Selling the Iraqi Resistance
One of the more interesting — and quiet — visits to Washington was made recently by Sunni parliamentary leader Mohammed al-Dayni, who visited Capitol Hill during May to meet with Congressional leaders and administration officials. A Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament and head of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Front, al-Dayni showed up in Washington for an extended 25-day visit to talk with policymakers about Washington’s Iraq strategy. The point of al-Dayni’s visit? To convince the Bush administration to begin talks with what al-Dayni described as “the real representatives of the Iraqi resistance” and not the “make believe resistance leaders.” What al-Dayni had in mind was that the Bush administration — and members of Congress — would reopen negotiations with Iraq’s Baathists, the same leaders it had accused of meeting with and harboring al-Qaeda operatives and hiding weapons of mass destruction.
The outspoken al-Dayni is known as a Sunni partisan, a strong anti-Shia activist, a long-time critic of Iran and a controversial and sometimes volatile critic of the Maliki government. More importantly, al-Dayni has strong ties to key figures in the Sunni resistance, a fact that has led him into increasingly disturbing clashes with Maliki — and which brought him to Washington in the first place. Then too, as head of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Front (a disciplined political bloc that controls eleven seats in the Iraqi parliament) al-Dayni’s power cannot be ignored. “He is an articulate, if outspoken, political leader,” one Congressional aide remembers of his meeting with him. “He is a man of strong opinions, as well as a superb salesman.”
It took al-Dayni some time, but he was eventually able to arrange a meeting between key senior Iraqi Sunni resistance leaders in Amman of the “Baathist current” and a visiting delegation from Washington. Because of al-Dayni’s direct intervention (along with the help of an Iraqi European mediator), I have been told that “a group of U.S. elected leaders or their staff” met quietly with Sunni resistance representatives in Amman in early July. No further information on the make-up of the American delegation is available, but that the meeting took place is not in question. The meeting was quietly set up by al-Dayni through the ABSP’s (Arab Baath Socialist Party) contacts in Europe. The key intermediary was a well-known Iraqi living in Europe who is trusted by the ABSP’s Damascus leadership. This European mediator played a central role, according to my sources. His and al-Dayni’s argument to the reticent Damascus ABSP leadership was that without some contact between their leadership and members of Congress and their representatives, the Iranian foothold inside of Iraq would expand. Even so, the ABSP was skeptical that the Americans would show good faith during the proposed discussions.
In spite of this the Damascus ABSP leadership decided that they would send representatives to talk to the Americans visiting Amman. They also decided they would take a tough line and during the first hours of their meeting with the Americans — which took place in Jordan in early July — the ABSP leaders was adamant: the Iraqi resistance leaders insisted that “real progress can only be made once the Americans make it clear to Iran that they must stop interfering in Iraqi affairs.” The Congressional delegation was quiet, circumspect, even skeptical, “but they listened carefully to what the Baathists had to say.” They too, they said, were disturbed about Iran’s role in Iraq, but they could make no promises. They said that they would do what they could to end Iranian influence in the country, but they were concerned that the resistance would continue to kill American soldiers. This could not be tolerated, they said. The meeting ended on this indifferent note: with concern on both sides about the Iranians, but without any formal agreement being put in place to continue contacts.
What was interesting about the Amman meeting was not simply that Congressional officials were willing to meet with the ABSP, but that they were willing to meet with a faction of the ABSP that is notorious for its anti-American activities. The “Al-Ahman Faction” of the Arab Baath Socialist Party — headquartered in Damascus but operating widely in the western reaches of Iraq — is led by none other than Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmad, a former Baath Party regional leader under Saddam Hussein and a man with a $1 million cash reward on his head. Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmad is well-known as one of the most effective resistance captains, a political as well as military figure who has been able to weld together a set of disparate secular anti-American factions that have fought the American occupation in western Iraq to a stand-still. Al-Ahmad moves easily between western Iraq and safe houses in Damascus and is the financial facilitator and operational leader of the resurgent Baath Party apparatus in Iraq. “Yunis is charged with providing funding, leadership and support to several insurgent groups conducting attacks against the Iraqi people, the interim government, Iraqi National Guard, the Iraqi police and coalition forces,” a U.S. military statement said in 2005.
While the early July Amman meeting between the Americans and representatives of the al-Ahman faction did not result in any formal understandings between the representatives of the two groups, the Iraqi European mediator told us that the al-Ahman representatives made their own point of view clearly understood: If the United States would act decisively to end Iranian influence in Iraq, the Baath resistance would end its attacks on U.S. forces in western Iraq. Moreover, future talks in Amman would be held on “an accelerated and more substantive basis” if the Americans would act quickly and in good faith to take on what the al-Ahman faction identified as “Iranian militias tied to the Quds brigades that are present in some parts of Iraq.” In the wake of the Amman meeting, and apparently energized by what he felt was the progress the meeting promised, the Iraqi European mediator flew to Damascus to talk with Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmad in person, then called me with the details of his talks. “The Baath Party leadership welcomed this initiative,” he said. “They are ready to calm the situation in western Iraq. They are ready for more talks. Al-Ahmed expressed his readiness to order his followers to stop attacking American troops in the western areas of Iraq. But it goes without saying that this move will irritate Al Maliki government. They clearly do not want any agreement between the Americans and former Baathists.”
That the Maliki government is sensitive about al-Dayni’s efforts to sell the Americans on talking with the “real” Iraqi resistance is well-known — at least in Iraq. In the wake of al-Dayni’s visit to the U.S. in May, Iraqi forces raided his offices in western Baghdad, and detained five of his guards. Dayni held a press conference in the wake of the raid, saying that Miliki’s forces confiscated 31 weapons from his offices and unspecified amounts of cash. “So far, the homes and offices of 20 parliamentarians, all Sunnis, have been raided,” Dayni said at the time. “What is happening in Iraq today, especially in Baghdad, is a coup by the executive branch against the legislative branch.” Another Sunni legislator, Noureddine Saeed al-Hayali, who appeared with Dayni, said the raids ignored parliamentary protocol. “Our immunity is guaranteed by the Constitution and has to be respected,” he said. The U.S. military had no comment on the raid.