Who are we fighting in Iraq? The face of the enemy has changed over the years, at least if we take the official U.S. government line seriously. At first they were just a few “dead-enders,” according to Donald Rumsfeld, who once compared insurgent attacks to the routine violence that pervades large American cities. As the violence expanded, U.S. government spokesmen blamed “foreign fighters,” Islamists who had come at Al Qaeda’s behest to engage in jihad. President Bush portrayed the war against the burgeoning insurgency as the “central front” of our fight against terrorism worldwide.
But if the insurgents are “terrorists,” then what are we doing negotiating with them? Unofficial channels were opened at the beginning of this year, and the U.S. has apparently further softened its previous stance as American diplomats set up what reports describe as more “formal contacts” with the rebels. Sunni Arab clerics and political groups, such as the Sunni-based Islamic Party, act as interlocutors.
It turns out that some elements of the resistance aren’t the villains U.S. officials made them out to be. Major General Joseph Taluto, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division, tells Gulf News:
"If a good, honest person feels having all these Humvees driving on the road, having us moving people out of the way, having us patrol the streets, having car bombs going off, you can understand how they could [want to fight us]."
Iraqis are shooting at American troops not because they’re evil, but because “they’re offended by our presence.”
General Taluto insists, however, that the U.S. is sticking it out to the bitter end no matter how many merit badges the insurgents are awarded: "If the goal is to have the coalition leave, attacking them isn't the way," he said. All the insurgents need do is lay down their arms and "eventually [the occupation will] go away."
The Los Angeles Times account of talks with the insurgency quotes a U.S. official in Baghdad as saying: "We really are sincere when we say the only reason we're staying here is that you're shooting at us to try and get us out.”
The obvious reality that the insurgency is caused by the occupation has been stood on its head: the occupation must continue because the Iraqis are still shooting at us – and in spite of General Taluto’s admission that they have good reason to.