Amnesty for Insurgents Signals Failure of Escalation Strategy

The news that the American military is granting informal amnesties to local insurgent groups in Iraq is just the latest evidence of the failure of the Bush administration’s latest escalation strategy. The tactics on the ground represent a tacit admission that U.S. forces are unable to secure the country on their own and are now arming all sides in an escalating sectarian conflict in Iraq. The situation calls for a strategic reset in Iraq, including an immediate end to the unconditional arming and training of Iraqi security forces.

The story highlighting these informal "handshake agreements" with insurgents in today’s Washington Post notes that the deals typically include three steps: an agreement to stop attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces, a pledge to fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and finally an attempt to get these insurgent groups to join the Iraqi security forces. It is this last piece—bringing Sunni and Shi’a insurgents who have killed their fellow Iraqis as well as U.S. servicemen and women into the Iraqi security forces—that will cause the most problems. With no political consensus in Baghdad to govern the military, the Iraqi security forces have become ridden with factions pursuing local and sectarian agendas. By now adding to these forces with insurgents who have previously attacked U.S. forces, the United States risks escalating an already dangerous conflict.

The United States is risking the escalation of a vicious sectarian conflict that has already claimed the lives of thousands of Iraqis by giving weapons and support to groups that violently oppose other Iraqi factions and the elected government. While it is certainly important to talk to those groups that are engaged against us, those conversations must be part of an overall regional security strategy—not an ad-hoc accommodation with local groups.

Members of the elected Iraqi government understandably have expressed serious reservations about this kind of accommodation. Recently Sami al-Askari, a parliamentarian close to Maliki, warned "What the Americans are doing is very risky and unwise. They are planting the seeds for future wars."

The time has come for Iraqis themselves to address the several conflicts that divide their country, and that can only happen with a rapid redeployment of U.S. forces throughout the Middle East combined with new regional security initiatives to address and contain the violence in Iraq. The American people and Congress have called repeatedly for a new strategy. The administration must stop moving the goalposts and reassess the strategic underpinnings of the botched war.

Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb are Senior Fellows at the Center for American Progress.

  • Watch a video of Brian Katulis discussing the new CAP report "Strategic Reset: Reclaiming Control of U.S. Security in the Middle East," including CAP’s recommendation that the United States stop training Iraqi security forces (here) and that troops exit by the end of 2008 (here). 
  • Watch a video of Lawrence Korb assessing President Bush’s recent remarks on the war in Iraq here.