Monday, February 21, 2005

Big in Iraq

Who amongst us doesn't remember the final scenes in Spinal Tap, where just as the aging rockers are resigned to having hit the end of the road, estranged lead guitarist Nigel returns with news that the band has hit the charts in Japan and estranged manager Ian wants to put together a tour. And the band rocks happily ever after.

Well, now consider the equivalent in Irish nationalist politics. With Sinn Fein having spent the weekend on the ropes, claims flying about links between their members and the Northern bank robbery and their own leadership role in the IRA, what lifeline could possibly emerge? A bizarre story in Time magazine that really should be getting more attention in the US, bringing word of secret negotiations between the US military and Iraqi insurgents.

Upon hearing first word of this story on Sunday morning, we thought immediately of an obvious analogy to the secret British negotiations in the 1970s with the IRA, which would make for another entry in the Irish angles of the War on Terror, along the prisoner abuses and the alleged IRA -- al Qaeda similarities.

But it's not just us saying this. It's the terrorists themselves! Consider this excerpt from the Time story:

Although they have no immediate plans to halt attacks on U.S. troops, they [insurgents] say their aim is to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis and eventually negotiate an end to the U.S. military's offensive in the Sunni triangle. Their model is Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which ultimately earned the I.R.A. a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. "That's what we're working for, to have a political face appear from the battlefield, to unify the groups, to resist the aggressor and put our views to the people," says a battle commander in the upper tiers of the insurgency who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Marwan.

We'd be happier if the story had a direct quote from the insurgents saying that the Shinners were their model, as opposed to what could be interpreted as the reporter putting words in their mouths. But assuming the story is accurate, two quick reactions. First, as we mentioned above, it's an odd weekend for claiming Sinn Fein as a model, when the model seems to be under the biggest strain in its history. Note to insurgents: twenty years down the road, when you've almost negotiated your way into power, might be a good time not to rob a bank. But second -- from the US side, what happened to "they hate us, they hate our freedom, they hate our values?" Can an Iraqi insurgent sex symbol be far behind?

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