Fight Amongst Yourselves Redux

Further evidence surfaces of the conflicts between the local Iraqi tribes in Western Iraq and the foreign terrorists of al Qaeda. Knight Ridder reports the local Iraqi tribes of Albu Mahal and Albu Nimr, some of whom have been active in the insurgency, became disgusted at the methods of the jihadis and tried to fight back, but met stiff resistance from al Qaeda (hat tip Marlin):

When foreign fighters poured into villages with jihad on their minds and weapons in their hands, some Iraqi tribesmen in western desert towns fought back.

They set up checkpoints to filter out the foreigners. They burned down suspected insurgent safe houses. They called their fellow tribesmen in Baghdad and other urban areas for backup.

And when they still couldn’t uproot the terrorists streaming in from Syria, tribal leaders said, they took a most unusual step: They asked the Americans for help 

Long before the American offensive, trouble had been brewing in and around the town of Qaim. Two Iraqi tribes, the Albu Mahal and the Albu Nimr, resented the flood of foreign Islamic extremists who were crossing the border and trying to turn their lands into an insurgent fiefdom.

Like the fighters in the formerly insurgent-controlled city of Fallujah, also in troubled Anbar province, the foreigners brought a puritanical brand of Islam and began intimidating villagers who refused to follow their commands, residents said. The foreign fighters found followers among some members of another large tribe in the area, the Karabla.

As they could not contain the flow of fighters streaming across the Syrian border, the Iraqi clans requested assistance from Sunni clerics, the Iraqi government and then the Americans, who were in the planning process for an operation in the west:

The overwhelmed villagers were at a loss to defeat the better-armed and better-funded foreigners and their allies from the Karabla. With nowhere else to turn, tribal leaders decided to call the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

That’s when al Goud, the former Anbar governor and a sheik of the Albu Nimr, said he called American officials at the Marine base Camp Fallujah to ask for help. Al Goud had met the officials during the siege of Fallujah, he said.

Bruska Nouri Shaways, Iraq’s deputy defense minister, at first couldn’t believe the request for help from the traditionally rebellious province. Shaways, who took several calls from tribal sheiks, said he immediately alerted the U.S military about their willingness to share information on Zarqawi followers.

“They said, `We are citizens of Qaim and we are now being attacked by non-Iraqi people coming from Syria,'” Shaways said. “Until this time, they had never asked the Iraqi or the American forces to help them. It’s a good sign.”

The American military already had planned a campaign to cleanse the Qaim area of foreign fighters, according to the military. With the calls from sheiks, it appeared they had the support of prominent local tribes for the offensive.

There is some debate as to whether the US military coordinated the offensive with the Albu Mahal and the Albu Nimr clans in Operation Matador. Fasal al Goud states there was no coordination between US and tribal forces. The US military has declined to comment on the status of cooperation. As the local tribes are suspected of cooperating with the insurgency, the military would loath to share details of the operation or place trust in the fighters. But the presence of local tribes willing to fight al Qaeda on its own explains why some towns were cordoned and attacks were directed from American air and artillery assets. The coordination may not have been as great as I postulated last week; however the US forces seemed to have recognized the local tribes were combating al Qaeda in certain instances and adjusted their tactics accordingly. It is still possible that some coordination was conducted with various tribal groups, but we do not have enough information at this time.

The Knight Ridder account states there are some hard feelings amongst the local about the ferocity of the fighting and American tactics to destroy al Qaeda. The destruction of homes or accidental killings of tribal fighters pales in comparison to the ill will directed against al Qaeda. These tribes have been fighting al Qaeda for some time and clearly were disgusted by their actions. The report is not clear, however, if the loss of life of tribal fighters and property damage were the responsibility of the American forces or al Qaeda. Likely it is some element of both.

One goal in the War on Terror is to show the Muslim world that al Qaeda is an entity that can no longer be tolerated in their society. While it may be nice, there is no requirement that United States be loved by the Muslim world. Respect is just fine. The tribes of Western Iraq demonstrated this goal is being met at some level. Al Qaeda is no longer an acceptable presence in Western Iraq, and the locals respected the United States enough to assist in their removal. This, and not car bombs, is the real story of progress in Iraq.

Also Read:

Joe Katzman rounds up the Newsweek debacle, and looks further at media bias and journalistic abuse.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • Justin B says:

    It has never been a requirement that we be universally loved in order for us to be an ally for peace and freedom. France does not like us, unless we are liberating them. Germany does not like us, unless we are getting rid of the problems they have created–Hitler among others. Russia does not like us unless we are propping up the economy and helping liberate them. Japan tolerates us because they like China and Korea much less than us. Nobody really “likes” us, rather they realize the silently envy our strength and are willing to tolerate us.

    I do not consider it necessary that everyone universally agree that we are great and wonderful. What is necessary is that the people of Iraq, just like the people of Germany, eventually come to an understanding that they cannot defeat Saddam and Al Qaeda by themselves and that clearly cooperating with the US forces and our government is far better than abandoning their country to AQ or a nut job like Saddam. The sooner they recognize that Iraq is smack dab in the middle of a global fight–the front lines of the War on Terror–the sooner they will want to ensure that they are on our side of the front lines, not in AQ or Syrian or Baathist controlled territory.

    I still think that WWII was necessary to defeat Hitler and that he should have been removed. No argument from anyone there I am sure. But I think we should have let Germany keep France. Let them deal with the humiliation and maybe they would stop sneering at us over their wine glasses. It is enough to make me sell my Peugot.

  • Marlin says:

    This is an interesting update from the AP. According to the Mosul chief of police (but not confirmed by the US forces) foreign fighters from al Qaim have made their way north to Mosul to cause trouble.
    “But Lt. Gen. Ahmad Mohammed Khalaf, commander of Mosul’s police forces, told a press conference later that U.S. aircraft destroyed two homes where the militants were holed up, killing 20.
    He said U.S. soldiers fought 80 militants who had fled to Mosul from Qaim, a town near the Syrian border that was the scene of a recent weeklong American military operation aimed at destroying supporters of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

  • Marlin says:

    PBS has a transcript of an interview with Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post about Operation Matador.

  • For a nation, being respected is much better than being liked. Respect implies recognition of the nation’s capabilities, and of its will to use them to protect its interests. It implies a certain wariness about antagonising that nation. Being liked, however, merely implies a vague goodwill that doesn’t have any practical consequences. This means that even being feared is better than being liked, as it has the practical value of deterring potential aggressors. However, being widely feared is a disadvantage as it encourages neutrals and even potential allies to align themselves against the perceived threat. Therefore the ideal situation for a nation is to be feared by the states and non-state actors that are already implacably opposed to it, and respected by everyone else.

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