The US death toll in Iraq is horrendous. CNN's Michael Ware is one of the best reporters embedded in Iraq who always tells it like it is. Last night, he broke down exactly who we're fighting, where their allegiances lie, why they fight and whether or not they're willing to negotiate with US forces.
The most important thing in any war is to know your enemy, but many share the misconception that every insurgent is somehow allied with, as Dick Cheney would say, the "al Qaeda types". This is a highly misguided and ignorant view of the nature and dynamic of the insurgency. As Ware reports, it's not only Sunni vs. Shi'a but also many different sects within those two groups with different goals.
WARE: America's enemies in Iraq can be divided into two main groups: Sunni and Shi'a. But there are groups within groups, factions within factions.
Shi'a militias attack British and American troops according to Coalition intelligence officers, not to defeat them, but to keep them in a defensive mode. So they worry about survival instead of the militia's political control and their Iranian backing.
But the insurgents most Americans recognize as the enemy are Iraqi Sunnis. They are mainly former military from Saddam's regime and account for most U.S. casualties. They are divided into two large categories: nationalists and Islamists, each comprised of smaller groups. As the nationalists, their agenda is secular, anti-Iranian and focused on liberating Iraq from foreign occupation.
The Islamists, meanwhile, are more moderate than al Qaeda. They don't call for a religious state. They tolerate other Muslim sects and also vow to fight until U.S. forces leave.
Both of these large insurgent blocks are willing to talk peace with the United States. But there is still those America cannot reach. The darkest heart of the Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda and the many groups aligned with it.
This is the group that sends out suicide bombers and who once cut off westerners' heads. To them, there will be no end until Osama bin Laden's plans for an international Islamic state are fulfilled.
And most troubling, the longer this war goes, the more Sunni groups drift toward al Qaeda and the more Shi'a embrace Iran.
KING: Michael, a fascinating look there at the insurgency. Help us understand the point you make in the piece. How willing are some of these guys to talk to the United States?
WARE: Well, John, clearly (with) some of them, there's absolutely no chance at all. Certainly with al Qaeda and the groups most closely aligned with Iran.
But those in the middle have shown a willingness to talk to the United States. Indeed, they've been doing so. Or certainly elements of these groups have been doing so for at least a year and a half.
And some of these men who are involved in these talks are former top military officers from the Iraq army under Saddam who were American allies in the '80s during the Iran-Iraq War — John.