Sunday, January 29, 2006

Quote of the Day: "We do not negotiate with terrorists."

Those were the official words of the Bush administration, as spoken last week by White House press secretary Scott McClellan. It seems like a pretty clear-cut statement, uttered by McClellan shortly after the release of the latest Osama bin Laden audiotape.

Well, according to an exclusive report in the latest issue of Newsweek, U.S. officials are currently engaged in talks with Iraqi insurgents. Say what?!

American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria.

Now that's a radical departure from the rhetoric we've been hearing about "no negotiating, only killing" the insurgent terrorists. Is the Bush administration finally going soft after all of the tough talk? Are they becoming desperate to end the occupation in a somewhat peaceful manner?

Or, perhaps, is this a new tactic designed to drive a wedge between the indigenous Iraqi resistance and the foreign jihadists imported by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi?

U.S. intelligence officials have had back-door channels to insurgent groups for many months. The Dec. 15 elections brought many Sunnis to the polls and widened the split between Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's foreign jihadists and indigenous Sunni insurgents. This marks the first time either Americans or insurgents have admitted that "senior leaders" have met at the negotiating table for planning purposes.

With a fear on both sides that Iran soon may begin to play a more intrusive role in the political future of Iraq, perhaps there's increased urgency to cooperate against a new, common enemy. What this means for the future of the insurgency and the future of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" remains to be seen. Certainly, if it begins to lose the support of the Sunni resistance, Zarqawi's organization may find itself fighting an uphill battle in its effort to destabilize the new Iraqi government.

On the other hand, extensive talks between the U.S. and the Sunnis may spark concern amongst the majority Shia population, creating a potential backlash that could push the country further in the direction of the Iranians. And, in fact, that could be the overriding concern for the U.S. as it delicately tries to toe a fine line between placating the insurgency and keeping the nascent Iraqi government from cozying up to Iran.

Contacts between U.S. officials and insurgents have been criticized by Iraq's ruling Shiite leaders, many of whom have longstanding ties to Iran and are deeply resented by Sunnis. "We haven't given the green light to [talks] between the U.S. and insurgents," says Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi, of the Shiite party, called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

In many ways, it appears that the Bush administration is caught between the proverbial "Iraq and a hard place." But they need to cut the crap and come back to reality on the whole "we aren't negotiating with terrorists" stance. Either they are or they aren't. Apparently, they are negotiating while the rest of us continue to get nothing but lies. The beat goes on...


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