Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hopes to put an end to the terrorism that has enveloped Iraq by offering a comprehensive national security plan. The plan was announced on the heels of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death by a coalition air strike. A key component of this plan is a national security initiative, which, according to Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, is “an expression of what we want for our country, to solve the problems of the past and to work for a society which is at peace with itself, a government that is at peace with its people and an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors” (Asharq al-Awsat, June 28). Yet the success of this initiative is largely in the hands of the insurgents. It depends entirely on whether or not they come to believe that their resistance is futile in light of recent setbacks; they will not comply with the initiative simply as a result of the determination of the Iraqi government and coalition troops.
There are promising signs that some Iraqi insurgents will take the government’s offer. The minister of state for national dialogue, Akram al-Hakim, stated that 20 militant groups have agreed to join the national reconciliation initiative after mediated talks (KUNA, July 5). The prime minister himself confirmed that he has been personally contacted directly by at least seven armed groups wishing to take part in the reconciliation plan and that other members of the government have been approached directly and indirectly by a number of armed groups. Al-Maliki and other members of the Iraqi government are reluctant to announce exactly which groups have expressed interest, mostly for fear of disrupting the delicate process of negotiations (al-Sharqiyah, June 28).
Iraqi newspaper al-Mada has even reported that Ansar al-Sunnah’s Anbar branch expressed a willingness to benefit from the reconciliation plan and that they have severed contacts with al-Qaeda (al-Mada, June 29). All negotiations are in the initial stages and it remains to be seen what results they will yield. Yet Iraqi officials involved in the talks stress that many groups have already delegated representatives to be their indirect contacts with the Iraqi government and that this is an important first step (al-Sharqiyah, June 29).
It has also been reported that the prime minister and deputy prime minister have met with local leaders who have made contact with other armed factions in Anbar. These factions have also expressed a desire to abandon their arms if certain conditions are met. The unnamed groups from Anbar, however, have expressed a willingness to enter into dialogue immediately, as opposed to after the armed factions’ conditions are met. These factions have also called for impartial observers to guarantee the implementation of negotiations (al-Hayat, June 30).
Other groups, such as Liwa al-Islam, have set their own conditions for the government before accepting the reconciliation plan. Yet in essence they have rejected the reconciliation offer because their conditions are unacceptable to the Iraqi government. In a statement issued by the group, they will only agree to reconciliation if the government recognizes the legitimacy of the armed resistance, implements a scheduled withdrawal of foreign troops and releases all detainees charged with insurgent violence (al-Jazeera, July 4).
The main insurgent groups, however, such as the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujahideen Shura Council, among others groups, have flatly rejected the reconciliation initiative. Islamic Army spokesman Ibrahim al-Shammari stated that the so-called reconciliation initiative falls short of its title. He states that the reconciliation plan is not a serious gesture, as it excludes those who have fought against U.S. troops, which is essentially everyone in the resistance. He favored direct talks with the United States, saying, “How can they ask us to disarm and to attend negotiations with a government appointed by the occupation? If the Americans are serious, we are ready to have negotiations with them as counterparts and on the basis of equality…it is not possible to sit with their agents” (al-Jazeera, July 3).
The spokesman for the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Muhammad Hasan al-Gailani, took a similar stand, stating that the Iraqi government is not the appropriate party to be launching reconciliation initiatives. “The problem is not between the Iraqi resistance and al-Maliki’s people; our problem is with the U.S. occupation forces,” he explained. “Why should we deal with al-Maliki’s proposals?” (al-Jazeera, July 3).
Thus far, the reconciliation initiative has achieved mixed responses, but it is too early to see concrete results. There is little doubt that the reconciliation offer will draw in some minor elements of the resistance; recent reports attest to the fact. Yet it will not do much to disturb the main players. At this stage, insurgents still believe there is room for continued resistance and any calls for reconciliation by the government are viewed by insurgents as a sign weakness.
Furthermore, it does not appear that everyone in the government is on board with this new plan. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a mostly Sunni political party, has been quoted as saying that the reconciliation initiative is insufficient and has a number of shortcomings that need to be addressed before armed groups can consider participating (al-Sharqiyah, June 26).
To achieve the desired result, reconciliation must come at a time when the resistance believes there is no other option except negotiation. The Iraqi government, therefore, needs to significantly increase its offensive security response in addition to offering its reconciliation plan. The continued killing of resistance leaders, such as the recent death of Abu Abd al-Rahman of the Fatihin Army—a splinter group of the Islamic Army in Iraq—and the infiltration of insurgent organizations will be more effective at this current stage against the insurgents. Iraqi Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bulani explained this strategy: “Reconciliation is contingent on an improvement in the security and political situations. Reconciliation is meaningless if there is no improvement in the security situation” (al-Sharqiyah, June 24). Without additional pressure, Iraq’s insurgent groups will fail to comply with al-Maliki’s reconciliation plan.