BROOKE GLADSTONE: In Baghdad, suicide bombings are as common as they are tragic. But this week brought news of one especially horrible, an attack on a group gathered around a U.S. soldier reportedly handing out candy and toys. Twenty-seven people were killed, most of them children. Two days later, coordinated car bombs killed some 26 Iraqis. Al Qaeda in Iraq took credit for those bombings, at least some of them, but made a point of denying responsibility for Wednesday's attack. It was another reminder that the Hydra-headed monster referred to so often in the press as the "insurgency" is actually a disparate group of factions, each with its own goals and strategies. And with nobody officially speaking for the "insurgents," we can't be certain who did what for what reason. But that may soon change, at least a little. On July 3rd, two Iraqi militant groups announced that they had appointed an official spokesman, Ibrahim Youssef al-Shammari. The Islamic Army of Iraq and the Army of the Mujahedeen said Shammari would speak for them. Baghdad correspondent Steve Negus covered the story for the Financial Times. He says there are a couple of reasons why the announcement came when it did.
STEVE NEGUS: The first is that some Sunni politicians had made statements saying they were putting forward demands that the insurgents thought were important, demands such as restoring the former army or reversing the de-Baathification. Even though these Sunni politicians weren't claiming to speak in the name of the insurgents, they were using the insurgency as something of a lever to get attention for the agenda they were claiming to front. Presumably, one of the reasons somebody is named is so that the insurgency could have a bit of control over the message that was going out. One of the other reasons is that the statement was proceeded by reports in the press that there had been meetings between U.S. officials and the insurgents. One of the first things that Shammari said when he was named the spokesman is that there have been no meetings between the United States and between the insurgency. I would imagine that no branch of a very divided insurgency wants to be perceived as though it was speaking behind the back of the others and trying to cut private deals with the Americans. So that might also be one of the factors, why this happened this time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What has he said? Has he offered any specific demands, or clarified an agenda?
STEVE NEGUS: No, he has not clarified an agenda. However, he has said that he would welcome an official above-ground initiative from the U.S. Congress towards negotiations with the insurgents. The Americans are rather firm on the point that they do not speak to the insurgents because they don't want to undercut the standing of the Iraqi government. This almost seems like--it might be even be just sort of a ploy to sort of lure out official recognition of the insurgents from the Americans, to make the Iraqi government look weak and illegitimate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has the Iraqi government had anything to say about Shammari himself?
STEVE NEGUS: Well, the spokesman said, you know, it'd be nice to know who speaks for these guys. This government really doesn't know who's who in the Sunni areas. And an impression we have is that everybody's really trying to figure out who they can speak to. So I think in some ways having a spokesman would be good, from their perspective.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shammari is supposedly representing just two groups, the Islamic Army of Iraq and the Army of the Mujahedeen. Who are these guys?
STEVE NEGUS: Well, they are thought to be dominated by former members of the Baath Party and former military officers. As often happens, these Baathist groups sort of take Islamic-sounding names. I mean, all the different groups sort of know each other, but the groups are individually quite diverse. And then a panoply of all of them is also diverse. Presumably this will encourage some of the other groups to put forward their spokesmen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Up until now, Steve, how problematic has it been for you, as a Baghdad correspondent, not to have an official spokesperson to turn to? What have you done to get the insurgents' perspective?
STEVE NEGUS: There's very little you can do. I mean, what you're doing is you're going through intermediaries. You meet people who claim that they have insurgent contacts, for example, a tribal leader from an area where the insurgency is strong, or a religious leader, and he will say this is what they stand for. But, you know, that goes through a filter or two, and it's not the most reliable source of information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So does the creation of a spokesperson like Shammari make your life a little easier?
STEVE NEGUS: Well, if it comes to a stage where I can contact him, you know, regularly it would. But he hasn't made that many statements yet. He's had a couple of conversations with Al Jazeera. So he's not exactly very high profile just yet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Would it be too much of a leap to suggest that the creation of Shammari's position might be a first step towards a permanent presence in the political arena by these groups? I'm thinking of parallels between what's happening now with the insurgency in Iraq and the history of groups like Sinn Fein or the PLO.
STEVE NEGUS: Yes, that's the hope. But there are tremendous practical and logistical difficulties towards actually setting it up, like you know, having a host country which can do that without being accused of supporting terrorism, you know, of the insurgents themselves feeling secure enough that they can reveal a few names. Particularly in Iraq, you know, if the government doesn't jail somebody whose family was killed by the insurgents might. And I think, you know-- [CHANTING IN BACKGROUND] --the security risk is a very big reason why the insurgents haven't gone public until now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is that the sound of prayer? [OVERTALK]
STEVE NEGUS: We're about to get the call to prayer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yes. I was just wondering whether or not this appointment of this spokesman seems as an important event to you as it seemed to us here on the show? Suddenly a public face, someone to talk to, someone to hear from, the beginning of perhaps a negotiated future for Iraq.
STEVE NEGUS: Yeah, it was a breakthrough, and it was a first-of-its-kind event. The important thing is, you know, whether or not the insurgents can build on that. If they can make a spokesman who is accessible, you know, who can make substantive statements, who doesn't have to worry about, you know, getting killed if he says the wrong thing, and ultimately whether or not they can develop a single person into a political front. It is a first step to all those things, but we're still a ways away from having a real political institution which can pursue negotiated solutions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steve, thank you very much.
STEVE NEGUS: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steve Negus is based in Baghdad for the Financial Times, but this week we caught him on the phone in Cairo.