Thursday, January 12, 2006

The New York Times tells us today that Iraq-born Sunni insurgents are beginning to get tired of the tactics of foreign-born Islamists. Exultant voices from the right say this is a very, very good thing. Well, maybe. I'm skeptical:

...American and Iraqi officials believe that the conflicts present them with one of the biggest opportunities since the insurgency burst upon Iraq nearly three years ago. They have begun talking with local insurgents, hoping to enlist them to cooperate against Al Qaeda, said Western diplomats, Iraqi officials and an insurgent leader.

One problem is that there's no evidence whatsoever that this means Iraqi insurgents will actually work with Americans:

...the Americans face significant challenges in trying to exploit the split. "It is against my beliefs to put my hand with the Americans," said an Iraqi member of the Islamic Army who uses the nom de guerre Abu Omar.

Still, he said in an interview in a house in Baghdad, he allowed himself a small celebration whenever a member of Al Qaeda fell to an American bullet. "I feel happy when the Americans kill them," he said.

And if that attitude changes, do we really want these insurgents as our allies?

Whatever the answer, what we seem to have right now is something like a gang war:

Samarra, north of Baghdad, had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda's fighters. In desperation, a local sheik, Hekmat Mumtaz al-Baz, traveled to Baghdad in September to meet with Iraq's defense minister and ask for help, said one of the sheik's aides, Waleed al-Samarrai. A few weeks after the visit, the sheik was shot dead by Qaeda gunmen in his yard....

The tribe was furious, and its members tracked down the three men who carried out the killing. Elders from the tribe held a trial in a local farmhouse and interrogated the men for days....

Members of the tribe swept the town and arrested 17 people they suspected were associated with the sheik's killing. In one house raid, the tribe found men from Sudan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, a member of the tribe said.

Al Qaeda's fighters struck back during the tribe's offensive. A foreign Arab believed to be a Saudi wearing in a suicide belt blew himself up at the sheik's funeral, killing one guest and wounding two....

As a lesson to all those associated with the sheik's death, the tribe staged a public killing. While the sheik's father watched, men with machine guns shot the three men who carried out the assassination....


Two and a half years into the American occupation, the towns and villages south of Baghdad are divided among the insurgent groups like gang territory in big American cities. The arrangement is largely invisible to American troops who patrol the towns, the insurgents said in interviews. But guerrillas themselves say they must seek permission to travel through towns their groups do not control....

This is progress?

If this were, say, Los Angeles circa 1990, would we consider it a hopeful sign that tensions between the Crips and Bloods had escalated to all-out combat? Would we say a gang war should make the residents of South Central or Compton feel safer? Would we argue that our best hope for peace would be the possibility that one gang might brutally eliminate the other in a series of drive-by shootings? Would we look forward hopefully to the day when the Crips or the Bloods will show up at police headquarers and offer to work with the cops?

Maybe these tensions really will lead to the insurgency's demise. Or maybe we're getting this story now because otherwise we're fresh out of potential sources of light at the end of the tunnel.

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