start an avalanche of cease-fire agreements.

Many Sunnis want in on the new Iraq. We need to give them the opportunity to get there.


  1. Funny…..the same source I refered to in my post on your first article about not calling them militias……..also mentioned the frustration (in late ’04) amongst non-American elements of the Coalition and Interim Iraqui Gov with the AMerican Militaries across the board policy of not negotiation in ANY form with ANY militant groups. If the story above is true……I think it’s a step in the right direction (realism). Negotiation is a good option when used as a tool to strengthen your own position vis a vis the enemy. If it turns out to be something more substantive than that……..then it’s just gravy.