This article makes its way beyond most of the thin commentary on the turmoil in Iraq.
There are those close to Sunni insurgents who are offering some common sense advice to the American forces there. Perhaps we should listen.
From the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Robert Collier:
Surprisingly, however, the Iraqis who might be expected to support such a pullout — those close to the Sunni Arab militants themselves — say the focus on a quick exit is misplaced.
“It’s impossible for them or us to fix an exact schedule” for troop withdrawal, said Isam al-Rawi, a leader of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of 3,000 Sunni clerics. “That is not the important thing right now. There are other steps that are much more necessary to calm the situation.”
Largely unnoticed amid the U.S. political debate, al-Rawi and other Sunni leaders close to the insurgency have reached tacit consensus over the broad outline of an interim program to reduce the violence, stabilize the country and thus enable the U.S.-led coalition troops to begin a gradual withdrawal. While differences remain on some points, there is wide agreement on these steps:
— A troop pullout from most urban areas and an end to military checkpoints and raids. “The Americans and British must leave all residential areas,” said al-Rawi. “This is very sensitive for our feelings. When they retreat to military bases outside the major cities, the Iraqis will no longer be meeting military tanks and trucks in the streets and highways, and they will no longer be afraid their home will be invaded at night.”
— Overhaul of the Iraqi Army and National Guard. Although the White House and Democrats alike say they want to turn over security duties to the Iraqi Army and National Guard as soon as possible, Sunni Arabs point out that these two institutions are almost completely composed of members of their ethnic enemies — the Kurdish peshmerga and the Shiite militias. “These people want to humiliate the Sunni,” al-Hashimi said. “The Army and National Guard must be professionalized. They cannot be dominated by members of the party militias.”
Over the past two years, U.S. officials have alternately recruited and purged Sunni Arab officers and troops. The problem with the Sunni Arabs, the Americans say, is that they are heavily infiltrated by the insurgency, while the Kurds and Shiites are dependably loyal to the U.S.-backed Baghdad government.
— Release of prisoners. The number of Iraqi prisoners in American military custody has grown rapidly in recent months, with as many as 15,000 Iraqis behind bars, according to U.S. estimates.
Military officials have admitted that many of the prisoners have simply been swept up in neighborhood roundups. Because there is no formal trial process, the process of vetting prisoners and releasing those found innocent is very slow. Military officials have reportedly expressed worry that the sprawling prison camps are serving as recruiting camps for al Qaeda and the most extremist insurgent groups.
“There are many thousands of prisoners and there is no transparency, there is no accusation list,” said Wamidh Nadhmi, the leader of the Arab Nationalist Trend, a secularist group that boycotted the January elections.
“Several relatives of mine were imprisoned for months, and there was no evidence. And for people who are arrested by Iraqi police it is worse. They are tortured, all kinds of things are done to them. That makes Iraqis very, very angry.”
In Beirut, Lebanon, on July 29, Nadhmi was one of 47 Iraqi leaders and intellectuals who co-signed a statement expressing support for “the valiant armed resistance to the occupation.” But the statement indicated divisions in their ranks between former members of the ruling Baath Party and non-Baathists, stating the need for “resolving antagonisms between the patriotic forces through a bold process of criticism and self-criticism with respect to the mistakes of the past.”
Nadhmi and other Iraqis interviewed for this article said they did not advocate release of Saddam Hussein or others accused of involvement in killings and torture. “No, it is not necessary to release them,” al-Rawi said. “They are bad men. They have committed crimes. But you must release the others. ”
— Amnesty for pro-Baathist, radical Islamist and hard-line nationalist groups, while excluding al Qaeda. Former top officials of the Hussein government chafe under the law that has outlawed membership in — or even verbal support for — the Baath Party. “There must be a legal way for all those people opposed to the American presence to be organized legally,” said Nadhmi. “Otherwise they will fight.”Several top leaders of the Islamic Clerics Association have been arrested by U.S. troops, and several have been killed in mysterious circumstances by gunmen who the association says are Shiite death squads.
— Negotiations with the “resistance.” Sunni leaders have frequently met with U.S. officials in Baghdad to try to coax them to talk with the guerrillas. They draw a line between what they call the “resistance,” by which they mean Iraqi fighters who attack only U.S. and Iraqi troops, and the Sunni extremists linked to al Qaeda who have spread terror with car bombs and suicide attacks against Shiite civilians.
More later on the September 6-7 terrorism conference.
— Steve Clemons