ATC – 22 November 2005

Drawing Iraq’s Sunnis into the Political Process


Analysis: Drawing Iraq‘s Sunnis into the political process

November 22, 2005 from All Things Considered

MICHELE NORRIS, host: The US and the Iraqi government have both been increasing efforts to reach out to Sunni Arabs and pull them into the political process. State Department and Pentagon officials acknowledge it’s difficult partly because it’s hard to identify the real Sunni power brokers. Critics suggest the problem is that US is talking to the wrong people. NPR’s Vicky O’Hara has more on that.

VICKY O’HARA reporting:

The US relationship with Iraq‘s Sunni Arabs has evolved since the invasion of 2003. The US initially held many Sunni leaders at arm’s length, knowing that most of the loyalists of Saddam Hussein were Sunnis. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Welch spent 18 months in Iraq starting in January of last year, and his job was to act as a liaison between the US military and Iraq‘s religious and tribal leaders, including those in the Sunni triangle. Welch says that some of his colleagues did not approve of his assignment.

Lieutenant Colonel RICHARD WELCH (Former Liaison in Iraq): There were those in the organization who were a little upset that I would be meeting with people that we were fighting with. But my position always was, `If you want people to stop fighting, who are you going to talk to?’ And my position is you talk with the bad guys.

O’HARA: Pentagon and State Department officials say that the United States engaged the Sunnis from the beginning through reconstruction projects, but they say it took much longer for the US to reach out politically. Retired Colonel Patrick Lang says that’s because the US went into Iraq with the attitude that Iraq‘s political transformation would follow the US model. Lang, former chief of intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency, says that model was one man, one vote, that people’s rights and interests should be addressed on an individual basis.

Colonel PATRICK LANG (Retired; Former Chief of Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency): What we learned was, in fact, that in the Middle East people don’t really operate that way. You have to address their group interests, either as an ethno-religious community or as a clan or a tribal group, because they identify themselves in terms of one or more groups that they belong to.

O’HARA: Lang, Welch and several State Department officials say the US changed its approach after Sunnis boycotted Iraq‘s national election last January. One State Department official said that after the parliamentary vote, it became easier to reach out to the Sunnis politically because at least some of them concluded that boycotting the political process was a mistake.

Another State Department official, Jeff Beals, political adviser at the US Embassy in Baghdad, says that military commanders and US diplomats now meet with a wide range of Sunni tribal leaders.

Mr. JEFF BEALS (Political Adviser, US Embassy in Baghdad): There are broad efforts by the US government and the Iraqi government to find influential leaders in the Sunni Arab community who are able to get out the message that the political process has room in it and can only succeed when every part of the population is part of it.

O’HARA: Beals says that US officials do not meet with Sunnis who are actively involved in the insurgency, but he concedes that it’s difficult to determine everyone’s history.

Mr. BEALS: What you know is that when voices are out there saying, `I want to talk to the United States about ways to find a way into the political process, and I’m ready to do so on the terms of peaceful participation in that process,’ then they will find interlocutors on the US side and they’ll find them on the Iraqi side, and they regularly do.

O’HARA: State Department officials say the outreach is paying off. They note the relatively peaceful Iraqi constitutional referendum last month and the fact that Sunni groups are fielding candidates in next month’s parliamentary elections. But Patrick Lang says that none of the Sunnis who are participating in the election meets his definition of a hard-liner.

Zaki Chehab, political editor for the Al-Hayat newspaper, based in London, has extensive contacts among the Iraqi insurgents. He says the US is not talking to the right Sunnis, as evidenced by the continuing violence.

Mr. ZAKI CHEHAB (Political Editor, Al-Hayat): I believe that such attack will not take place if it’s not approved by the head of a tribe. We can talk about success in reaching these influential in the Sunni triangle when really there is like a cease-fire or some kind of agreement.

O’HARA: US officials acknowledge that it’s been hard for Americans to identify the Sunni leaders who are the true power brokers, but Jeff Beals at the US Embassy in Baghdad says it’s getting easier.

Mr. BEALS: One of the things that is now becoming even more crystallized are who are the key leaders.

O’HARA: As the Sunnis get more involved in politics, Beals says, the US can more accurately identify Sunni leaders who have real clout in their communities. Next month’s parliamentary election, he says, will be pivotal in that process. Vicky O’Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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4 Responses to ATC – 22 November 2005

  1. MarcLord says:

    Pat there’s nothing at the “All Things Considered” link.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Listen to the audio link. It works for me. pl

  3. Michael Murry says:

    I applaud any and all well-meaning efforts of the Iraqi people to settle their own differences. Good luck to the Iraqis. They have a lot of work to do crawling out of the pile of rubble and puddle of raw sewage that America has helped make of their country.
    I still don’t understand, however, why America thinks it can locate “the right people” and “draw them into” some sort of discussion about matters that do not concern America. As best I can remember, Iraq became a “sovereign” country well over a year ago — at least if one can assume that words like “sovereign” contain an ounce of meaning one nanosecond after exiting the mouth of America’s Orwellian Newspeaker of the moment. (Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey long ago translated the obscene “sovereign” euphemism as “the blame,” since “the situation on the ground had deteriorated” to the point where America simply had to transfer as much of it as possible to some appointed patsy puppets.) Anyway, how can America discuss anything with anyone after destroying the one human capacity — language — through anyone could agree upon anything?
    I came across a trenchantly written article in the Washington Post today, that elegantly encapsulates America’s self-inflicted dilemma — a domestic political ordeal that has little, if anything, to do with what Iraqis want or think. Harold Meyerson wrote the piece, and he calls it: “An Exit Strategy in Search of a Party.”
    His two money quotes, in my estimation:
    (1) “Nixon didn’t so much argue the merits of staying the course in Vietnam — nobody wanted to do that — as inflame the sentiments of his ‘silent majority’ against war protesters and the Democrats who opposed the war, too.”
    (2) “The case for continuing our involvement grows increasingly absurd: In its latest iteration, we are there to prevent war between Shiite and Sunni, which looms, of course, only because we invaded Iraq in the first place. WE STAY [IN IRAQ] TO MITIGATE THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR COMING [emphasis mine]. We’ve had wars in which our soldiers died for better causes than that.”
    Absolutely true on both counts. Nixon’s “Vietnamization” (or “Yellowing the Corpes”) policy had the same objective as Bush’s “Iraqification” (or “Browning the Bodies”) policy: namely, to attack domestic opposition to an unprofitable and unpopular executive branch war of choice in order to continue the war until its perpetrators can shift the political blame for it onto someone else. Once again, the only slippery-slope, mission-creeping, straw-grasping, after-the-fact rationale left for continuing the war nobody wants comes in the circular, self-referential, solipsistic, tautological viciously-downward-spiraling slogan: “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.” We did something, and our having done it now justifies the interminable continuation of what we did. Nothing but pure political paralysis. Nothing but bureaucratic inertia in the driver’s seat: with the Peter Principle and Parkinson’s Law reiforcing each other with a vengeance. Nothing but the Lunatic Leviathan again run amok.
    We’ve gone through this surreal insanity before. We don’t need to go through it again. As Meyerson says, the American people have decided and now only await a political party to take responsibility — and the nation’s grateful credit — for ending this damned disaster. The Iraqis, no doubt, will better know what to discuss and with whom to discuss it regarding matters of their own sovereignty.

  4. J Thomas says:

    “As the Sunnis get more involved in politics, Beals says, the US can more accurately identify Sunni leaders who have real clout in their communities.”
    So, what are we going to do to them after we identify them?

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