From the Horse’s Mouth, So To Speak

Today, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight heard testimony from Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan of the Sunni Accordance Front and Nadim al-Jaberi of the Shiite (and anti-Moqtada, anti-Maliki) Fadhila Party. Both oppose a long-term presence in their country, but what was even more interesting, as Spencer Ackerman notes, is what they said about the occupation, the invasion, and the Surge.

For starters, Jaberi accused the U.S. of putting the Iraqi government “in a difficult situation” by insisting on the long-term presence of U.S. troops. al-Ulayyan, through a translator, cautioned that a reckless withdrawal would be catastrophic, but that a long-term presence would be counterproductive.

When Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, tried to pry out some good quotes supporting the Surge, al-Ulayyan demurred:

“Increasing the number of forces didn’t affect the level of violence in Iraq. Because the war there is a war against gangs and they are like ghosts. They hit and run. What led to the reduction of terrorist acts and violence are the forces of the Awakening. They are from the tribes of the area where terrorists are more [in number]. And those forces managed to eliminate the other party, the terrorists, because they know them and know the tactics. We suggested that a long time ago for our government and the American government but nobody listened.

“I believe the reduction in the level of violence is due mainly to the efforts of the volunteers. The thing that will reduce the violence more is not military force but having realistic solutions to convince others to join the political process. I believe the best method to achieve that is a real national reconciliation. We need real reconciliation, not only slogans as is being done now. And reconcilition should involve all the Iraqis, whether they are involved right now in the political process or not.”

“As soon as the troops have withdrawn, it doesn’t make sense for these groups to exist,” Jabari added. “It is my belief that when troops withdraw these groups will not bear arms any longer. For as long as we have foreign troops on our land, these gangs will increase in number, they will hold onto their goals even longer… So I say the presence of foreign troops are actually serving these groups.”

Of course, such thinking would lead one to think that maybe Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a phantom threat and the real problem comes from deeper (or perhaps shallower) societal issues, rather than the dark puppetmaster of an enemy we can barely define, much less count. Remember that time the Congressional Research Service indicated that AQI was less than 2% (pdf) of the attacks in Iraq? That is because most of the insurgents—the vast majority—are not AQI, but rather nationalists fighting a foreign occupier. The Iraqis know this. But we have a hard time thinking that our mere presence somewhere can spark hatred.

After all, many Iraqis feel our invasion led to the destruction of Iraq, and kind of resent that. While these two Parliamentarians may not speak for the entirety of Iraq (the Kurds surely have a different opinion of us), their opinions are not wildly out of the ordinary, and represent a large and persistent strain within the mainstream of Iraqi society. Our deep unpopularity is our worst enemy.

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2 Responses to “From the Horse’s Mouth, So To Speak”

  1. on 05 Jun 2008 at 6:26 am Keith_Indy

    Us: We’ll leave when the violence stops…

    Them: We’ll stop the violence after you leave…

  2. on 05 Jun 2008 at 5:01 pm Joshua Foust

    Right. Perhaps an important question is whose opinion matters more: the occupier, or the occupied?

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