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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Leaders in Iraq Attempt to Engage Insurgents

Shiites and Kurds hope to draw the mainly Sunni rebels out of violence, into politics.

April 28, 2005|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — As a new national government has struggled to take shape, a variety of Iraqi power brokers in recent weeks have stepped up efforts to reach out to insurgents, seeking to persuade them to give up violence in favor of peaceful political opposition.

Previous attempts by Iraqi leaders and the U.S. military to engage insurgents in peace talks have roundly failed. And the steady stream of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings has been unaffected by the capture of Saddam Hussein, the appointment of an interim government and the election in January of a transitional national parliament.

The violence soared again this month with attacks throughout the country against Iraqi and American military installations, vehicle convoys and private aircraft. Nineteen bodies were found in a stadium northwest of Baghdad, and to the south, scores more have been pulled from the Tigris River.

The ability of insurgents to attack U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians is the same as it was a year ago, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week.

Some Iraqi officials are hoping that the elected government will give them a credible argument to use against the insurgency: that far from being a puppet of America, it is a sovereign expression of the nation's popular will.

"Many of the insurgents have kept fighting because they look at Iraq as an occupied country," said Hachim Hassani, speaker of the National Assembly, or parliament, and one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni Arabs. Hassani said high-level government officials had met with insurgent leaders since the Jan. 30 election. "Now we have a chance to convince them of Iraqi sovereignty."

Even with a new government, convincing fighters to lay down their arms will be difficult because of the fragmented and brutal nature of the insurgency and the continued presence of about 150,000 U.S. and other foreign troops on Iraqi soil. In addition, there is a sense within Iraq's Sunni minority that they have become marginalized in a nation they dominated, and some influential Sunnis have argued that no real dialogue can take place until the troops leave.

"The Muslim Scholars Assn. considers those who target the occupiers, and whoever assists the occupiers, as honest and respectable," said Sheik Omar Raghib, a spokesman for the Sunni group.

Other Sunni representatives, including National Assembly member Mishaan Jaburi, a former associate of Hussein who fled Iraq in the late 1980s, have argued for Sunni participation in the government.

"It is the only way to bring about peaceful struggle," he said.

Shiites and Kurds, who dominate the new parliament and were brutally oppressed by Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party, have promised to include more Sunnis in the government. Both Shiite and Kurdish leaders say they have reached out to insurgent representatives in recent weeks.

Members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite group, held a series of meetings with the Muslim Scholars Assn., which is believed to have contacts with insurgents, in an effort to quell the violence before the election.

The Kurds have held meetings with insurgent groups in northern Iraq.

"We started these efforts as political parties," said Abdul Jalil Faili, a regional head in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two leading Kurdish parties. "But now we are speaking as elected government representatives. We started contacting them again a few days ago."

The new efforts come as Iraqis continue to bear the brunt of the insurgency. Attacks against American soldiers were down 22% through March this year while the slaughter of Iraqi civilians and security forces is unabated. This has, in the view of many Iraqi officials and U.S. observers, diminished the rebels' standing among the public.

Electoral politics is also driving Iraqi leaders to appeal to guerrillas and their sympathizers. Few Sunnis voted in January after calls for a boycott by their leaders. Now a number of national politicians, especially Sunnis, regard them as an untapped source of votes that could be significant in the election of a permanent government, which is scheduled for December.

"We are in serious talks," said Jaburi, one of the few Sunni lawmakers. "We may enter the next elections in a united slate."

Jaburi has held frequent meetings in his Baghdad home with tribal leaders, clerics and former Baathists who have strong ties to the insurgents.

But with so many armed factions in Iraq, even Jaburi, who claims to "speak for the resistance," has limited influence. Last weekend in Tikrit, a hotbed of the insurgency, a car bomber attempted to assassinate Jaburi, injuring four of his guards.

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