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July 10, 2004

Bush's Plan is Working: Ba'athist and Foreign Terrorists Split on Tactics and Strategy

The Times doesn't credit the turnover of power, but I do, at least to a major extent:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 10 β€” Tension appears to be rising between the homegrown Iraqi resistance and the foreign Islamist fighters who have entered the country to destroy the American military here. This is one reason, experts speculate, that Iraq has not had the kind of spectacular attack meant to spread terror and defy the American agenda for a long two weeks, even during the transfer of formal sovereignty back to the Iraqis.

Evidence has emerged in sniping between groups on Arabic television and Web sites, and in interviews with Iraqi and American officials, as well as members of the resistance and people with close ties to it. All speak of rising friction between nationalistic fighters and foreign-led Islamists over goals and tactics, with some Iraqi insurgents indicating a revulsion over the car bombs and suicide attacks in cities that have caused hundreds of civilian deaths.

But such friction does not mean there is a "submission by the resistance," said Dhary Rasheed, a professor at the University of Baghdad who lives in Samarra, a center for the resistance. "It is a phase of reconstruction and re-evaluation in order to push the operations out of the cities," so as "not to have innocent people killed."

Large car-bombings β€” thought to be carried out more often by foreigners, who make up a tiny percentage of the rebels β€” have "disgraced the reputation of the resistance," Professor Rasheed said. "And the resistance has worked just like the government has been trying to, to curtail the influence of the foreigners."

Opinions among resistance fighters vary, but it is not uncommon these days to hear comments disdainful of the foreign fighters, like those from a young fighter in Falluja, whose relatives hold high positions in the resistance.

"Iraqis do not need Zarqawi or Al Qaeda members to help them," he told an Iraqi reporter working for The New York Times.

Dividing the Rebels

The split would seem to be welcome news to the new government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. His strategy for combating violence is to divide the insurgency by appealing to the patriotism of Iraqi fighters to reject the presence of foreigners who he claims do not care about Iraq itself. He is promising amnesty for some Iraqis, but threatening to crack down on those who do not accept it.

To that end, Mr. Allawi and other government officials say, he has been meeting with former Baath Party members in the resistance and tribal leaders to convince them that their interests and those of foreign fighters are not the same.

"We're negotiating with what I call the noncriminals, those who never really were the hard core like Zarqawi and his aides and the Al Qaeda-style people," Mr. Allawi said in an interview. "And on the other hand, be very firm with the criminals and the assassins and the killers and the terrorists."


A Shift in Perceptions

The establishment of the sovereign government may have set in motion a subtle but real shift in perceptions among some Iraqi rebels. Some argue that Mr. Allawi's Baathist past β€” he was a hard-liner before he ran afoul of Mr. Hussein β€” is swaying some former Baathists toward loyalty to the new government.

Perhaps even more persuasive, American military officials say, is the new president, Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, a Sunni who has spoken against the occupation. And even if Americans hold ultimate power, Iraqis head a government with broad authority, and the resistance is taking notice, several experts say.

"All these things taken together will pull in some Baathists, though not all of them," said Hamid al-Bayati, the deputy foreign minister. "We have to see how many of them will join in."

Though the Iraqi guerrillas have proved to be skilled warriors, it is the foreign fighters who are most often accused of plotting the larger attacks, which have hit Shiite mosques, crowded streets, political parties and foreign aid groups. In a single day of bombings, as many as 200 people have been killed.

Over time the deaths of those innocent Iraqis, American and Iraqi officials say, have angered many Iraqi resisters, and that is evident in several statements by groups involved with the resistance or close to it. There even seems to be specific opposition to the attacks on police stations, oil pipelines and electrical stations β€” all basic structures of a functioning state.

Asked recently if he advocated continued struggle against the Americans, Sheik Abdul-Satar Sattar al-Samarrai, a leader of the Muslim Clerics Association, said: "Yes. Honest and true resistance β€” that is away from chaos, killing innocents and policemen and sabotaging the infrastructure β€” should go on to kick the occupation out of the country."

Perhaps it was obvious, but I concluded some time ago that it was essential to change the fundamental psychology of the situation, and that more power for Iraqis -- and more responsibility for fighting their own war -- could accomplish our goals better than additional US troops or US force.

It's not so much that the current plan is guaranteed to work as it is that the "do more, fight harder, stay longer" plan is almost guaranteed not to.

The fight against Saddam was our fight, because he was our enemy, and because only we could fight him. The current fight is largely the Iraqis': they both can and must win this fight for themselves. And more and more of them finally seem to be realizing that.

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posted by Ace at 03:14 PM

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