Hope and Brutality in Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

Anbar is a province where there is hope, but this hope seems a dim prospect when torture houses are still in existence.  Anbar is still a restive place, with corruption a way of life, the Syrian border still porous, suicide bombers still crossing into Iraq, and Mujahideen fighters still active in the cities.

From DoD

U.S. Marines assigned to Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, patrol through the streets of Haditha, Iraq, looking for weapons caches.

Reliable sources are indicating that the insurgency in and around Baghdad is slowly being defeated.  The composition of the insurgency is dynamic, and as the size of the various insurgent groups dwindles, al Qaeda, or rather, its successor organization, the “Islamic State of Iraq,” absorbs the radical and hard-core elements into its ranks.  The diehard Baathist elements are joining under the leadership of al Qaeda, and according to Major General Richard Zilmer, most insurgents who are battling U.S.-led forces in Iraq’s Anbar province are local Iraqis loyal to al Qaeda, and not foreign fighters.  These insurgents want to build a caliphate similar to the Taliban’s Afghanistan regime.

Taking on an increasingly important role in Anbar are the Sunni tribes.  While there is still a very active insurgency, tribal leaders were responsible for more than 2,000 men joining the police in recent months and turning the Al Qaim area near the Syrian border, once infested by al Qaeda, into a relatively secure location.  Yet even the increased cooperation of the local tribal leaders brings with it a mixture of blessing and curse.  With the increase in influence of tribal leaders comes corruption and the attendant largesse.

Some Iraqi politicians and Anbar residents who oppose the U.S. presence describe the confederation, known as the Awakening, as a divisive group that pits tribes against each other, uses police officers as armed guards to protect tribal territory and harnesses American support to consolidate its power.  One journalist describes the ‘Awakening’ as a group of gangsters, asserting that the Awakening’s leader, of the Sattar of the Albu Risha tribe, is reputed to have amassed a fortune as part of a criminal network that robbed travelers on the desert highways of Anbar.

The factious nature of the tribal elements creates an unstable basis for government, and leads ultimately to a divided defense against the insurgency.  The insurgency takes advantage of this and continues its campaign of intimidation and torture to suppress the population in Anbar while at the same time stirring up sectarian strife in and around Baghdad, thus causing more retaliation against the Sunnis by Shi’ite militia, and so the cycle goes.

This campaign of torture and intimidation exemplifies brutality at its worst.  Iraqi police and Marines recently completed “Operation Three Swords” south of Fallujah, the purpose of which was to detain members of murder and intimidation cells within the rural area of Zaidon and the villages of Albu Hawa, Fuhaylat and Hasa.  During the operation, members of the Fallujah police Department and Coalition Forces discovered a torture house and rescued three individuals.  The house had blood-stained walls, and the torture devices included shackles, chains, syringes, rifles, knives, chord, clubs and a blow torch.  The condition of the torture victims was said to be dire.

Torture, whether at the hands of the Sunnis or Shia, is a commonly practiced means to intimidate and brutalize the enemy in Iraq, and in fact, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia.  Palestinians are fleeing Iraq, and probably for good reason.  More than 600 Palestinians are believed to have died at the hands of Shia militias since the war began in 2003, including at least 300 from the Baladiat area of Baghdad. Many were tortured with electric drills before they died.

The historically successful operations to pacify an area have included security as the primary consideration.  There has recently been a significant degree of success in the pacification of Haditha, but this success has required the construction of sand berms, with controlled checkpoints as a means of ingress into and egress from the city.  With focused leadership and isolation from the rogue elements coming across the border from Syria, cities can be pacified one by one.

While it has been strongly recommended that the borders with Syria and Iran be sealed because of the dynamic battlefield space created by open borders, it is also recognized that there are not enough troops to secure the borders.  Therefore, offensive operations against insurgent safe havens inside Syria are necessary to cause the cessation of the stream of fighters from Syria and other locations (Jordan, the ostensible ally of the U.S., presents a particular problem, as does Saudi Arabia, and border incursions by U.S. troops might be problematic).

A U.S. official recently acknowledged that the vast majority of suicide bombers came across the border from Syria, and that they received training for their task within Syria as well as inside Iraq itself.  The official further admitted that “We have been wholly unsuccessful in affecting Syrian behaviour with regard to the passage of these elements.”  There is a recent attempt to close the borders with Syria, but this effort might be more effective at stopping fleeing refugees than in stopping the flow of jihadists into Iraq.

Whether suicide bombers coming in from Syria, or co-opted Sunni mujahideen working for al Qaeda, the tactics are the same, and involve the intimidation of the local population.  The defeater for this intimidation has always been the removal of the rogue elements, and the affect of the battle between these two forces was recently manifested in a remarkable portrait of Iraqi life in a report directly from Iraq by Andrew Lubin.

Not unlike a meet-and-greet patrol, a census operation generally involves handing out candy to children, shaking hands with parents, and doing some generic waving and smiling. This one, into a slightly different part of the city than yesterday (but only 400 yards away), had a bad feel to it from the start.

Instead of approaching, the children actively waved us off as we offered candy. They held their hands in front of their faces so we could not photograph them. Parents and adults withdrew from the street and shut their doors, except for those who fixed us with hostile, threatening stares.

We pressed on.  In two houses, we visited Iraqis and performed the normal routine of census operations.

By the time the Marines got the third house, the reason for the apparent fear became obvious.  A census operation turned into a gunfight between Marines (along with Iraqi forces) and insurgents.

While two Marines and several IP’s stood guard in a courtyard, an insurgent in the adjacent courtyard tossed a hand grenade into ours. You could hear the hiss as it was lobbed in the air, and it landed in the lap of a seated Marine. Reacting quickly, he slapped it out of his lap, and as it rolled to his feet, it exploded.

Although protected by his body armor, shrapnel ripped into LCpl “Smith’s

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On February 2, 2007 at 4:45 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    “Therefore, offensive operations against insurgent safe havens inside Syria are necessary to cause the cessation of the stream of fighters from Syria and other locations (Jordan, the ostensible ally of the U.S., presents a particular problem, as does Saudi Arabia, and border incursions by U.S. troops might be problematic).”

    I agree with your description of the Anbar situation, but you seem to be dodging a huge issue in the above sentence. Contrary to what you say, incursions into Syria alone will not cause the flow of fighters and funds into Anbar to do more than be redirected to the borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Do you know of any credible estimate of the percentages of insurgent fighters and funds coming into Anbar from Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia? My guess is that the inflow from Saudi Arabia would dwarf the inflows from the other 2.

    By the way, on CNN a couple of nights ago, correspondent Michael Ware stated unequivocally that Anbar is a de facto Al Qaeda state within a state and will only grow stronger unless the US military goes back there big time.

  2. On February 3, 2007 at 12:47 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Denis, I will answer in a separate post. Current developments warrant this subject having its own article.

  3. On February 3, 2007 at 2:29 am, Mike@CopTheTruth said:

    It sounds like that’s where your son may be going. We’ll continue to pray for him and all of our wonderful troops!

  4. On February 3, 2007 at 12:08 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    Certainly a thought-provoking interview. Thanks. — Denis

  5. On February 5, 2007 at 2:42 pm, Devon said:

    Thanks for educating me!

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You are currently reading "Hope and Brutality in Anbar", entry #459 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published February 2nd, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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