- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sunni “fence sitters” in Iraq say they would be willing to take on master terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and rid the country of foreign saboteurs if the Shi’ite-run government’s new political structure is acceptable to them, according to a senior U.S. official.

“The Iraqis will kill every foreigner who comes into their neighborhood when they’re ready,” said the senior official who has spent months in Iraq. “They don’t want foreigners in Iraq.”

The official, who has held numerous meetings with what he called “influential fence sitters,” said the representatives have told him they are only tolerating foreign terrorists because they are a “pressure tool” to force the Shi’ites and the U.S. to consider Sunni political demands for more representation in the Baghdad government.

“We’ll catch him when we’re ready,” the official quoted one Sunni as telling him, referring to Zarqawi.

The official also said the Sunnis are demanding that Shi’ite security forces cease what the Sunnis consider harassing search-and-seizure measures that target innocent Iraqis.

“We’re getting a lot of bad guys,” the official said. “Are non-bad guys being killed? Absolutely. … A civil war has started to a degree.”

The source agreed to a lengthy interview with The Washington Times on condition he not be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

“The Sunnis are broken up into many fragmented groups,” the official said. “Many don’t want us to leave. Iraqi intelligence is telling us this every day.”

This official’s account comes as the Bush administration is putting as much emphasis on a political solution in Iraq as it is on a military one. And the political solution more and more involves enticing Sunnis to participate.

“When that process of political reconciliation reaches its zenith in December with elections, you will see that the Iraqi people are not supportive of this insurgency,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday on NBC’s “Today Show.” “An insurgency cannot last without the support of the population.”

The official told The Times that his almost-daily discussions with Sunni representatives is not part of any special overtures, but part of routine diplomatic efforts to explore alliances in the minority Sunni community. The Sunnis ran Iraq, and generally repressed the Shi’ites, during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

The source said Miss Rice in April 2004 authorized such contacts. There is to be no negotiating with known terrorists or Zarqawi. But some Sunni contacts maintain ties to insurgents.

Miss Rice made clear yesterday that enticing Sunnis into the coalition has become a major part of the Bush strategy. She said the discussions are “in the context of Sunni outreach, outreach to Sunnis, to bring them into the political process.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said in recent days that ultimately it will be up to the Iraqis to defeat the insurgency, through political agreements and its nascent security force that now numbers 160,000.

An administration official said this message is directed as much at the new Iraqi government as the American people. Mr. Rumsfeld wants Iraqis to realize that in the end, they will have to make democracy work, the official said.

The U.S. official told The Times that more moderate Sunnis are willing to get off the fence and start attacking foreign fighters once they believe the new Iraqi constitution, now being drafted in Baghdad, protects their interests.

The official said that right now the only way Zarqawi’s terrorists can operate in Iraq is with the complicity of Sunni village leaders who provide safe houses and travel routes from Al Anbar province to Baghdad and other cities.

Once the Sunnis revoke those privileges and turn on the foreigners, the insurgency will dwindle, or disappear, the official said.

“They know who the foreigners are in their towns,” the official said. “They don’t want foreigners in their country any more than we do. … Iraqis are very different than other Arabs. They are not Saudis. They are not Jordanians. They are Iraqis.”

The official added, “Zarqawi can’t operate in Al Anbar without Sunni participation.”

The source said that in some instances, the Sunnis welcome the foreign terrorist into their homes; other times, the foreigners threaten to kill or rape their children unless they provide sanctuary.

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