Iraq Report: The Green Zone attack and splits in the Sunni insurgency
Al Qaeda in Iraq conducted two successful high profile suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad yesterday. The first attack occurred in a cafe at the Iraqi Parliament. The second occurred on the Jisr al-Hadeed bridge, which crosses the Tigris river. This attack destroyed the bridge and killed over 25 people. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed credit for the Parliament attack on the website of its proxy political front, the Islamic State of Iraq. This news comes as cracks are emerging between al Qaeda and the Islamic Army of Iraq.
Yesterday's attacks in Baghdad were the first major suicide attacks in the capital since a market was hit on March 29. The Parliament attack was by far the most visible and symbolic attack. One Member of Parliament was killed and 7 were among the 22 wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his vest in the center of a cafe adjacent to the Parliament. Mohammed Awadh, a Sunni politician, was killed in the attack.
The suspicion is a bodyguard of a parliamentarian was responsible for the parliament attack. The breach of security is a cause for major concern, as weapons have made it past the security cordon. "Two suicide vests were discovered inside the Green Zone on April 1, setting off a massive search for additional bombs," Richard Miniter reported from Baghdad.
The bodyguards of Sunni politicians have been implicated in working with the insurgency and al Qaeda in the past. Iraqi and Coalition forces have conducted two high profile raids of the compounds of Sunni parliamentarians this year alone. In both instances illegal weapons and explosives have been found. A raid on Dhafer al Ani's compound on March 8 netted weapons, including a sniper rifle "inscribed with a verse from the Koran" which "is a slogan popular with insurgents." Traces of explosives were also found in the vehicles of his bodyguards. Seven of Ani's bodyguards were detained but all but one were released. On January 1, the office of Salih al Mutlaq, the chairman of the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, was raided by Coalition forces. Six members of Mutlaq's bodyguard were killed during the raid on what the Coalition described as a "terrorist safe house."
Al Qaeda in Iraq has been attempting to conduct a 'mini-tet' offensive in Baghdad for well over a year. The terror group believes a high profile assault on the Green Zone will destroy any remaining U.S. support for the war in Iraq. Several plots to attack the Green Zone have been uncovered over the past year. In November of 2006, a bomb placed under a vehicle of Mahmoud al- Mashhadani, the Speaker of Parliament, exploded inside the Green Zone.
As al Qaeda in Iraq struck at Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the Islamic Army in Iraq, the largest Sunni insurgent group which has previously operated closely with al Qaeda, has severed ties with the terror group after several months of infighting, Al Jazeera reported that Ibrahim al-Shammari, an Islamic Army in Iraq spokesman, "told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the Islamic Army in Iraq had decided to disunite from al-Qaeda in Iraq after its members were threatened."
The infighting between al Qaeda and the Islamic Army has been ongoing for several months. Al Qaeda has been targeting senior leaders of the Islamic Army and has killed over 30 of them. The Islamic Army in Iraq accuses al Qaeda of indiscriminately murdering Iraqis, including members of the security forces, and has been pressuring the Sunni insurgent group to swear allegiance to al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq. This news comes as a grouping of the most prominent Sunni clerics in Iraq have organized to opposed al Qaeda's religious edicts calling for the murder of Iraqis.
As the divisions between the Sunni community and al Qaeda grow, Coalition and Iraqi security forces continue to target al Qaeda's leadership, networks and safe havens. A joint Coalition and Iraqi security forces operation is underway in Buhriz, a suburb of Baqubah in the violent province of Diyala. Five insurgents have been captured and several weapons caches have been destroyed. Coalition raids on al Qaeda in Iraq in Haditha, Karma and Baghdad on March 12 resulted in two terrorists killed and 17 captured. Today's raids led to 14 al Qaeda captured in Karma, Amiriya and Baghdad.