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October 27, 2005
What Victory Against Terror Looks Like

The Sunnis of Iraq have increasingly decided that the time has come to enter the political process and to give up violence as a means of political change, the Washington Post reports this morning. Ghath Abdul-Ahad follows the path of a former Ba'athist insurgent, Abu Theeb ("Father of the Wolf") as he transforms himself into somewhat of an evangelist for democracy:

For weeks before Iraq's constitutional referendum this month, Iraqi guerrilla Abu Theeb traveled the countryside just north of Baghdad, stopping at as many Sunni Arab houses and villages as he could. Each time, his message to the farmers and tradesmen he met was the same: Members of the disgruntled Sunni minority should register to vote -- and vote against the constitution.

"It is a new jihad," said Abu Theeb, a nom de guerre that means Father of the Wolf, addressing a young nephew one night before the vote. "There is a time for fighting, and a time for politics."

For Abu Theeb and many other Iraqi insurgents, this canvassing marked a fundamental shift in strategy, and one that would separate them from foreign-born fighters such as Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian who leads the group al Qaeda in Iraq.

Two years of boycotting the process had only seen Sunnis marginalized while Iraqi's Shiite majority gained power. And Abu Theeb's entry into politics was born partly of necessity; attacks by Shiite militias, operating inside and outside the government security apparatus, were taking an increasing toll on Sunni lives.

Abdul-Ahad spent five days with the former guerilla fighter, following him on his door-to-door campaign against the proposed constitution but promotion of the democratic process that would decide its fate. He includes many interesting anecdotes, including one that shows less distinction between the Ba'athists and the foreign terrorists of the Zarqawi network than we'd like. At one point, he convinces two low-level al-Qaeda terrorists as security for his polling place, a moonlighting job that surely would see the pair tightly strapped into the next suicide car bomb if their identities became known.

Allowing Abu Theeb to run that polling station may have been a small mistake:

Men of the village trickled in. Guerrillas soon realized that the women of this deeply conservative Tigris River hamlet were not ready to leave their homes to cast ballots. So each man who came with his identity card received a stack of ballots to take back to his family.

"Nine ballots to Haji Abu Hussein," shouted the registration official, a local villager the government had certified as an election worker. Another local, also deputized by the government, handed Haji Abu Hussein a sheath of forms.

Ignoring the voting booth set up for privacy in a corner, Haji Abu Hussein stood at the table, checked "no" boxes against the Shiite-led government's proposed constitution, folded the ballots and chucked them into the ballot box.

By midday, as the flow of voters slowed, Abu Theeb's men decided to chuck the formalities as well.

Setting a ginger-bearded man at his own table, they assigned him the task of checking "no" boxes on all the ballots they could find. As they exhausted the ballots of the village's 1,500 registered voters, they telephoned Baghdad for 20,000 more ballots. Government officials sent over about 5,000.

Theeb has kidnapped perceived collaborators, attacked Americans throughout Iraq, and at one time worked within the Zarqawi network -- and although he supports the main aims of the twin insurgencies, he has broken with the Islamists over their tactics and their religious fanaticism. His family has paid a high price for their violent opposition to the occupation, with several of them dead, including one who killed himself accidentally while building IEDs. Mostly, however, Theeb understands that starting a civil war that the AQ fighters want would result in a massacre of the Sunnis, as the Kurds and Shi'ites would vastly outnumber and outgun the surrounded Sunnis.

Politics, even with a minority status, gives the Sunnis a way to continue having influence in the new Iraq. Theeb sounds a theme similar to Ecclesiastes when he counsels his fellow Sunnis that the time for violence has passed. Perhaps Theeb might well wind up running for office himself if he successfully transforms the village and surrounding areas into a democratic model.

This is how democratization beats insurgencies, and how it beats terrorism -- it takes the Abu Theebs and turns them into politicians and political organizers, replacing the gun with the ballot.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 27, 2005 5:18 AM

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