As Mideast realigns, U.S. leans Sunni
US says Iran arming Sunni groups - BBC
U.S. Arming Sunni Insurgents in Iraq - NYT
[ After a longest year 2006 in Iraq, U.S. panics and feels safe with Sunni rulers it had supported for decades. "Better the Devil you know than the Devil you dont", America sticks with Arab leaders against Persian Ayatollahs. After 2006, U.S. begins to provide weapons to the Sunni fighters in Iraq. No doubt combat training was also given to the Iraqi insurgents.]
As Mideast realigns, U.S. leans Sunni
By Howard LaFranchi - 10.12.2007
The White House is re-embracing Sunni authoritarian regimes to counter the rise of Shi'i Iran.
WASHINGTON - Americans are hearing much less from the Bush administration about democracy for the Middle East than they did a year ago. As Shi'i Iran rises, the White House has muted its calls for reform in the region as it redirects policy to reembrace Sunni Arab allies who run, to varying degrees, authoritarian regimes.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 shifted the balance of power in the Middle East, delivering a Shi'i-led government to a country that had for decades been dominated by its minority Sunnis. That, in turn, opened the door to Iranian expansion.
To contain Tehran, Washington is now reaching out to Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan, in the form of large arms deals and new talks on such issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which in the eyes of most Arabs and many others remains the greatest source of tension and support for extremists in the region.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels again to the region next week, underscoring the administration's drive for progress on Middle East peace.
Also, a significant U.S. shift toward Iraq is under way. American policy is moving from bolstering the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a way to force action on political issues to a "bottom-up" approach. This has led to the funding and arming of Sunni tribes and communities in Anbar Province that until recently targeted U.S. forces.
"If you look at it in the context of this Sunni-Shi'a sectarian divide and the fault line that divides the region, we are in effect adjusting our position," says Martin Indyk, a former U.S. diplomat now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, referring to the broader implications of the new American path in Iraq.
Having paved the way for Iraq's Shi'a to take power, he says, "We find ourselves in a situation where that plays to Iran's advantage and to the disadvantage of our erstwhile Sunni Arab allies in the Arab world."
The result of this belated realization, Mr. Indyk says, is that "we are adjusting ourselves to the point where we line up with the Sunnis against the Shi'a in this broader sectarian divide."
Some experts in the region suggest the reaffirming of ties to America's traditional Arab allies is not so much a sectarian question as more simply a reemphasis on longtime U.S. security interests in the region.
The Bush administration has concluded that those interests energy security, counterterrorism, and stability ? are best served by working with the Arab regimes that happen to be Sunni, they say, but not because of some Sunni-over-Shi'a shift.
"It's more Arab-Persian than it is Sunni-Shi'a," says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, highlighting the effort to contain Persian Iran that underpins interests. "It's not sectarian," he adds, "it's realpolitik."
Others agree that the U.S. adjustment has more to do with a retreat from grand goals in the face of Iran's rise, than with changing sides in a sectarian divide.
"We have Condoleezza Rice backing off from supporting democratic reform in the region, and the more messianic goals of the first Bush administration have been abandoned, but that's because they don't work," says Michael Hudson, a specialist in international relations at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.
"When you talk to diplomats from places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it's not Shi'a, it's Iran and the power vacuum it's filling that worries them, and that's what the U.S. is tapping into," he says.
That said, Arab leaders, including Jordan's King Abdullah, have raised concerns about the rise of a "Shi'i arc" in the region as a Shi'i dominated government friendly to Iran took the reins in Baghdad. And Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned Vice President Dick Cheney during a visit last year that his country could enter the Iraqi conflict on the side of Iraqi Sunnis if the U.S. left Iraq and abandoned them.
It is in that context that some experts like Brookings's Indyk see at least part of the U.S. motivation for arming some of the same Sunni tribesmen, in places like Anbar, whose doors U.S. troops were kicking down not so long ago.
"We find ourselves regionally in a situation which is somewhat similar to what we are doing in Anbar Province," he says. "We are lining up the Sunnis to better take on the Iranians."
But another explanation for that support has more to do with turning Iraq's Sunnis against Al Qaeda-associated forces in Iraq ? which are also Sunni, others note.
"I would call what we are doing in Anbar more of a tactic than a strategy, and it is not something we are doing because they are Sunnis, but because they are tribesmen ? and tribesmen who are against other Sunnis who are called Al Qaeda," says Mr. Hudson.
CSIS's Mr. Alterman says Saudi Arabia is "using sectarian proxies to fight a national war in Iraq," but he says it does not follow that the U.S. is working with Anbar's Sunnis out of sectarian motivations.
"We're not doing that for them, we're doing it for us" in pursuit of our fight with Islamist extremists, he says.
Some in the U.S. government are using the "progress" the U.S. has made in Anbar to argue specifically for creation of a Sunni-dominated region within a united Iraq.
In a statement last month following the appearance of Gen. David Petraeus before Congress, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas called on the U.S. to promote the development of a Sunni region to help Sunnis move forward with a greater reliance on local, rather than national, institutions.
"We should not wait for national reconciliation to take advantage of the bottom-up political progress in Anbar and create a Sunni region that would play an integral role in a united Iraq," said Senator Brownback, who is a Republican candidate for president.
Brownback joined Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, who is also a candidate for president, in cowriting an "Iraq Federalism Amendment" that passed with overwhelming Senate support (75 to 23) on Sept. 26.
The amendment calls for the U.S. to press Iraqis to employ the federalism enshrined in their own constitution and divide the country into sectarian regions. The bill specifically calls on the administration to convene a conference for Iraqis to reach a comprehensive political settlement widely recognized as the key to ending Iraq's strife based on federalism.
Senator Biden unveiled last year his plan for Iraq to be divided into three autonomous regions Shi'i, Sunni, and Kurd ? under a federal government. After the Senate endorsed that plan last month, both the Maliki government and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad criticized it as an imposition on Iraq's sovereignty and a recipe for Iraq's partition.
Biden counters that the plan is a realistic response to political conditions on the ground in Iraq "and in fact the only hope for keeping Iraq together."
BBC - 11 April 2007
US says Iran arming Sunni groups
The US military has for the first time accused Iran of arming Sunni militants fighting in Iraq.
Sunni militants are being armed with Iranian-made munitions, US military spokesman Maj Gen William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad.
These include mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the government in mainly Shia Iran which has been accused of arming fellow Shia militants in Iraq in the past.
The weapons, which were shown at the news conference, were discovered in a car in a Sunni district of Baghdad last week, the Americans said.
Gen Caldwell said the Iranians were not only supplying weapons to unspecified groups fighting the coalition and Iraqi government forces but training them too.
"There are groups that are receiving training in Iran with the most modern weapons and munitions that are available and then being smuggled into Iraq and being utilised by these groups against the Iraqi security force and coalition forces," he said.
"That required some very skilled training to be able to use them and employ them like they were being used."
Gen Caldwell also accused the Iranians of helping Iraqi militants use roadside bombs, which have been used to devastating effect in ambushes on US and coalition forces.
The devices have so far killed more than 170 US soldiers since the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The BBC's Jim Muir says the Iraqi government is hoping a planned conference in Egypt next month will defuse tensions with its neighbours, and perhaps even start a reconciliation process between the Americans and Iran.
But now Iran is threatening to pull out of the talks, as they are demanding the release of five Iranian officials seized by the Americans from an office in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq in January, our correspondent says.
The US on Wednesday ruled out freeing the five, who it accuses of meddling in Iraqi affairs.
The White House also denied Iranian state television reports it tortured a diplomat held in custody for two months.
NEW YORK TIMES - 11 June 2007
U.S. Arming Sunni Insurgents in Iraq
With the four-month-old increase in American troops showing only modest success in curbing insurgent attacks, American commanders are turning to another strategy that they acknowledge is fraught with risk: arming Sunni Arab groups that have promised to fight militants linked with Al Qaeda who have been their allies in the past.
American commanders say they have successfully tested the strategy in Anbar Province west of Baghdad and have held talks with Sunni groups in at least four areas of central and north-central Iraq where the insurgency has been strong. In some cases, the American commanders say, the Sunni groups are suspected of involvement in past attacks on American troops or of having links to such groups. Some of these groups, they say, have been provided, usually through Iraqi military units allied with the Americans, with arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and supplies.
American officers who have engaged in what they call outreach to the Sunni groups say many of them have had past links to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but grew disillusioned with the Islamic militants’ extremist tactics, particularly suicide bombings that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. In exchange for American backing, these officials say, the Sunni groups have agreed to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American units. Commanders who have undertaken these negotiations say that in some cases, Sunni groups have agreed to alert American troops to the location of roadside bombs and other lethal booby traps.
But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.
American field commanders met this month in Baghdad with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, to discuss the conditions Sunni groups would have to meet to win American assistance. Senior officers who attended the meeting said that General Petraeus and the operational commander who is the second-ranking American officer here, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, gave cautious approval to field commanders to negotiate with Sunni groups in their areas.
One commander who attended the meeting said that despite the risks in arming groups that have until now fought against the Americans, the potential gains against Al Qaeda were too great to be missed. He said the strategy held out the prospect of finally driving a wedge between two wings of the Sunni insurgency that had previously worked in a devastating alliance — die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s formerly dominant Baath Party, and Islamic militants belonging to a constellation of groups linked to Al Qaeda.
Even if only partly successful, the officer said, the strategy could do as much or more to stabilize Iraq, and to speed American troops on their way home, as the increase in troops ordered by President Bush late last year, which has thrown nearly 30,000 additional American troops into the war but failed so far to fulfill the aim of bringing enhanced stability to Baghdad. An initial decline in sectarian killings in Baghdad in the first two months of the troop buildup has reversed, with growing numbers of bodies showing up each day in the capital. Suicide bombings have dipped in Baghdad but increased elsewhere, as Qaeda groups, confronted with great American troop numbers, have shifted their operations elsewhere.
The strategy of arming Sunni groups was first tested earlier this year in Anbar Province, the desert hinterland west of Baghdad, and attacks on American troops plunged after tribal sheiks, angered by Qaeda strikes that killed large numbers of Sunni civilians, recruited thousands of men to join government security forces and the tribal police. With Qaeda groups quitting the province for Sunni havens elsewhere, Anbar has lost its long-held reputation as the most dangerous place in Iraq for American troops.
Now, the Americans are testing the “Anbar model” across wide areas of Sunni-dominated Iraq. The areas include parts of Baghdad, notably the Sunni stronghold of Amiriya, a district that flanks the highway leading to Baghdad’s international airport; the area south of the capital in Babil province known as the Triangle of Death, site of an ambush in which four American soldiers were killed last month and three others abducted, one of whose bodies was found in the Euphrates; Diyala Province north and east of Baghdad, an area of lush palm groves and orchards which has replaced Anbar as Al Qaeda’s main sanctuary in Iraq; and Salahuddin Province, also north of Baghdad, the home area of Saddam Hussein.
Although the American engagement with the Sunni groups has brought some early successes against Al Qaeda, particularly in Anbar, many of the problems that hampered earlier American efforts to reach out to insurgents remain unchanged. American commanders say the Sunni groups they are negotiating with show few signs of wanting to work with the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. For their part, Shiite leaders are deeply suspicious of any American move to co-opt Sunni groups that are wedded to a return to Sunni political dominance.
With the agreement to arm some Sunni groups, the Americans also appear to have made a tacit recognition that earlier demands for the disarming of Shiite militia groups are politically unachievable for now given the refusal of powerful Shiite political parties to shed their armed wings. In effect, the Americans seem to have concluded that as long as the Shiites maintain their militias, Shiite leaders are in a poor position to protest the arming of Sunni groups whose activities will be under close American scrutiny.
But officials of Mr. Maliki’s government have placed strict limits on the Sunni groups they are willing to countenance as allies in the fight against Al Qaeda. One leading Shiite politician, Sheik Khalik al-Atiyah, the deputy Parliament speaker, said in a recent interview that he would rule out any discussion of an amnesty for Sunni Arab insurgents, even those who commit to fighting Al Qaeda. Similarly, many American commanders oppose rewarding Sunni Arab groups who have been responsible, even tangentially, for any of the more than 29,000 American casualties in the war, including more than 3,500 deaths. Equally daunting for American commanders is the risk that Sunni groups receiving American backing could effectively double-cross the Americans, taking weapons and turning them against American and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government forces.
Americans officers acknowledge that providing weapons to breakaway rebel groups is not new in counterinsurgency warfare, and that in places where it has been tried before, including the French colonial war in Algeria, the British-led fight against insurgents in Malaya in the early 1950s, and in Vietnam, the effort often backfired, with weapons given to the rebels being turned against the forces providing them. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division and leader of an American task force fighting in a wide area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers immediately south of Baghdad, said at a briefing for reporters on Sunday that no American support would be given to any Sunni group that had attacked Americans. If the Americans negotiating with Sunni groups in his area had “specific information” that the group or any of its members had killed Americans, he said, “The negotiation is going to go like this: ‘You’re under arrest, and you’re going with me.’ I’m not going to go out and negotiate with folks who have American blood on their hands.”
One of the conditions set by the American commanders who met in Baghdad was that any group receiving weapons must submit its fighters for biometric tests that would include taking fingerprints and retinal scans. The American conditions, senior officers said, also include registering the serial numbers of all weapons, steps the Americans believe will help in tracing fighters who use the weapons in attacks against American or Iraqi troops. The fighters who have received American backing in the Amiriya district of Baghdad were required to undergo the tests, the officers said.
The requirement that no support be given to insurgent groups that have attacked Americans appeared to have been set aside or loosely enforced in negotiations with the Sunni groups elsewhere, including Amiriya, where American units that have supported Sunni groups fighting to oust Al Qaeda have told reporters they believe that the Sunni groups include insurgents who had fought the Americans. The Americans have bolstered Sunni groups in Amiriya by empowering them to detain suspected Qaeda fighters and approving ammunition supplies to Sunni fighters from Iraqi Army units.
In Anbar, there have been negotiations with factions from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a Sunni insurgent group with strong Baathist links that has a history of attacking Americans. In Diyala, insurgents who have joined the Iraqi Army have told reporters that they switched sides after working for the 1920 group. And in an agreement announced by the American command on Sunday, 130 tribal sheiks in Salahuddin met in the provincial capital, Tikrit, to form police units that would “defend” against Al Qaeda.
General Lynch said American commanders would face hard decisions in choosing which groups to support. “This isn’t a black and white place,” he said. “There are good guys and bad guys and there are groups in between,” and separating them was a major challenge. He said some groups that had approached the Americans had made no secret of their enmity.
“They say, ‘We hate you because you are occupiers’ ” he said, “ ‘but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate the Persians even more.’ ” Sunni militants refer to Iraq’s Shiites as Persians, a reference to the strong links between Iraqi Shiites and the Shiites who predominate in Iran.
An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”
Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”