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December 18, 2005
Sunnis Want Cooperation With US

Events in Iraq this year have convinced the Sunnis that cooperation with the United States gives them the best option for political strength in the new democracy and now want to build on the temporary truces that led to an almost violence free election this week, the Washington Times reports today. Sunni leaders understand now that they will need to participate fully in the new political structure if they hope to see the central region of Iraq freed of American soldiers, but want to negotiate their cooperation with explicit actions from American forces as well:

Key Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq's violent Anbar province have concluded that their interests lie in cooperating with the United States, and they are seeking to extend a temporary truce honored by most insurgent groups for last week's elections.

But at the same time, they are demanding specific steps by the U.S. military, including a reduction in military raids and an increase in development projects for their vast desert province that stretches from the edge of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. ...

A prominent Sunni religious leader in Anbar province, Sheik Abed al-Latif Hemaiym, told The Times in an interview in Amman that Sunnis were prepared to work with the Americans.

"We now believe we must get on good terms with the Americans," Sheik Hemaiym said. "As Arab Sunnis, we believe that within this hot area of Iraq, facing challenges from neighboring nations who want to swallow us, especially the Iranians, we feel we have no alternative."

I wrote after the first round of elections, which the Sunnis boycotted, that they would one day wake up to find themselves isolated between the other two major ethnic groups in Iraq and suddenly discover a need for effective protection of their rights -- and without working with the Americans, they would not find it. The Sunnis seem to have come to that conclusion this week, but it took a bit more than self-realization. General Casey's courageous decision to engage the less-bloody elements of the Sunni "insurgency" in truce talks for the election had more than a little to do with the attitude change. Those talks gave the Sunnis some basis for trust, which will allow for further negotiation.

What do they want? They want a series of trades -- withdrawal for peace, and peace for withdrawal. They want a shrinking footprint of American power in the Sunni Triangle; so do we. They want peace, so do we. What they want is a formula that gets us out quickly, while we want their cooperation in order to replace us with the new Iraqi Army and native security forces to replace US personnel. In truth, our positions are almost identical, but the process needs definition. The only sticking point will be the disarming of the Sunni insurgents, but with their leadership now committed to the political process, those men can return home and start rebuilding their lives -- and perhaps even join the Army to ensure the security of the country. If the Kurds and the Shi'a can co-exist in the Iraqi Army, then the Sunni can as well.

It's more than the end of the beginning in Iraq now. It's looking like victory with each passing day.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 18, 2005 8:22 AM

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