The US military believes the picture of Abu Musab al-Zarwaqi's al Qaeda in Iraq network is improving, and they are working to dismantle it. While Task Force 626 has the specific mandate to hunt Zarqawi and his key lieutenants, the bulk of US forces are hunting his mules. Zarwaqi's command apparatus has suffered from these efforts:
While U.S. Special Forces try to learn more about al-Zarqawi, most U.S. troops in Iraq focus instead on the insurgents believed to report to him and mastermind operations carried out in his name.
Nevertheless, with each capture or trove of insurgent information uncovered, U.S. forces say there is a growing sense among them that they are closing in on al-Zarqawi. In recent months, U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed seven members of al-Zarqawi's inner circle, captured 11 of his Iraqi lieutenants and caught two high-ranking foreign fighters with ties to the militant, the U.S. military said Friday.
Intelligence is a business that requires patience, persistence and hard work. A key player in a terror network can yield vital information that breaks one or several cells. Today the Iraqi goverment announced the arrest of Zarqawi aide Amar al-Zubaydi. The capture of al Qaeda member Ghassan al-Rawi at the end of April led a raid on a Zarqawi safe house in al Qaim that yielded 6 dead terrorists, 54 arrests and the seizure of a weapons cache. The US military continues to deploy intelligence platforms such as the Global Hawk that allow for real time battlefield imagery to compliment the tough work of human intelligence gathering.
While the hunt for Zarqawi continues, the Iraqi government has almost completed the task of rounding out the cabinet, with only the Minister of Human Rights renaining an open post. Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni from the Anbar province and former officer in Saddam's military, has been appointed the Minister of Defense. The Sunnis have fair representation in Iraq's government despite boycotting the election. Prime Minister Jafari states terrorism is a top priority; "We will take all necessary steps to fight this monstrous phenomenon."
Efforts to crack the insurgency with the cooperation of the Sunnis are wearing thin, and Shiite and Kurdish militias are being used in some circumstances. The volatile city of Ramadi, where Zarqawi is believed to have visited recently and conducts operations, has Shiite soldiers manning the checkpoints and some Shiite militias are moving in as well. This is very unpopular with the local Sunni population, and some Sunni tribal leaders are looking for alternate solutions to rid themselves of the Shiite groups. Zarqawi's fighters would become expendable in the bargain:
Gaood, a wealthy Sunni sheik, wants a local solution: a large security force drawn from his 10,000-member tribe, the Al Bu Nimr, which means "The Tiger's Father."
Gaood said he had already mustered a 500-man tribal guard that uses personal cars and weapons; he is lobbying the government in Baghdad for ammunition, vehicles and guns. "My tribe will tell me everything about the terrorists," he said, smoking a cigarette at an ornate desk embellished with gold tiger heads. "I have high trust in them because I know them like my sons."
Strategy Page (May 8 entry) reports the Sunni media is beginning to sour against the tactics of the insurgents, and have recognized the blame lies not with the United States or the usual suspects, but squarely with their own culture of violence:
Two years of killing Iraqis has shamed an increasing number of Arabs into admitting that this is an Arab problem, not the fault of the United States (who, in the most popular delusion, should have waved a magic wand and made all problems in Iraq disappear.) Even the Sunni Arab media are in awe of the Iraqi Shia and Kurds, for not slaughtering large numbers of Sunni Arabs in response to the terrorism, or simply as revenge for centuries of torment at the hands of Sunni Arabs.
Zarqawi's terrorists can attack soft targets such as mosques, funerals, markets and clinic with impunity, as this is the nature of these targets. But as Zarqawi continues to do this with horrific effect, al Qaeda alienates the population, even Sunnis, and forces the Shiite and Kurd dominated government to take harsher measures to suppress the insurgency. But the restrain of the Iraqi government is respected, not feared. The Iraqi government has a difficult line to walk, but the minority status of the Sunnis, the presence of the US military and history are not on the side of the insurgency. The Iraqi people are reminded daily of the depravity of Saddam's government and do not seek a return to that past.
"Yes, there's been plenty of other things happening in Iraq, aside from the recent terror campaign. Read all the stories that the mainstream media has - again - largely ignored." Arthur Chrenkoff's latest Good News from Iraq is available.
Tip o' the hat to The Mudville Gazette's daily Dawn Patrol. Several of the articles that drove this post were gathered by Mrs. Greyhawk's morning roundup. Many thanks, Mrs. G. for an excellent service.
Thanks to Michael Yon for capturing the saddening photo displayed in this post. Mr. Yon is an author, photographer and blogger currently in Iraq. Look at that photo, then look at these photos of the massacre at the school in Beslan. Remember that this is the enemy we fight.