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A Potential Glimmer of Hope in Iraq
I am not optimistic about Iraq. But there a few glimmers that make me think that, for reasons that have little to do directly with U.S. policy, the situation, at least as far as al Qaeda-related groups go, may improve.

The most important is the apparent new willingness of Sunni groups to confront al Qaeda without U.S. assistance.

The reports of fighting in western Baghdad between Sunni groups and al Qaeda-linked groups, as well as a turn against al Qaeda by some of the tribal leaders in Anbar province show that the _jihadist_ inability to compromise on any issue, while a great motivating factor and recruitment tool, cuts both ways.

Eventually, one kills to many of one's own, alienating many potential allies. My first contact with this was with the FMLN in El Salvador. A rebel leader in San Vicente began executing everyone he suspected of being ideologically deviant, then all who might become traitors to the cause.

By the end, more than 250 people had been executed and the FMLN had to assassinate the commander. But the cost was that the rebels lost hold in the region and never regained it. The fragile popular trust was gone.

It seems from a bit of a distance that the unwillingness or inability of the al Qaeda-led factions to build and maintain long-term coalitions is one of their greatest potential weaknesses. The indiscriminate deaths from suicide bombings and IED has taken its toll, as has the pursuit of the al Qaeda-affiliated forces, in the form of heavy losses and insecurity in areas where the _jihadists_ operate.

No matter how well they operate in the environment, they need local support or, at a minimum, local passivity to their presence.

When the fear and hatred of the _jihadists_ reaches the point where people, under difficult circumstances, are willing to pick up weapons and kill them, a serious tipping point has been reached.

As described, the attacks on the _jihadists_ were fairly sophisticated, using an IED to blow up al Qaeda members who came to paint over anti-al Qaeda graffiti. This shows a knowledge of the enemy and an ability to accurately predict their movements.

The best thing the U.S. forces can do is stay out of the way unless specifically asked to help. As one Sunni told the Washington Post, "But if the Americans interfere, it will blow up, because they are the enemy of us both, and we will unite against them and stop fighting each other."

This may not sound like a policy, but it is worth considering. Yes, the alliance with the Anbar chiefs is backing one private army against another. At this point, the major difference is that one private army poses a strategic threat to us and the other, at least at this time, does not.

Given the extremely limited options in making any progress in Iraq, this may be the most viable. These groups are unlikely to align with the Shia majority (and Iran), and can be a counterweight to Shia militias. And they do not want to spread _jihad_ to the rest of the world.

I am not saying they are allies or don't want to kill us. The Sunni groups seem intent on fighting the U.S. presence. But their vantage point seems more like that of a classic insurgency rather than a religious _jihad_, and therefore open to different types of solutions.

This leads to a second development, the possibility of arranging a U.S.-brokered ceasefire among different factions of insurgents, those not linked to al Qaeda.

"We are talking about cease-fires, and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said from Camp Victory in Baghdad. "We believe a large majority of groups within Iraq are reconcilable and are now interested in engaging with us. But more importantly, they want to engage and become a part of the government of Iraq."

That sounds optimistic to me, but I am not on the ground. If up to 80 percent of the insurgent groups want to negotiate, as Odierno says, and most of the rest are al Qaeda-linked groups the population is turning on, there could be the basis for significant lessening of violence.

So far that lessening is not at all evident, and it may be wishful thinking that ceasefires can be brokered. Or maybe people are tired enough of the slaughter to be looking for a way out.

Hardly the establishment of democracy or utopia, but perhaps better than an al Qaeda victory.

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