The "anti-Al Qaeda" "alliance" between the U.S. military and "former" Sunni insurgents is now all over the news. I said a couple of things about this in my just published commentary on the failure of the surge, but I think we need to talk about the larger significance of what will certainly be a temporary phenomenon.
We should be clear that this a major setback for the U.S. plans, made necessary by the miserable failure of the surge. The basic agreement is that the U.S. will turn over the fight in these communities to these new recruited "former" insurgents. Or, put another way, instead of U.S. troops trying to pacify these neighborhoods, they will let these local residents police their own communities. But, keep in mind, these local residents are nothing more than the militiamen/insurgents who have been fighting the U.S. So right away, we see that this is a retreat by the U.S. from these cities and neighborhoods.
Remember that the surge was supposed to destroy the militias and place the Iraqi government in control of Sunni communities. Instead, the U.S. is now granting local control to the very militias it has been fighting since the end of "major combat operations." This means that, in many Anbar cities and a growing number of neighborhoods in Baghdad, the U.S. is giving up on its effort to pacify the country, and instead allowing the insurgency to rule these areas unhindered.
What is the U.S. asking in return? For the expulsion of the jihadists (who organize carbombings and other terrorist acts against civilians) from these communities. This is pretty easy for many of these insurgent groups to agree to, since so many of them hate the jihadists, both because the don't approve of attacking Iraqi civilians and because the jihadi try to impose their particular form of their fundamentalism on the host communities. For years, many insurgents have tried, at various times and places, to expel the jihadis; but they have been frustrated in this effort because the U.S. has mounted such savage attacks on the militias that they could not focus attention on Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other jihadist groups. This truce relieves them of the need to fight the Americans (temporarily), and therefore allows them to focus on the jihadis. In many places nothing more is needed, and the jihadis will soon be gone. After that, the U.S. will undoubtedly attempt to introduce "government control" (i.e., U.S. military control). That is, the "alliance" will be abrogated.
But, in the meantime, this development will drastically reduce the death and destruction in Sunni communities and cities. The most important aspect of the deal is that the U.S. has, for all intents and purposes, removed checkpoints, stopped patrolling and refrained from invading homes where the "alliance" is in place. Keep in mind that more than half (and maybe as many as two thirds) of all the deaths, destruction, and displacement in Iraq are a result of the firefights initiated by these U.S. patrols, checkpoints, and home invasions. That is, the use of insurgents to police these local communities means a halt (in those areas) to the savage attacks by the US that kills so many Iraqis, destroy whole neighborhoods' and create tens of thousands of refugees. Any place where the "alliance" is executed will be exempted from this sort of savagery. And these communities will become even more loyal to the insurgents (who will get credit for expelling both the Americans and the jihadists).
In other words, this is a huge victory for the insurgents, who have mainly been fighting to get the US out of their communities for the entire war.
But, of course, like so many other U.S. strategies, this one too will soon be identified as a failure (it only took the surge six months to be abandoned) and it will be changed again. The direction of change is very clear -- toward more and more air power--the most destructive and savage of all the American strategies. So the worst is yet to come.