UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) June 01, 2007
The U.S. military's battalion and company commanders in Iraq have been given approval to try to negotiate cease-fires with insurgent groups and tribal leaders, a top U.S. general said. The effort is part of a broader attempt to reconcile Iraq's increasingly divided population with each other and their still-struggling central government, said Lt Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq.
"I'm empowering them and trying to give them some tools to reach out, because there are insurgents reaching out to us, which is the most important thing," said Odierno at a video press conference with Pentagon reporters. "So we want to reach back to them. And we're talking about cease-fires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces. It's happening at small levels."
"We have restructured ourselves to organize ourselves to work this issue, to reach out to the tribes, to reach out to some small insurgent groups, to reach out to religious leaders, to reach out to political entities throughout the country and see what we can do," he said.
He believes that 80 percent of the Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are "reconcilable."
"I believe there are elements that are irreconcilable, but I believe the large majority are," he said. "I believe little, very few of al-Qaida are reconcilable, but there might be a small portion."
This would not be the first time U.S. troops have attempted to reach out to insurgent groups, but previous efforts have been largely ad hoc, undertaken by American battalion commanders as their personality and immediate chain of command allowed.
But the U.S. military's successful cooperation with suspected and admitted former insurgents against al-Qaida in Iraq in Anbar province over the last year has given a boost to the approach of reaching out.
"Based on initial success at Anbar, we now see opportunities for further engagement across Iraq with other tribes and entities to include mainstream Sunni and Shiite insurgents," Odierno said. "It's about bringing these groups into the political process so we can deal with their differences in a peaceful way instead of in violent ways."
The "Awakening" in Anbar, as it is known in the provincial capital Ramadi, was born of the violent excesses of hardcore insurgents associated with al-Qaida in Iraq, according to tribal leaders and U.S. military officials. Tribes formerly hostile to U.S. forces began cooperating with them in an organized way in western Anbar province in late 2005, after more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed and injured by al-Qaida fighters in a series of battles and terrorist attacks. In Ramadi, two dozen tribes reached out to U.S. forces in August 2006 after a respected sheik was kidnapped, murdered and his body hidden so it could not be buried in the Muslim tradition.
Statistics attest to the shift. While Anbar remains violent and dangerous, it has improved significantly. In May 2006, there were 811 attacks on U.S. troops. In May 2007, there were just over 400. There were 245 attacks in Ramadi in May 2006 compared to 30 in May 2007, Odierno said.
Since the beginning of 2007 more than 12,000 Anbaris have volunteered to join Iraqi security forces -- most of them the police. In 2006, just 1,000 volunteered all year, Odierno said.
Odierno was careful not to predict the new and potentially controversial approach will be successful in ending the violence that has wracked Iraq for four years.
"I will not be too optimistic. I will wait and see. I've been here too long to be too optimistic about anything we move forward with. But I do see this as an opportunity. And it's clear -- and I've said this to our Iraqi counterparts -- we're all tired of Iraqis dying. We're tired of Americans dying," he said.
Last year, the Iraqi government raised the possibility of offering amnesty to insurgents who "weren't involved in shedding Iraqi blood," which drew an immediate rebuke from the U.S. Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced a resolution denouncing the notion of an amnesty program, calling it an "insult to the brave men and women who have died in the name of Iraqi freedom." The resolution was adopted by a vote of 79-19.
U.S. military officials in Iraq including battalion commanders and generals who spoke to UPI on the matter last year reluctantly endorsed the idea of amnesty, noting that it is the only way to bring an end to an internal conflict without killing or jailing everyone who opposes the government or the U.S. military presence.
"Prime Minister (Nouri al-)Maliki and the government of Iraq have to continue to reach out to all these groups, and I think they are attempting to do that to include Jaish al-Mahdi as well as Sunni insurgents. They have reached out to the tribes in Al Anbar, and they are working with them in order to continue their movement towards the political process. And that's what this reconciliation is about," Odierno said.
earlier related report
"As for the actual benchmarks, they are about as good as any practical legislation can get, and better defined than most academic and think tank lists," Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, writes in a new analysis entitled "Setting the Right Benchmarks: The Opportunity for Bipartisan Progress."
Cordesman's conclusion flies in the face of current Washington conventional wisdom on both right and left. President George W. Bush has been on a high in public appearances since the Democratic-controlled Congress backed down and withdrew its demands to insert a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq into a major defense funding bill. The Democrats were divided on the issue, and anti-war activists have angrily branded the provisions of the bill after the timetable pullout language was withdrawn as a sellout.
But Cordesman argues that the bill still marks significant progress in the efforts of the new Congress to impose new standards of accountability and assessment on U.S. military and nation-building efforts in Iraq. He listed 18 different benchmark requirements in the legislation, none of which had been imposed by previous Republican-controlled congresses.
Cordesman said that the legislation's insistence on creating a Constitutional Review Committee "addresses some of the most important issues in moving toward conciliation in a sufficiently general form to avoid artificial deadlines."
He said the bill's demand to produce legislation for de-Baathification and that it be implemented could prove to be "a key step in conciliation, and reducing civil conflict, that needs immediate attention."
The measure also demanded action "to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq ... to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner," Cordesman wrote. He said this was "essential for Iraq to have any ethnic and sectarian conciliation, move towards self-financing, and expand exports. (It's) a very difficult issue, and one where success is far more important than meeting an artificial deadline."
The bill's requirements to create "procedures to form semi-autonomous regions ... could prevent a major Kurd vs. Arab vs. Turcoman crisis, and allow for some form of federalism in the south," he added.
Cordesman also welcomed the legislation's requirement to set up "an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections." He called this provision "absolutely critical if Iraq is to move towards stability, effective governance, and create meaningful working democracy ... (to) provide a key basis for any move towards federalism as well as finding peaceful resolution of local disputes."
The legislation also requires the Iraqi government to push through a new amnesty law. This, too, Cordesman praised as "another key step in conciliation and reducing civil conflict that needs immediate attention." He called it "nearly as important as de-Baathification."
The U.S. congressional legislation additionally requires the Iraqi government to create and act upon new laws to create "a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq," Cordesman wrote.
None of this will change the fundamental realities in Iraq, but if the administration and Congress take this legislation seriously, it could make a major difference in providing a united, bipartisan approach to action regardless of whether it can build on success or force U.S. withdrawals in the face of failure, he said.
Cordesman's assessment is unlikely to convince anti-war activists who are pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. And as he acknowledged, the legislation cannot transform the grim dynamics of the conflict as it has already unfolded.
But the 18 benchmarks/requirements that remain in the legislation nevertheless may prove to be a highly significant political turning point. They mark the first time in more than 30 years that a U.S. Congress, Republican or Democrat, has imposed its own input, restraints and assessments on any administration's conduct of an ongoing overseas conflict.
As such, even the compromise legislation that Bush signed marks a swing of the domestic U.S. political pendulum, bringing Congress back into the national security debate about its role in overseeing an ongoing conflict involving American troops. This is the role that the Constitution envisages Congress playing in time of war, and it echoes not only the divisive debates of the Vietnam era but the crucially important and constructive role that the Truman Committee played in overseeing wartime military production in World War II.
Cordesman therefore may well be right: The new Iraqi funding bill was not the walkover for Bush that he thought. It could mark the beginning of a new conflict between Congress and the president potentially more far-reaching than anyone thinks.
Source: United Press International
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Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
US Looking To Long-Term Presence In Iraq Says Gates
Honolulu HI (AFP) Jun 01, 2007
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the United States is looking to a long-term military presence in Iraq under a mutually agreed arrangement similar to that it has long had with South Korea. Gates told reporters here that plans still call for an assessment of the US "surge" strategy in September but he was looking beyond that to the type of military presence the United States will have in Iraq over the long term.
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