Earlier today, the Italian news service AKI reported that the presumed leader of the largest insurgency in Iraq will start cooperating with the Iraqi government. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of the highest-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's government, reportedly pledged to work with Iraqi and American forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq:
The leader of Iraq's banned Baath party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, has decided to join efforts by the Iraqi authorities to fight al-Qaeda, one of the party's former top officials, Abu Wisam al-Jashaami, told pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.
"AlDouri has decided to sever ties with al-Qaeda and sign up to the programme of the national resistance, which includes routing Islamist terrorists and opening up dialogue with the Baghdad government and foreign forces," al-Jashaami said.
Al-Douri has decided to deal directly with US forces in Iraq, according to al-Jashaami. He figures in the 55-card deck of "most wanted" officials from the former Iraqi regime issued by the US government.
In return, for cooperating in the fight against al-Qaeda, al-Douri has asked for guarantees over his men's safety and for an end to Iraqi army attacks on his militias.
Recent weeks have seen a first step in this direction, when Baathist fighters cooperated with Iraqi government forces in hunting down al-Qaeda operatives in the volatile Diyala province and in several districts of the capital, Baghadad.
This could be game, set, and match for the Iraq War. Some smaller insurgent elements assisted in clearing Baqubah as a test to see whether an alliance with Americans would work. Apparently, the experiment worked. If al-Douri accepts the authority of the elected Iraqi government, then almost all of the resistance in western Iraq will disappear -- leaving AQI very exposed.
It seems more than just coincidental that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the former Ba'athist power base of Tikrit last Thursday. Maliki went to Saddam's hometown, where al-Douri likely has his strongest allies, to meet with the Sunni sheikhs. They gave him a warm welcome, and they pledged to find ways to work with each other. At the same time, he signed an agreement with the Kurds and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has been Moqtada al-Sadr's bitter opponent in the south.
Putting all of this together, it looks like Maliki decided to dump Sadr at the beginning of the surge. Sadr fled to Iran for a while, returned to see whether he could weasel his way back into power, and then pulled his deputies from Maliki's government. When it didn't fall, Maliki went to the SIIC to cut a deal with them instead. Once he did that, he brought the Kurds into it and looked for an opening with the Sunnis of Tikrit.
The turning of al-Douri, if true, would indicate that Maliki may have succeeded in marginalizing Sadr and bringing together the rest of the disparate elements of Iraq at least into a relationship where unity could occur. That would not have happened except for the performance of Petraeus and his work in Anbar and Diyala. The surge came as Sunnis had tired of AQI's brutal imposition of Taliban-like rule, and the renewed American effort has given the tribes a reason to unite and to work with the Baghdad government.
Maliki may have taken a huge step towards ending the insurgency while dispensing with Sadr. If so, Congress may hear in September that significant progress has been made both politically and militarily -- and that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
UPDATE: Read Michael Yon's latest dispatch to get an idea why even the insurgents prefer the Americans and Maliki. As NZ Bear mentioned on CQ Radio today, Yon notes that AQI makes the best argument for stamping out AQI.
There is another side to the al-Douri story, though, if he does in fact switch teams. The Iraqis have jailed and tried Saddam-era officials with less direct complicity in atrocities than al-Douri, such as Tariq Aziz. Can the King of Clubs simply go free, and if so, how so? The answer will probably be that a pardon will save many more lives and bring healing to Iraq -- all of which would undoubtedly be true. It will provoke some uncomfortable questions about the scope of forgiveness necessary for an Iraqi national reconciliation.
UPDATE II, 5:16 PM: Comments are not working at the moment -- we're looking for the fix now, but it may take a little time. Sorry for the inconvenience!