Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Back Channel

Here's another item that received a bit of attention Sunday. According to Time magazine, senior U.S. military and intelligence officials are holding secret talks in Iraq, aimed at ending the Sunni-backed insurgency. The negotiations are reportedly being brokered by a former senior member of Saddam's regime who is now an insurgent leader. "We are ready to work with you," the negotiator told American officials. The Time article indicates that insurgents participating in the talks are not affiliated with terrorist leaader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who (presumably) plans to continue the fight.

But the Time report raises some interesting questions. Why are certain Sunni insurgent leaders suddenly willing to talk peace? Judging from recent accounts in the mainstream press, the insurgency in Iraq shows no signs of weakening. Daily images of car bombings, shootings, and infrastructure attacks suggest that coalition military forces are having no effect on the terrorists and their campaign of violence. Why would insurgents--who appear to be winning--suddenly start negotiations with their sworn enemies?

In reality, things aren't going well for the terrorists. A number of al-Zarqawi's top associates have been arrested or killed in recent weeks, suggesting that coalition intelligence has penetrated the organization, or (at the least) has uncovered a treasure-trove of information that offers new insights into the network's key players and operations, making them easier to detect and eliminate.

There are other indications of tough times among the insurgents. The price for stand-off weapons of choice, such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, has reportedly doubled in recent months, indicating they are no longer readily available. That will make it more difficult for terrorists to stage high-profile attacks, designed to inflict mass casualties by downing a coalition transport aircraft or helicopter. There are also reports that some insurgents are now using homemade explosives in their car bombs. If true, that's a startling revelation; Saddam's Iraq was literally awash in munitions and explosives, greatly facilitating the manufacture of vehicle bombs and suicide vests that have been used against our troops and Iraqi civilians. Reduced availability of explosives would represent a crippling blow to the insurgents, providing yet another incentive for peace talks.

But the greatest motivation for negotiations occurred at the end of January, when 8 million Iraqis went to the polls. There is a growing realization among certain Sunni elements that the train called The New Iraq is leaving the station, and they're still on the platform, waving at the choo-choo. That point was graphically illustrated in Fallujah last month, when hundreds of Sunni voters showed up at polling places the day after the election. Sunni clerics had warned them to stay away and the terrorists, of course, promised death to anyone who voted. But after watching millions of Kurds and Shia go the polls, some of the Sunnis realized they'd missed the boat, and decided they also wanted to be a part of a democratic Iraq. You can expect a much higher Sunni turn-out in upcoming location elections, and that will translate into reduced support for the insurgency.

Make no mistake; the terrorist network in Iraq is far from defeated. But it has suffered mortal blows at the hands of coalition troops, and more recently, the Iraqi electorate. Convincing Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms would be another serious defeat, and one more sign that the insurgency is slowly losing its grip.

The reality

No comments: