About a year ago in Kirkuk, I met a young man at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan named Pola. A thin figure with bad teeth, a bowl haircut and small black eyes set deep in the crevice between his cheekbones and brow, Pola seemed looked much older than his 30 years. And no wonder. In the mid-1990s, he told me, Baath party officials exiled him to Halabja, a city still traumatized by Saddam's 1989 poison gas attack, which killed 5,000 people. At the time Pola lived there, the Kurdish terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was active in the region. On one occasion, the pro-Baathist paramilitaries left 42 decapitated bodies in Halabja's central square; another time, they left 17 headless corpses. Pola escaped from the cursed town and made his way to the Northern No-Fly Zone and the protection of U.S. and British warplanes. He joined the PUK and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, helped the organization, along with American Special Forces destroy Ansar al-Islam bases.
"American freed me twice," he said, tears glistening in his age- and experience-worn eyes. "Once from Ansar al-Islam, and once from Saddam. In every house in Kurdistan, there is a picture of President Bush. He and American brought us freedom."
I thought of my encounter with the Kurd today as I read Edward Wong's New York Times piece headlined "Attacks by Militant Groups Rise in Mosul." According to Kurdish officials whom Wong interviewed, "Islamist" groups like Ansar al-Islam and its off-shoot Ansar al-Sunnah are responsible for most of the attacks in Mosul, while activity by ex-Baathists and Saddamites (for some reason the Times calls them "nationalist insurgents") has lessened. Moreover,
though the two Ansar--meaning "supporter" or "follower"--groups have little connection to Baathist...they are forging strong ties to the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...
If true--and some American officials, writes Wong, still believe Baathists to be organizing terrorist attacks--this represents a significant, if not unexpected development. Increasingly, we are seeing the home-grown Iraq component of the counter-liberation diminish, and the foreign jihadist element come to the fore-front. Not only that, but, as the press has reported lately, the Sunni obstructionists are having second thoughts about maintaining their "insurgency" and seek to reach a political settlement.
The Financial Times' Charles Clover reported yesterday that the Association of Muslim Scholars--who claim to represent some 3,000 Sunni mosques--has been meeting with tribal leaders from the Sunni Triangle region in order to create a "broad-based political front," Clover notes that Association spokesman Sheik Omar Ragheb al-Kubaisi
stressed that his group, which opposes the U.S.-led occupation [read: liberation] of Iraq, is not connected to the armed insurgency, but is seeking political rather than military way to force coalition troops to leave.
This makes no sense, of course, because the Sunni "armed insurgency" is creating the very need for coalition troops to remain in Iraq, but never mind. What's important is the final graf in Clover's story:
[Kubaisi] also sought to distinguish between the "legitimate" resistance and foreign Islamist extremists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "We reject the path taken by Zarqawi. He does not represent the Iraqi resistance. He is not even Iraqi, he is Jordanian. We reject the path he has taken, he has destroyed the reputation of the Iraqi resistance."
Is this the same "resistance" that has murdered thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, transformed Fallujah into a slaughter pen and butchered Margaret Hasan? It's hard to imagine anyone "destroying" their reputation further, but we'll let that go, too. The point is the daylight opening up between the Sunni Arab reactionaries and their one-time partner in mayhem, Zarqawi.
This development was one of the most striking aspects of Michael Ware's recent story in Time, "Talking with the Enemy." Ware reports how U.S. officials are beginning talks with the "self-described nationalist insurgency." Or, as one middle-aged ex-Baathist tells an American military commander, "We are ready to work with you."
What do the bad guys want? Says Ware,
the rebels have told diplomats and military officers that they support a secular democracy in Iraq but resent the prospect of a government run by exiles who fled to Iran and the West during Saddam's regime. The insurgents also seek a guaranteed timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal...
Evidently, the Saddmites are flexible.
[T]hey would accept a U.N. peacekeeping force [hide the women and children!] as the U.S. troop presence recedes. Insurgent representative Abu Mohammad says the nationalists [sic] would even tolerate U.S. bases on Iraqi soil. "We don't mind if the invader becomes a guest," he says...
(Remind me, what these "nationalists" are fighting for again?)
The mooshkelay in all this is Zarqawi. As Ware notes,
[A]l-Zarqawi and his allies have silenced nationalists by threatening to kill them if they negotiate. The Western observer close to the discussions says, "Al Zarqawi keeps pulling the process away from 'fight and negotiate to 'pure mayhem.'"
Well, well. The Saddamites signed their Faustian pact with Ansar al-Shaitan and now they're confronting the bill. Two years of murder, for what? Despite what reporters write, their "nationalist" uprising was always a chimera, an illusion to stroke their humiliated egos. Now that they seek a role in the maturer game of nation-building (the real nationalist cause) the demons they conjured--the Ansars and Zarqawis and Al Qaedas--will not let them rest. Too late the Sunni "insurgents" are awakening to the truth: they tried to pitch liberated Iraqi into Hell; instead, they only succeeded in plunging into the abyss themselves.