Monday, March 26, 2007

Making Friends and Influencing People

In our four years in Iraq, we started with the support of most Kurds, gained the support of most Shias, and are starting to gain the support of Sunni Arabs.

Our press and the sainted international community may treat the jihadis inside Iraq as glorious freedom fighters, but Iraqis are not so confused. Sunni Arabs continue to slide away from supporting insurgency and terrorism:

Zalmay Khalilzad said U.S. Embassy and military personnel as well as Iraqi government officials had met several times with representatives of insurgent groups that had opposed the U.S.-backed political process but he ruled out any contacts with al-Qaida in Iraq, which has been blamed in many of the high-profile suicide bombings that have killed hundreds.

"We have had discussions with those groups," Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad. They are continuing to take place and I think one of the challenges is how to separate more and more groups away from al-Qaida."

He said some tribal leaders and even some insurgents in Sunni Arab areas already have turned against al-Qaida, increasingly frustrated with the violence that has killed more Iraqi civilians than U.S. forces.

"Iraqis are uniting against al-Qaida," he said. "Coalition commanders have been able to engage some insurgents to explore ways to collaborate in fighting the terrorists. These insurgents are also in touch with the government seeking reconciliation and cooperation in the fight against the al-Qaida terrorists and joining the government in a reconciliation program."

In addition to gaining support of more Sunni Arabs, the Sunni Arab terrorists have lost additional support from the one million plus Sunni Arabs who have fled Iraq or central Iraq where they used to provide a sea for the terrorist fish to swim in.

This is a continuation of a process that began in summer 2004 with the Shias:

The Islamists screwed up this possible path to Baathist victory. The Zarqawi memo highlighted the idea that the Islamists wanted to target the Shias in order to force the Sunnis to rise up out of fear. Then there would be a nice civil war and the Islamists would have their happy hunting ground of chaos in which to kill Americans. With high enough casualties and really bad press coverage, we might then have pulled out in defeat. Defeating us somewhere—anywhere—is the Islamist goal—not Islamizing Iraq in particular. Remember the reports that al Qaeda was turning their focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan? The fight is the focus. Note, too, that the memo says that the Islamists would have to find another battleground if they cannot win in Iraq. The Islamists may not have had a choice since they don’t number very many. How could they take on the Army and Marines directly? Attacking civilians is a heck of a lot easier.

So by targeting the Shias with increasingly gruesome bombings (and a lot of Sunnis in the latest series of attacks), the Islamists have made the Shias realize they have to fight the insurgents to protect themselves.

This was a critical change in thinking of the 60% of Iraqis who are Shia. We needed them on our side. Yes, they did greet us with flowers when we first invaded despite the denials of war opponents. But the war opponents have a point in this mistaken denial--the Shias cheered for the removal of Saddam and not for our presence. After we watched Saddam slaughter Shias in 1991 after we urged them to revolt (and don't think that Saddam didn't spin that into conspiracies that painted us as his secret friend), the Shias had reason to question our motives.

But Sunni Arab terrorism cemented the Shias to our side. There were pro-Iranian elements when we invaded and there are still pro-Iranian Shias now, but the clear majority of Shias support the current government and us, though they'd naturally like us out and want the fighting to end. The terrorism pushed the Shias to fight at our side with enthusiasm.

And of course, we had the support of Kurds based on our defense of their provinces with our air power following the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. A decade of support erased earlier memories of the 1975 betrayal when we allowed the Shah of Iran to cut a deal with Iraq over their border that left the Kurds high and dry.

Slowly, the majority of Iraqis in all the major communities are uniting to expel the jihadi invaders. This common enemy may yet undo the effect of the Sunni Arab-supported terror campaigns of the Baathists, jihadis, and "nationalists" who could not abide a Shia-dominated Iraq. The casualty count and the media's obsession with reporting these attacks without context obscure the movement of opinion, but it is real. All Iraqis have a reason to hate the jihadis and the Iranians and Syrians and Sunni Arab states that have decided to invade Iraq and kill Iraqis of all religions and ethnicities.

This process is taking far longer than I thought it would, and it must include defeating the pro-Iranian Shia thugs, but Iraq will emerge from this war as an important ally against terrorism.