Meanwhile, as widespread election fraud is being reported, calls for new elections are getting louder. The Guardian says Iraq is disintegrating with power shifting to Islamic fundamentalists.
Let's go below the fold and read about Bush's policy shift and if it comes too late.
The administration is evidently preparing for serious negotiations with the Sunni insurgents, whom it has started referring to as "nationalists", emphasising their opposition to al Qaeda's objectives.
The new policy has thus far gone unnoticed in the media, partly because it has only been articulated by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the spokesman for the U.S. command in Baghdad. -snip-
Renouncing victory over the Sunni insurgents therefore undercuts the president's political strategy of portraying his policy as one of "staying the course" and attacking the democrats for "cutting and running".
Until recently, the administration treated the indigenous Sunni insurgents as the main enemy in Iraq, measuring progress primarily in terms of the numbers of insurgents killed and captured, and areas "cleared" of insurgent presence. Administration officials portrayed Sunni insurgents as allies of al Qaeda and referred to them as "anti-Iraqi forces".
One of the first concrete results of this shift was a truce during the recent elections.
Details were provided in yesterday's Washington Times:
Their orders came from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The effort took months and culminated in a day of voting in which Sunni Arabs came out in droves after having boycotted the first parliamentary election a year ago.
The cease-fire period started Dec. 13 and ended Sunday, spanning Thursday's elections. The period passed with no major attacks on Iraqi civilians.
The effort by U.S. diplomats and military officials also redefined U.S. policy in Iraq -- a potentially seismic shift that President Bush spelled out this month in four major policy speeches that referred to three types of insurgents: "rejectionists," "Saddamists" and terrorists. U.S. officials continue to talk with the "rejectionists," a category that appears to include the bulk of those who have taken up arms to battle American and Iraqi forces.
Now that the elections have passed, the United States is continuing the effort, seeking a long-term cease-fire that would drive a wedge between Iraqi Sunnis and terrorist forces, such as those led by Abu Musab Zarqawi and his al Qaeda in Iraq. The terrorist organization seeks to impose a primitive, Taliban-like regime on Iraq and use Iraq as a base from which to topple governments throughout the Middle East and larger Muslim world.-snip-
"They went something like this," the official said. "We'll stop raiding houses searching for suspects, or we'll remove our checkpoints from certain places, provided you guarantee there will be no shootings or bombings on a certain road or geographic area."
Later, negotiators worked on a wider form of cease-fire, culminating on Oct. 28 in a "big tent" meeting at an undisclosed location, bringing together American and British diplomats and U.S. Army personnel with tribal, political, religious and insurgent figures. -snip-
The new rules were: "We will not talk to terrorists with blood on their hands." It is a formula that allowed talks with all except those whom U.S. intelligence fingered as killers or who gave orders to kill.
"It was a very, very liberal interpretation," the U.S. official said. By a process of definitions, years of refusal to talk to insurgents were reversed.
Bush is redefining the enemy. If we can't beat you, we'll join you? Are things looking desperate? 2000 American and 30000+ Iraqi lives ago this might even have worked, but it looks like it might be too late. Here is why: From the Independent, Iraq is disintegrating:
The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that.
The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.
Iran will be pleased that the Shia religious parties, which it has supported, have become the strongest political force. -snip-
The election also means a decisive switch from a secular Iraq to a country in which, outside Kurdistan, religious law will be paramount.
Of course it's possible election won't hold up given widespread accusations of fraud by some factions. This despite observers actually reporting no major irregularities. From Reuters:
"There was a meeting ... and we all agreed to contest and reject the results of the election," Thaer al-Naqib, an aide to secular former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, told Reuters.
"We want the Electoral Commission dissolved and the election rerun across Iraq," he said. "We will take to the streets if necessary. We might even not take up our seats in the new parliament and so any new government would be illegitimate."
From the Washington Post this morning:
Shiite religious leaders, bolstered by their strong showing, may not be obliged to heed even reasonable Sunni demands in order to name a president and prime minister. The leading Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, remains determined to establish a nine-province Shiite ministate in southern Iraq; its leader has hinted at escalating a dirty war against the Sunni resistance spearheaded by the party's own death squads. Kurdish leaders appear willing to collaborate in Iraq's de facto partition so they can establish their own ministate in the north.
Some Shiite leaders, including the Supreme Council's likely candidate for prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, appear open to building a broad government coalition including Sunnis, in the hope of defusing the insurgency. Yet the election results mean that such an accord, requiring deep political concessions by all ethnic and sectarian groups, will be possible only through forceful and skilled U.S. intervention. ...
Does all this mean we're going to cut and run? We have this from IPS:
Nevertheless, the administration's abandonment of the goal of military defeat of the Sunni insurgents and willingness to negotiate with them betrays its "victory" rhetoric.
... Such negotiations would become the new focus of public views of Bush's handling of Iraq. That would in turn increase the pressure on the White House to get the insurgent leaders to come to an agreement. Meanwhile, the insurgents can be expected to insist that no agreement is possible without a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal.
The insurgents can also increase the pressure on Bush by making public their offer, reportedly made by insurgent leaders to Arab League officials in Cairo last month, to deliver al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to the Iraqi authorities as part of a peace agreement involving a U.S. withdrawal timetable.
As more people in the United States, including members of Congress, understand that the Sunni resistance is not the enemy, but is the necessary ally in the elimination of al-Qaeda's "terrorist haven" in Iraq, political support for continued U.S. military presence is likely to shrink even further. Why, it may be asked, should U.S. troops stay in Iraq to fight Sunni armed groups who are willing and able to turn in the real enemy in Iraq?
Thus the softening of the administration's policy toward the insurgents could set in motion a train of events that brings the U.S. occupation to an end much more quickly than now seems possible.
As I see it, this is actually a good move on Bush's part, but then anything that saves some lives is. This could end the war sooner. The question is, can he still pull it off? And will it destroy his image as a tough (if stupid) leader who can admit no wrong?
A shift like this could could have huge implications; we should keep watching for any developments.
Cross posted on My Left Wing