Archive for the 'Sunni Insurgency' Category



The Waning of Al Qaeda in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

There has been recent chatter over jihadist web sites that point to yet another attempt at consolidation of insurgent forces.  SITE Intel gives us the translation.

Following both the announcement of the Mujahideen Shura Council’s establishment as an amalgamated insurgency group in Iraq and Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi selected as its Emir in mid-January 2006, there has been much chatter amongst the online jihadist community on this issue. Following the announcement about the Council, the Jihadi forums ran a “Thousand signature campaign on supporting the Mujahideen Shura Council,” which indeed, the online jihadists posted their signatures. Members stressed the unification of the mujahideen under one flag as a boon for the insurgency; one suggesting that Ansar al-Sunnah join the Council to further bolster the unification, and another in an interview on a forum, Hani el-Sibaei, a former leader of the outlawed Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, who now runs an Islamic affairs research center in London, who congratulates the Council.

Another member of a jihadist forum addressed the seeming disappearance of Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, stressing that the Muslims should not follow Western pundits and analysts who equate jihad in Iraq with one man in Zarqawi. He congratulates the founding of the Mujahideen Shura Council and its Emir, Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, and states: “The jihad did not stop and what it proves is that jihad is continuous until now with the Grace of Allah”.

The Mujahideen Shura Council is composed of eight insurgency groups in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah Wal Jama’a, Jama’a al-Murabiteen, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades, collaborating to meet the “unbelievers gathering with different sides” and defend Islam.

It is noteworthy that the jihadists are calling for a combination of forces, these same forces battling each other in the earlier days of the insurgency in Ramadi, as we covered from Army intelligence sources in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq.  For instance, it was never al Qaeda which controlled the hospital in Ramadi.  Rather, it was Ansar al Sunna, and al Qaeda stayed out of the innermost parts of Ramadi due to the inherent danger.  Each sect of Sunni insurgency fought with all other sects, and this inability to combine forces is part of its failure.

Just as remarkable is the followup press release of al Qaeda in Iraq (the internet swarm was obviously preliminary to this more formal action by al Qaeda), in that the strategy is only ostensibly one of jihad against the evil Crusader Americans, and is in reality one of the power and cultural identity of Sunnis.

The purported leader of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq called in a new Internet audiotape Tuesday on Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of the country, to return to the insurgency.

In the recording, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who allegedly heads the Islamic State of Iraq, called on Sunni unity and urged Sunnis in the Iraqi army, police and the so-called “Awakening Councils” to abandon fighting the mujahideen, and instead turn their guns toward the “Crusader” enemy shorthand for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The 30-minute audio was posted on Islamic Web sites known as clearing houses for militant messaging. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed. Washington-based SITE Institute which monitors militant Internet messaging, also intercepted the recording.

No photo has ever appeared of al-Baghdadi, whom the U.S. describes as a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreigner al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. has said that under interrogation, a top al-Qaida member revealed that speeches by al-Baghdadi who often echo the messages of his patron, Osama bin Laden are read by an actor.

“The scholars of the faith and the honorable sheiks of the tribes are charged with calling and urging the children of the Sunni sheikdoms to leave the army and the police … and the Awakening Councils, on the basis that all arms … be directed at the Crusaders and those who support them,” al-Baghdadi said in the latest recording.

The Sunni fighters who went to the American and Iraqi government side have contributed nothing to benefit the Sunni nation in Iraq, al-Baghdadi claimed, and were themselves deceived by unfulfilled promises of payments and contracts with the U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The Awakening Councils first surfaced last year in the Sunni province of Anbarwest of Baghdad, but have since also spread to other Sunni-populated areas in central Iraq.

Al-Qaida has never publicly acknowledged losing control in the Anbar to the U.S.-Iraqi anti-insurgency push, but al-Baghdadi has in the past blasted the Awakening Council’s “collaboration” with the U.S. troops in the region.

Noting that five years have passed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al-Baghdadi claims the “enemy has reaped humiliation and loss” and faces an “exceptional state” of economic collapse.

Meanwhile, the al-Qaida affiliate will remain firm on the path of jihad, al-Baghdadi said.

Allegedly motivated by Sunni tribesmen wishing an end the Sunni infighting, al-Baghdadi claimed a project has been agreed upon in which a committee of scholars will intervene to resolve conflicts in Sunni areas between tribes, mujahideen, and others.

Referring to the recent U.S.-Iraqi drive to flush al-Qaida out of northern Iraqi strongholds around the city of Mosul, al-Baghdadi warns Sunnis there to exercise “caution.”

“The malice against you is great, and you will see humiliation if you abandon your children, the mujahideen. They are from you and for you. They are the source of your pride and honor. They are the secret of your power,” he said.

There is no call for the Shi’a to abandon the fight against al Qaedain the name of jihad.  The fight, says the spokesman, is about the source of their pride and honor, the secret of the Sunni power.  The days when the Sunni believes that he will return to power in Iraq as part of the majority party are gone, and the appeal of al Qaeda to this quaint notion is a sign of its waning power.

Sunni Solidarity with U.S. and Demand for Integration into Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

The Sunnis in the Anbar Province have taken a rapid ride from enemy of the United States, to tepid ally, to strong ally, and finally to full partner.  In Operations in Northern Iraq we discussed the movement of the last of al Qaeda North to Mosul, Tikrit and outlying areas.  In Last Stand in Mosul we expanded this discussion to include the diehard Ba’athists and Fedayeen Saddam who will not reconcile; they also have retreated to the North.  In light of these developments, it is important that the “awakening” has finally expanded to the North.

HAWIJA, Iraq (AP) – Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance—called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began—covers the “last gateway” for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias—mainly Sunnis—that had turned again al-Qaida and other groups.

Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have mounted across central regions …

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by dozen sheiks—each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding—who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq.

For about $275 a month—nearly the salary for the typical Iraqi policeman—the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.

But a cautionary note is in order.  We have strongly advocated and supported the strategy of “concerned citizens” and paid neighborhood watch and auxiliary police, but they must eventually be integrated into the the Iraqi government - either police or Iraqi Security Forces.  Anthony Cordesman states.

A change in US tactics, and the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar province, have sharply reduced the level of violence in some important parts of Iraq. The violence and numbers of dead are down to the levels of spring 2006, before the escalation of civil violence that tore the country apart. The worst fighting is now concentrated in and around the mixed areas in Diyala. Large parts of Baghdad and many formerly hostile towns in the west are relatively secure. The number of improvised explosive device attacks has also declined. How much of that is due to Iranian restraint, improved US tactics and technology or less active Shia hostility to coalition forces is as unclear as how long the drop will last.

US and Iraqi forces are scoring important, if regional, tactical victories. However, these cover only western and central Iraq and may well be temporary. For all the claims that the “surge” worked, it is clear that it did not work purely on its own. The build-up of US forces and change in tactics from staying in bases to “win and hold” have accomplished a great deal. However, it was only the combination of the tribal uprising in Anbar, the build-up of troops and the change in US tactics that prevented al-Qaeda and its supporters from dispersing to the areas around Baghdad and intensifying the fighting in central Iraq.

The US team in Iraq deserves great credit for reacting to the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar, supporting and co-opting it and broadening it to other areas. But that effort may be wasted if the Iraqi government continues to equivocate in allowing the Sunnis to join the police and security services, and if Iraq’s factions cannot agree on how to share the nation’s power and wealth. Everything depends on converting a US-led military success into Iraqi political accommodation.

Cordesman’s words echoes the sentiments of the Sunnis.  An eerie warning was recently issued by a top Sunni cleric concerning the fate of the Sunni fighters who sided with the U.S.

A top Iraqi Sunni cleric called on Wednesday for the tens of thousands of Sunni Arab militants allied to US forces in the fight against Al-Qaeda to be integrated into the regular security forces.

Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarraie, head of the Sunni endowment, told AFP that the fate of around 70,000 Sunni Arab men fighting against Al-Qaeda in Iraq militants must be decided by Baghdad soon.

The fate of these 70,000 men is not defined and it must be decided soon,” said Samarraie, whose organisation oversees the management of all Sunni shrines across Iraq.

“These fighters must be integrated into the police and army,” he said.

It is clear that the Anbaris in particular desire a long term U.S. presence in terms of investment and financing.  It is also clear that they desire the eventual departure of U.S. forces – at least in terms of military authority, even if a force presence is kept for years to ensure the security of Iraq (perhaps with bases in the Kurdish region).  What is not clear is just how long the surge can be maintained or troops can continue to patrol through the streets without being seen as the occupier rather than the ally.

The situation is proceeding apace in Iraq, and the government has an opportunity to integrate the Sunni forces into the nation-state.  Failure to do so may bring catastrophy, but success will bring a stand down of a significant number of U.S. forces in Iraq and their possible redeployment to Afghanistan.

Last Stand in Mosul

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

We have carefully noted the difference between indigenous insurgents in Iraq and foreign fighters who perpetrate terror, as well as the gradual defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is comprised of fighters from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Chechnya, Africa, Western China, and other locations across the globe, those fighters battling the U.S. for religious reasons, among others.  Why is it important to make the delineation between the two categories?  Because one must know the enemy before he can know what approach to use.  It has meant everything to the battle for Anbar to know the parties to the struggle.  Some local insurgents, upon watching the defeat of the foreigners in the battle that the 2/6 Marines conducted for Fallujah in Operation Alljah, simply stood down and went home to Al-Qaim, a far Western Province of Anbar, where they were carefully reintegrated into society.  Yet a foreign fighter who has travelled half way across the globe to fight America and who has injected himself with Epinephrine isn’t likely to stand down because you offer him a promise, a paycheck and peace.  Knowing the human terrain means everything in counterinsurgency.

Yet there is a hard core element of indigenous insurgents who will not reconcile with the current government, whether regional or national.  Azzaman reports that they have congregated in Mosul.

A split in the ranks of the Islamic Army of Iraq is certain to reverse the successes U.S. occupation troops allege to have made in the country in the past few months.

The Mosul sector has severed ties with the Islamic Army whose leaders have agreed to cooperate with U.S. troops and turn their guns against Qaeda fighters and elements in the country.

The Mosul sector is one of the most effective and battle hardened of the insurgent group which once claimed the execution of almost daily attacks on U.S. troops.

Mosul –  Iraq’s second largest city and the districts within the borders of the Province of Nineveh, of which the city is the capital –  was the hometown of army generals and senior officers of former leader Saddam Hussein’s armed forces.

From Mosul came the largest number of volunteers of the former Republican Guards, Saddam Hussein’s elite forces, the Special Security and intelligence.

These disgruntled officers and security and army personnel are the commanders of the Islamic Army and the split of Mosul is bound to complicate matters for both the U.S. an the Iraq government.

While the Islamic Army has pledged to suspend all operations against U.S. troops, its Mosul sector has vowed to proceed ahead with anti-U.S. operations.

For the past three days, hundreds of leaflets have been distributed in Mosul, confirming the split and declaring that the city and its environs no longer receive their instructions form (sic) the leaders of the Islamic Army.

The Islamic Army combatants have given themselves a new name al-fatih al-Mubeen and the leaflets said the new formation had nothing to do with the alliances the Islamic Army has entered into recently.

Recall that when al Qaeda utilized brutality to subjugate the population thus engendering hatred for them and what they stood for, various other groups parted ways with them.  Al Qaeda reorganized into what they call the Islamic State of Iraq, while the hard core Ba’athists, Fedayeen Saddam and other Sunni fighters from the previous regime who refused to reconcile created what they call the Islamic Army of Iraq (more than likely a surrogate name for many of them since they didn’t start their fight for religious motivation).  The Islamic State of Iraq (al Qaeda) and Islamic Army of Iraq are not only enemies of the current state of Iraq along with the U.S., but of each other as well.

Azzaman cannot but let its bias be put on display with every commentary they author (anti-Maliki, anti-U.S.), as with the comment about “the successes U.S. occupation troops allege to have made in the country.”  Yet when the bias can be effectively ignored, they have proven accurate in much of their reporting on Iraq.  Assuming the accuracy of this report, the diehard holdouts from the former regime appear to be making their last stand in Mosul (they cannot move further North into Kurdish territory, and Mosul itself is large part Kurdish).  The irony of this is not wasted.  Mosul is where General David Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division had so much success in 2003.  General Petraeus will get his chance very soon to finally stamp out the Ba’athists and provide what might be a lasting security for the people of Mosul.

The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In the Saturday, October 20, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Michael Ledeen wrote an interesting and compelling commentary entitled Victory is Within Reach in Iraq, in which he quote me from an article here at TCJ entitled Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq: “There is no point in fighting forces (U.S. Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away.”

On January 23, 2004, a letter was captured in a safe house in Baghdad from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi to senior al Qaeda leadership, in which he said (in part) that “America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes.  It is looking to a near future, when it will remain safe in its bases, while handing over control of Iraq to a bastard government.”  While Zarqawi’s letter pointed to strategical problems he observed of the U.S. forces at the time, this letter might have sounded somewhat different if he had written it after the Marines were handed responsibility for Anbar.

Following this handover was the first and second battles for Fallujah, dangerous and deadly kinetic operations in the balance of Anbar, tribal negotiations in Ramadi, sand berms around Haditha, and integral to it all, combat outposts everywhere the Marines were to ensure the sustaining of risk along with the population.  Nibras Kazimi has commented of the tribal awakening in Anbar that “tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.”  The so-called “awakening” didn’t happen in a vacuum.  Its backdrop involved blood and toil on the part of the Marines and Soldiers in Anbar, and just the right set of circumstances to persuade the population and tribal leadership that al Qaeda was a loser.

Bill Ardolino had a recent interview with an interpreter for the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines in Fallujah, the last significant battle for Anbar (Operation Alljah).  The interpreter had this interesting observation about the Marines with whom he had spent much of the last seven months of his life: “They are so patient. And they can fight outside of their country overseas, and I don’t think al Qaeda or someone else can fight like Marines, overseas and so distant from home.”

Ledeen concludes his perspective on the reasons for the winning strategy in Anbar, by saying that “We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it.”  Ledeen is not merely bragging about the capabilities or accomplishments of the Marines in Anbar, although there are plenty of reasons to do that.  The point goes further, and is the hinge upon which all of counterinsurgency turns.  Winning hearts and minds has to be about showing and using the strength to pacify a population, bring security to its people, and surgically defeat the enemies amongst them.

Other sources, Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal Blog, Hearts and Minds:

The components of “Hearts” and “Minds”:

Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.

Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.

Essential to these two components is the perceived self-interest of the population, not about whether the population likes COIN forces / government. The principle emotive content is respect, not affection. Support based on liking does not survive when the enemy applies fear, intimidation trumps affection. Disappointment, unreliability, failure and defeat are deadly – preserving prestige and popular respect through proven reliability, honoring promises and following through, is key. Smacking the enemy hard (kinetic operations), publicly, when feasible (and no innocents are targeted) is also key. The enemy’s two key assets are cultural understanding of the target population, and longevity (he will be around when we leave).

Exporting the Anbar Model: An Exercise in Nuance

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

James Janega with the Chicago Tribune follows up the reporting that I and Bill Ardolino have done on the campaign in and around Fallujah area of operations.

The last car bomb in Fallujah exploded in May.

On that warm evening, insurgents drove a vehicle packed with explosives into mourners for a slain local tribal leader as they wound through a ramshackle corner of the city, killing 20. The next day, Fallujah’s mayor banned all vehicles from city streets.

If there were no cars, reasoned Mayor Saad Awad Rashid, there could be no car bombs.

“It stopped,” said Lt. Col. William Mullen, commander of a shrinking force of U.S. Marines in the city who have watched the insurgency melt into the encircling countryside. “The ‘significant events’ in the city stopped. I think a lot of [the insurgents] left.”

The Americans are not far behind: After surrounding the city with walls and improving security on its streets, the Marines are pulling back from the one-time insurgent bastion of Fallujah. They are redeploying to surrounding areas as the U.S. troop “surge” allows them to consolidate progress made largely by tribal leaders and local officials in security and civil works.

They leave behind a city devastated by years of fighting and starved for reconstruction, as well as questions about whether Fallujah — a place infamous for the 2004 mob killings of four American contractors and two resulting U.S. offensives — can now serve as a model of stability for a wider American troop withdrawal from Iraq in the months and years to come.

It has been a workable but messy solution, with successes like the reduction in car bombings coming as much from the mayor’s spur-of-the-moment decisions as any military planning.

A partially trained Iraqi police force and bands of armed volunteers now work under American supervision, carefully preserving peace on streets covered by years of trash and rubble. To live under this new protection, most of Fallujah’s 250,000 residents submitted fingerprints and retina scans to get identification cards that let them stay in the city.

As a point of fact, Lt. Col. Mullen is now a Colonel, one of thirty two promoted to Colonel effective October 1, 2007, prior to the publication of the Tribune article.  Also, there aren’t a quarter of a million residents left in Fallujah.  The article does go to show that the Marines in the Fallujah area of operations are currently primarily engaged in reconstruction, rebuilding and public affairs.  The article also reminds the reader that more work needs to be done.

It is a place under 24-hour lockdown, surrounded by berms and barbed wire. But that’s a price Fallujah’s war-weary residents say they are willing to pay for now.

“The last four months, things have been going better,” said Khamis Auda Najim, a 38-year-old cabinet-maker in Fallujah’s Andalus neighborhood. “But the changes are just on the security side. The street surfaces, the sewage, the electricity, the water? Those aren’t as good.”

U.S. forces promise those services are coming, along with U.S.-funded reconstruction projects and more money from the federal and provincial governments. But nothing in Fallujah moves quickly. As they face impatient city residents, the Americans are learning that everything is important now.

“I’ve been an infantry officer for 10 years. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned more about water treatment and sewage than I’ve ever wanted to know,” said Marine Capt. Jeff Scott McCormack, 32, a company commander from Oak Forest, Ill.

Quick transitions have been made from the U.S. forces that established security to civilian Iraqi forces deployed to preserve it. The last Iraqi army troops left a month ago; the streets are now in the hands of 1,500 volunteers and police officers, some of whom have completed abbreviated training courses.

Heavy kinetic operations in May and June of 2007 were followed on by gated communities and biometrics, and involvement of the local Iraqi police along with paid individuals engaged in community watch.  Marines filled sand bags and constructed joint combat outposts – Police Precincts, and patrolled with Iraqi Police in order to give them confidence.  With the comparative irrelevance of tribal leaders in the Fallujah area, Muktars were engaged to provide leadership of and communication with the communities.

Upon pacification of Hit, Haditha, and Ramadi (all by different means, Haditha with sand berms, curfew and a ban on vehicular  traffic, Ramadi with tribal engagement), the insurgency fled to Fallujah, where kinetic operations routed them from the area in the second quarter of 2007.  Many of them left and went home to Lt. Col. Bohm’s area of operation, where they are being carefully assimilated back into society.

Col. Richard Simcock who commands Regimental Combat Team 6 is measured and careful, yet honest with where he believes Anbar currently stands.

U.S. Marine Colonel Richard Simcock, who commands the 6th Marine Regiment, says his forces have successfully routed the insurgents in Anbar province.

“There are still attacks in Fallujah and surrounding areas,” said Colonel Simcock. “We have not killed or captured every single al-Qaida member that is here. But their capabilities are greatly diminished. I would characterize them as a defeated force from my perspective.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington via satellite from Iraq, Colonel Simcock says the surge of more U.S. forces in Anbar and Baghdad has allowed Marines to stay in areas where al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists have fled to prevent insurgents from returning.

He also credits the cooperation of the Iraqi army and police, as well as local tribal leaders in the effort to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq and bring security to Anbar.

“That has been the building block that has allowed the people to come out and participate in governance,” he said. “But, probably more importantly, it allows them to come out and do the things that a lot of the citizens here in al-Anbar have not been able to do because of murder and intimidation that al-Qaida was doing. We have made great strides in regards to that, and we are very, very pleased with the progress that we are making.”

Measured, careful and honest.  There are still attacks – we have not killed or captured every single AQI member – but they are a defeated force.  Exporting this model is complicated and nuanced, and involves more than just the participation and approval of tribal shiekhs, no matter what the current narrative says.  Nibras Kazimi has crafted a smart analysis of tribes and their saliency in Iraq for the New York Sun.

Does it really matter, whether tribes were the primary factor in defeating Al Qaeda or not, given that the story coming out of Iraq is more and more hopeful? Yes it does: the implication is that if you don’t know why and how you’ve won, then you won’t be able to replicate victory. The tribes, like the American troop surge, were catalysts that sped up the demise of the insurgency, but they did not trigger the process the insurgency’s failure predated the surge and any tribal strategies.

I believe the insurgency failed because it had bad ideas and unrealistic expectations. When the price paid by the local population for these ideas and expectations — fighting the Shiites and re-establishing Sunni hegemony — became too steep, Sunnis turned against the insurgents and tried to find shelter, yet again, under the central government This latter trend is the one that should be reinforced: Sunnis should be encouraged to throw in their lot with the New Iraq, rather than falling back into the tribal identities of Iraq’s past.

Once tribal leaders realized that Al Qaeda was losing, they turned towards Baghdad for guidance. As one Iraq observer put it to me, “Tribes are a barometer of power; they swarm around whoever has the upper hand.” The danger now is that Americans are trying to resuscitate a clannish social system that had withered away in Iraq, and turning it into a power in of itself.

We agree with Kazimi.  Nonetheless, the U.S. has worked with tribes where it suited our needs, and community Muktars where it suited our needs.  Given the constricted time frame that the U.S. public will allow for this counterinsurgency campaign, efficacy and expediency is the order of the day.  Thus, following the model in Fallujah, do we see retinal scans being taken by Army troopers south of Baghdad.

troopers_taking_scan.jpg

The Christian Science Monitor has an article in which they examine the export of the Anbar model to Shi’ite parts of Iraq.

Forward Operating Base Iskan, Iraq – The violence has dropped dramatically, say US commanders, in the towns surrounding this base in northern Babil Province, south of Baghdad.

In May, four improvised explosive device (IED) attacks targeted the battalion; none in August, says Maj. Craig Whiteside, executive officer of the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment. Fewer undetonated IEDs have been found – five in May and two in August. Indirect fire and small-arms violence have also dropped from about a dozen incidents in May to less than three in August.

The reason, they say, is that the same approach that won success in Anbar Province, where the Marines gained support of Sunni tribesmen against Al Qaeda, is taking hold in mixed-sectarian areas. But here, Americans have enlisted Shiites frustrated with extremists from such groups as the Mahdi Army, run by Moqtada al-Sadr.

Across the Euphrates River Valley, known to the military as the southern belts of Baghdad, about 14,000 Shiite and Sunni “concerned citizens” are being paid to man checkpoints and patrol roads in an effort to prevent attacks from violent extremism of either sect.

Largely untrained and armed with weapons they already own, the citizens wear armbands and monitor traffic along the roads, keeping watch to ensure no outsiders or other extremist elements come through to bury roadside bombs. If they fail to keep violence out, they could lose their monthly paycheck. Ultimately, the idea is that they will become members of the Iraq security forces.

“They are making their community safe,” says Army Capt. Charles Levine, one of the company commanders here. His battalion has recruited more than 1,300 participants since mid-September. A little less than half of them are Shiite.

Concerned citizens and turnover to the local communities is the key to the current counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.  If the hope is that people are taking responsibility for reasons other than their tribal Shiekh says to do so, this strategy is seeing some success.

A 72-year-old man stopped a suspected suicide bomber from detonating himself at a checkpoint in Arab Jabour Oct. 14.

The man approached a checkpoint where Mudhehr Fayadh Baresh was standing guard, but did not make it very far.

Baresh, a tribal commissioner and member of the Arab Jabour Concerned Citizens program, said he ordered the man to lift his shirt – using training received from Coalition Forces – when he did not recognize him as a local villager. 

The suspect refused to lift his shirt.  Baresh repeated the command again, and the suspect exposed his suicide vest, running toward the checkpoint.

Baresh opened fire which caused the vest to detonate, killing the suspect.

“I did it for the honor of my family and the honor of my country,? said Baresh, when he met with Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

All counterinsurgency is local, and whether it is for family, tribe, remuneration or simply for personal safety, the enemy is being defeated in Iraq.  There are fights remaining, and a precipitous departure of U.S. forces might turn a positive situation into a negative one.  Yet it is impossible to ignore the gains on the ground in Iraq.

Other sources:

TCJ, Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame.

TCJ, Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq.

TCJ, Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.

TCJ, Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation.

TCJ, Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.

Bill Ardolino, Operation Alljah: The Swarm.

Bill Ardolino, Confidence is Key: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Bill Ardolino: Shuffling Paperwork to Victory: The Evolution of the Fallujah Police Department.

Iraq a World Apart

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In Al Qaeda’s War on Iraq, we pointed out that senior al Qaeda leader and emir of foreign fighters Abu Osama al-Tunisi was killed along with two other terrorist suspects in a U.S. F-16 strike that dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a safehouse where they were meeting.  The Islamic State of Iraq confirmed his death today, and subsequently boasted of questionable victories for themselves.

“The war between us and them is a competition; they get us, we get them. Yesterday, we tore their bodies and their parts were scattered everywhere, and we killed them and they are still licking their wounds,” the Islamic State of Iraq said in its statement.

In a separate posting on an extremist Web site Monday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a video allegedly showing an U.S. Apache helicopter being shot down by an anti-aircraft machine gun.

The short video, which could not be independently verified, shows brief clips of a man holding a machine gun, a helicopter flying and later landing with plumes of smoke rising from it. The video indicated the shooting took place on Sept. 25 in southwest Baghdad suburb of Hor Rajab.

The U.S. military reported last week an Apache helicopter that was fighting off a ground attack on U.S. forces was hit by enemy fire and made a hard landing south Baghdad. There were no casualties in the attack, which the U.S. military said took place on Wednesday.

It is a sign of their further diminution that they would make such a fuss over causing a “hard landing” of a helicopter.  The recent alliance of a few Sunni resistance groups together seems more a publicity stunt than anything with real meaning.  The same tactic is used by American corporate officers: when the company is failing, reorganize.  Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency is losing, and badly.  Unlike the Shi’ite militia in the South, the U.S. forces have taken the fight to them and won.  A few days ago and soon after killing al-Tunisi, coalition forcers disrupted another al Qaeda meeting which was being held for the purpose of electing another yet another emir because of the death of his predecessor.

Soldiers from the 2nd Iraqi Army Division, with U.S. Special Forces as advisers, detained 23 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists during an intelligence-driven raid in Sharqat Sept. 29.
 
Acting on intelligence, Iraqi Soldiers raided targeted locations in Sharqat to disrupt a meeting between al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership.  The meeting was held to elect a new emir since their previous one, Sabah Abdul-Rahman Abosh, was killed by Iraqi and Coalition Forces in a firefight Sept. 28.  The detainees are suspected of conducting terrorist attacks in the area.

Three hundred candidates appeared for a drive to recruit police in Ameriya.  “Allowing residents to take a stake in providing their own security for their neighborhood will go a long way toward denying Al-Qaeda the ability to move back into Ameriya,? said Maj. Chip Daniels, the operations officer for 1-5 Cavalry. “This is a good move on the part of the Iraqi government.”

Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency has no place to call home.  Yet there is the troubling situation of the low grade, slow motion civil war between the Sunnis and Shi’a, along with the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and [subset] Quds forces.  Just as troubling is the coalition failure and refusal to confront the Shi’ite militias competing for unmitigated power in the Iraq South, especially Basra.  The British have been militarily defeated in Basra, and they intend to leave the Basra airport soon.

The Shi’ite militias continue to compete unimpeded for control of the “empire” of the oil rich South, while the mixed Provinces such as Diyala have difficulty with sectarian relations.

A convoy of strangers rumbled into this quiet Sunni village on a riverbed north of Baghdad, their armored vehicles enveloping the town in a cloud of dust. Peeking out from mud brick homes, suspicious residents tried to get a glimpse at the intruders.

It was their governor — a man this poor farming village had never seen in his nearly three years in office.

Under protection of U.S. soldiers, Gov. Raad Rashid al-Tamimi — a Shiite — sat atop a child’s desk in a dilapidated schoolhouse early last week and goaded a dozen of Guba’s tribal elders to join a reconciliation effort that has so far enticed 19 of the province’s 26 major tribes.

A day later, a suicide bomber ravaged another such reconciliation meeting in al-Tamimi’s hometown of Baqouba, killing at least 15 people and lightly wounding the 52-year-old governor, who was believed to be the target. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the bombing.

Such is the ebb and flow of reconciliation and violence in Diyala province, a battered landscape of warring tribes, fertile valleys and pockets of al-Qaida fighters. The sectarian and tribal chasms are wide here, and elected officials — who are mostly Shiite — cannot safely travel the province’s sectarian patchwork.

“The governor wouldn’t come here alone, and I wouldn’t let him. This has been a very dangerous place,” said Col. David Sutherland, the top U.S. commander in Diyala, who escorted al-Tamimi on his weekend tour along with about 20 U.S. soldiers.

Al Qaeda is near military defeat, but Iraq is a world apart.  The Sunni Anbar Province is proceeding apace with reconstruction and stabilization without the involvement of the national Iraq government.  The Diyala Province is divided, and the Shi’ite South is a stronghold of militia who the coalition forces apparently have no intention of confronting.  It is truly bottom-up counterinsurgency as Petraeus says, but the bottom has fallen out of the Iraq South.

The Anbar Narrative: Part 2

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

In The Anbar Narrative: Part 1, I provided an excerpt from a speech by Major General John Kelly on the counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar.  By all accounts, it was a magnificent, well-executed and hard fought campaign, with each city and area of operation being slightly to significantly different from the others.  Adaptability and improvisation have marked the effort all across the province.  Like I have argued before concerning the necessity for a military blow to al Qaeda to enable the awakening, while pointing to the significance of the population turning against al Qaeda, he also sets the necessary backdrop for this.

… by relentless pursuit by a bunch of fearless 19 year olds with guns who never flinched or gave an inch, while at the same time holding out the carrot of economic development, they have seen the light and know AQ can’t win against such men. By staying in the fight, and remaining true to our word, and our honor, AQ today can’t spend more than a few hours in Fallujah, Ramadi, or the Al Anbar in general

There is no question that the campaign was a military victory, but it is helpful to hear all perspectives, even contrary viewpoints.  In The Daily Star, Muhammad Abu Rumman published a commentary entitled “Deconstructing Iraq’s Sunni armed groups,” in which he gives an alternative perspective.

Although there have been ideological and political struggles among armed Sunni factions in Iraq since the beginning of the occupation, until recently they were kept quiet. In early 2007, differences came out into the open in the form of warring public statements between the Islamic State of Iraq (a coalition including Al-Qaeda) and the Islamic Army in Iraq, exposing previously unacknowledged animosity.

As the two groups went at each other in the media, other Sunni groups began a complicated process of splintering and reformation. The 1920 Revolution Brigades split into two military factions, Fatah and Jihad, with Fatah later reclaiming the 1920 Revolution Brigades name. Hamas-Iraq, which emerged as the first armed movement to build political and media institutions parallel to its military activities, joined forces with the Iraqi Resistance Islamic Front. In early May 2007, the Jihad and Reform Front was formed, incorporating the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, and the Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna (which split from its mother organization, Ansar al-Sunna), with the Fatiheen Army joining later. Then in early September seven factions, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Al-Rashideen Army, joined forces to establish the Jihad and Change Front.      

This period of upheaval has left four main blocs in the Iraqi Sunni resistance: first, Jihadist Salafism, which is an extension of Al-Qaeda. This bloc consists primarily of the Islamic State of Iraq and is close to Ansar al-Sunna as well.

Second, nationalist Salafism, which observers believe toes the Saudi Salafist line and receives material and moral support from abroad. The groups in the Jihad and Reform Front belong to this bloc. 

Third, the Muslim Brotherhood trend, mainly Hamas-Iraq and the Resistance Islamic Front. Observers believe it is associated with the Islamic Party, which participates in politics within the Iraqi Accord parliamentary bloc.

And fourth, the nationalist Islamist trend, including the Jihad and Change Front groups (such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades and Al-Rashideen Army). This bloc is ideologically close to the Brotherhood trend and is considered an extension of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the leading group of Iraqi Sunni clerics. 

While keeping the players straight is admittedly difficult, it is important to understand why Sunni groups are experiencing such turmoil. Two factors – US discussion of withdrawal from Iraq and genuine ideological and political differences among Sunnis – can explain what is taking place.

First, signs of American military failure and the rising chorus of voices in Washington calling for withdrawal have changed the focus of Sunni insurgents. As militants sense that a US withdrawal is approaching, defeating the occupation has lost primacy as a goal in favor of maneuvering to fill the power vacuum in the post-occupation stage.

In this context, several factors have fueled tensions among resistance factions. For example, the Islamic State of Iraq (Al-Qaeda and its allies) has not only tried to spread its influence among the other factions, it has also demanded that many faction members pledge allegiance to its emir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. At the same time, Arab countries (particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia) have begun to worry about who will fill the power vacuum after the US withdraws. Such countries are concerned about preventing the dual threat of increasing Iranian influence and the rising power of Al-Qaeda in western Iraq, the latter of which constitutes a clear and direct threat to their security.

Second, there are genuine ideological and political disagreements – mostly centering on questions of nationalism and religious ideology – among armed factions. The Islamic State of Iraq employs a universalist rhetoric, and is more concerned about defeating the US occupation and waging a war of attrition than agreeing on the nature of a new Iraqi political system. These groups’ close ties with Al-Qaeda’s central command give them a broad agenda, whereas the goal of other Sunni factions is essentially confined to bringing about a US withdrawal from Iraq.

On political-religious ideology, the Islamic State of Iraq also adopts a more uncompromising rhetoric than the other factions on key questions such as attitudes toward the Shiites. The Jihad and Reform Front also takes a hard-line position on the Shiites, though less so than groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The Jihad and Change Front groups, meanwhile, see their priority as defeating the US occupation, although they do not conceal their concern about Iranian ambitions in Iraq. Regarding what should come after the US withdrawal, the Jihad and Reform Front seeks to establish rule by Sharia (Islamic law). For their part, the Jihad and Change Front groups say they would allow a popular consensus to determine democratically what type of political regime would prevail.

Several ideas give this analysis away as propaganda.  First, the statement about the “American military failure” is so over-the-top absurd that it calls into question the credibility of the author and remaining analysis and casts some degree of doubt on any usefulness that it might have.  The surge and security plan has thus far been militarily successful, but aside from that, the surge had nothing to do with the Anbar campaign.  The seeds of security were planted in Anbar long before the surge was ever conceived, and in fact the surge can rightly be said to be modeled after the Anbar campaign.  If there is any failure it would be the internal political machinations in Iraq, but that is no fault of the U.S. military.

Second, the statement about the “rising power of al Qaeda in Western Iraq” forces us to wonder exactly where the author has been the last year.  Al Qaeda resides in the suburbs and surrounding small towns of Baghdad (such as Tarmiyah) and to the North and Northeast of Baghdad in the Diyala Province, but can find no safe haven in Anbar.  Their last haven in Anbar, Fallujah, was taken from them in Operation Alljah.

If for no other reason, this analysis is helpful for the current breakdown of the Sunni insurgency as he sees it, and for understanding the propaganda value of calling the counterinsurgency campaign a “defeat” for the U.S.

But setting aside the propagandistic nature of the commentary, there is one final bit of useful information.  “As militants sense that a US withdrawal is approaching, defeating the occupation has lost primacy as a goal in favor of maneuvering to fill the power vacuum in the post-occupation stage.”  Indeed, this pressure and violence towards competing elements – including the government – is well underway.  “Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours.”

A complete stand down of U.S. forces seems to be what the insurgency not only wants, but sees on the horizon.  Their plans appear to have been crafted around just such an eventuality, and if the U.S. obliges the insurgency, the military gains – however magnificent they have been - may come to no avail.

Counterinsurgency: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed how most of the insurgency in Kirkuk was comprised of left-over Ba’athists, and the cooperation with the 1920 Revolution Brigade in Anbar had spread to Baghdad.  Yet in Fallujah proper, as we discussed in Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, this approach was not only not necessary in Fallujah proper, but would not have worked.

As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using … I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

Rather than this approach, the more classical approach of gated communities was used to partition the battle space and interdict insurgents.  Yet the use of former insurgents is still a strategy that is being employed in the Anbar Province.  Michael Yon observes that it is in use in Falahat.

The men of MiTT 8 are living along with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 0900, while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee (with sparkling glass) some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew to emplace bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army who were living with the Marines of MiTT 8 …

As we have observed before, the U.S. forces have tried to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the terrorists, a highly technical parsing of terms.  Reuters continues this reporting on the Diyala Province and the use of former insurgents.

U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term “concerned local nationals” to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.

But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.

Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.

“The 1920s as they’re called, we call them ‘the Baquba Guardians’, we call them the ‘concerned local nationals’,” he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.

“These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Al Qaeda’s adherence to a hardline form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate attacks has isolated it from Sunni Arabs and nationalist insurgent groups.

Sutherland said the 1920 Revolution Brigade name was now being used widely to refer to local pro-government militia and not anti-American insurgents. Some Shi’ite elders were asking if they too could recruit “1920s,” he said, a sign the Sunni Arab group’s name was no longer seen as sectarian.

“It has become a name, a catch-all phrase for these concerned local nationals throughout the province,” he told a news conference by video link to Baghdad.

His forces “do not deal with terrorists, and if we have information on individuals then we will act accordingly,” Sutherland said. “The individuals we are working with…. I have confidence in them and I have confidence in their leadership.”

One size doesn’t fit all in counterinsurgency.

Counterinsurgency: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed how most of the insurgency in Kirkuk was comprised of left-over Ba’athists, and the cooperation with the 1920 Revolution Brigade in Anbar had spread to Baghdad.  Yet in Fallujah proper, as we discussed in Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, this approach was not only not necessary in Fallujah proper, but would not have worked.

As for the awakening, that is more of a tribal thing.  Tribes have little influence inside Fallujah because of how mixed up the population is.  They are all solidly against AQI though, because they want nothing to do with their extremist agenda and are appalled by the tactics AQI is using … I am sure that there are former insurgents in the police and neighborhood watch – which is why I tell my guys that we can never completely trust them – but we have not had a single instance where we took a known insurgent and turned him to our side.  We continue to target them heavily and most have either been detained, or fled the city.  The ones remaining spend a lot of time trying to keep from being detained instead of planning on how they will attack us.  We keep the pressure on them to keep them off balance and on the run.  That is having the best effect in the city.

Rather than this approach, the more classical approach of gated communities was used to partition the battle space and interdict insurgents.  Yet the use of former insurgents is still a strategy that is being employed in the Anbar Province.  Michael Yon observes that it is in use in Falahat.

The men of MiTT 8 are living along with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 0900, while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee (with sparkling glass) some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew to emplace bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army who were living with the Marines of MiTT 8 …

As we have observed before, the U.S. forces have tried to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the terrorists, a highly technical parsing of terms.  Reuters continues this reporting on the Diyala Province and the use of former insurgents.

U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term “concerned local nationals” to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.

But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.

Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.

“The 1920s as they’re called, we call them ‘the Baquba Guardians’, we call them the ‘concerned local nationals’,” he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.

“These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Al Qaeda’s adherence to a hardline form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate attacks has isolated it from Sunni Arabs and nationalist insurgent groups.

Sutherland said the 1920 Revolution Brigade name was now being used widely to refer to local pro-government militia and not anti-American insurgents. Some Shi’ite elders were asking if they too could recruit “1920s,” he said, a sign the Sunni Arab group’s name was no longer seen as sectarian.

“It has become a name, a catch-all phrase for these concerned local nationals throughout the province,” he told a news conference by video link to Baghdad.

His forces “do not deal with terrorists, and if we have information on individuals then we will act accordingly,” Sutherland said. “The individuals we are working with…. I have confidence in them and I have confidence in their leadership.”

One size doesn’t fit all in counterinsurgency.

How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed the two-step process by which the United States Marines have prevailed in the Anbar province.  First, they have substantially militarily defeated both the terrorists and the indigenous insurgency.  Second, upon recognition of this and settling with the enemy, U.S. forces have actually made military use of the erstwhile insurgents for both intelligence and kinetic operations against the remaining terrorist and insurgent elements.  It has been observed that  ”Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.”

Having militarily lost, and seeking a place in the new government, the tide has turned against the terrorists, as we observed in The Counterinsurgency Campaign in Anbar Expands.  ““This is much less about al-Qaeda overstepping than about them [Sunnis] realizing that they’ve lost,? said Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, a planner for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. As a result, Sunni groups are now “desperately trying to cut deals with us,? he said. “This is all about the Sunnis’ ‘rightful’ place to rule? in a future Iraqi government, he said.

But now comes an example of exactly the wrong way to do it, an approach that is almost certain to stop the progress of this model in its tracks; perhaps U.S. forces even risk a turnaround in the all but pacified Anbar province.

BAGHDAD – Wearing a bandanna that hides his face, Omam Abed leads U.S. soldiers on raids in the west Baghdad streets where he grew up – kicking down doors and interrogating neighbors in search of fighters for al-Qaida in Iraq.

The 20-year-old is part of a ragtag collection of former Sunni insurgents – some even from the al-Qaida ranks – who have thrown their support behind U.S.-led security forces under pacts of mutual convenience.

The Sunni militiamen have grown leery of al-Qaida in Iraq and its ambitions, including self-proclaimed aims of establishing an Islamic state. The Pentagon, in turn, has latched onto its most successful strategy in months: partnering with former extremists who have the local know-how to help root out al-Qaida in Iraq.

But for Abed and others, this new war also brings grave dangers …

Last month, two of Abed’s best friends, both 18-year-old members who also decided to aid U.S. forces, were dragged out of their high school during final exams and beheaded. Their bodies were flung up into a tree with the severed heads displayed on the sidewalk below, according to Abed and U.S. military officers stationed in the area.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the scene didn’t need one. All knew it was a ghastly warning to residents who choose to challenge al-Qaida in Iraq, which takes inspiration from Osama bin Laden but whose direct links to his terror network is unclear.

“They weren’t wearing masks on missions, so al-Qaida recognized who they were. They were my friends – we were always the three of us, like brothers,” Abed told The Associated Press in an interview this week, choking back tears.

He would not give his real name out of fear for his safety, and would not comment on his past insurgent activity. His codename – Omam Abed – means “courageous slave” in Arabic.

Since the murders, Abed wears a mask or scarf to conceal his identity when he accompanies U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on raids. These are the same palm-shaded streets with wide green lawns where he played as a boy. His father was a prominent businessman who owned a textile factory here before fleeing to Syria in 2003. Almost everyone knows Abed and his family.

“I want to stay and help my neighborhood, and the future of my country, but sometimes I’m scared I’ll also be targeted,” he said.

The Amariyah beheadings – and waves of other attacks – suggest a mounting al-Qaida campaign of reprisals against fellow Sunnis who challenge group’s footholds in Iraq.

On Saturday, militants bombed the northern Baghdad home of a moderate and highly regarded Sunni cleric, Sheik Wathiq al-Obeidi, who had recently spoken against al-Qaida. He was seriously wounded and three relatives were killed.

The same day, police said a local tribal leader in Albu Khalifa, a village west of Baghdad, was killed by gunmen who stormed his home. Sheik Fawaq Sadda’ al-Khalifawi had recently joined an anti-al-Qaida alliance in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

[ ... ]

Abed wears a beige bulletproof vest with “Allah Akbar” – `God is great,’ in Arabic – written in permanent marker across the front. He bought it on the black market with his own money. He does not earn a salary for working with U.S. forces, and the military does not provide him with weapons, equipment or safe haven …

“(Al-Qaida) is trying to get me or my family. I’m constantly changing locations – not staying in one place longer than a few hours – and moving my children,” said Abu Abed, who also refused to comment on his own insurgent past.

American military officials acknowledge that Abed’s group is in danger because of its cooperation with U.S. forces. But – as former insurgents – the fighters are not eligible for services provided to civilians or legitimate Iraqi security forces.

“It’s just not something we can do,” said Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

At least two members of the group were former allies of al-Qaida, said Kuehl, 41, from Huntsville, Ala. Others, he said, were part of the Islamic Army in Iraq, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad – all Sunni insurgent groups responsible for past attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military offers humanitarian aid, but the fighters are denied access to U.S. bases and military hospitals. American medics, however, have treated them on the battlefield.

Kuehl is awaiting approval from his commanders for a 90-day security contract under which the fighters would be paid to man checkpoints and conduct regular patrols through Amariyah. The salaries would be commensurate with the Iraqi police, about $300 a month.

Until the contract wins U.S. approval, the fighters remain unpaid volunteers.

Capt. Dustin Mitchell, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Reconnaissance Troop, said it sometimes creates awkward moments for his soldiers.

“We try to help them out within the guidelines if our commanders approve it,” said the Louisville, Ky., native. “If not, we’re the guys who look them in the eye and have to say, `I’m sorry.’”

The contrary example is given to us with the approach to the Shi’ite in the South of Iraq.  As we observed in The Rise of the JAM, neither (a) has there been a decisive and final military defeat of the Mahdi army (or the Badr organization), nor (b) has there been any interest in reconciliation on their part.  Yet the Mahdi army is allowed to roam freely throughout Iraq, and U.S. forces are said to avoid direct confrontation with them.  They are the military wing of a political bloc in Parliament, and are responsible for the deaths of not only Sunnis but U.S. forces as well.  Further, there is an unwillingbess to excise Badr from the ISF, while Badr, funded and backed directly by Iran, is believed to still carry out targeted assassinations.

The Sadrists are allowed their own political bloc in Parliament, their own militia, and the freedom to behave like mafiosi in the neighborhoods, while U.S. forces steer clear of entanglement with them.  Conversely, former Sunni insurgents are relegated to the sidelines where policy stipulates that they can never be under the permanent employ of the Iraqi government.  Even temporary support for these fighters is subject to a 90-day ‘security’ contract, permission for which likely sits in bureaucratic quick sand, the location of which only God and a few people know.

These circumstances are a perfect catalyst for the Sunnis to conclude that the deal they struck with the Americans wasn’t so good after all.


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