“We decided, either we force them out of the city or kill them.”
– Sheikh Muhammed Mahallawi, leader of the Albu Mahal tribe, on fighting al Qaeda
Further details emerge on the fighting in Western Anbar between pro-government and pro al Qaeda tribes. The Washington Post‘s Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki report that of the 56 thought to be killed Tuesday, the majority are very likely to be al Qaeda; “Forty-two of them wore the black training-suits and athletic shoes favored by Zarqawi’s fighters.” Al Qaeda has openly admitted to 17 of its members killed.
US forces are often accused of cultural insensitivity to the Arab and Tribal culture, but al Qaeda’s brutal tactics against the local population inevitably backfires.
The clashes came after insurgents kidnapped and killed 31 men belonging to the Albu Mahal tribe because they had joined the Iraqi Security Forces, said Sheikh Muhammed Mahallawi, one of the tribe’s leaders. “We decided, either we force them out of the city or kill them,” with the support of U.S. bombardment, Mahallawi said. His tribe also had asked local residents not to aid or house Zarqawi’s fighters, he said. Some of the local people refused the request, in a show of support for Zarqawi, he said.
al Qaeda’s actions in Qaim have forced the Albu Mahal tribe to choose sides. The co-opting of the Albu Mahal tribe in the Qaim region is a remarkable story that is virtually being ignored by the media (the Washington Post buried it on page A18).
Support of the local population is key to waging a successful counterinsurgency campaign. The active opposition to al Qaeda by a significant element of the local Sunni population in the most violent and untamed region in Iraq is comparable to battalions of American or Iraq Army units. Without local support, al Qaeda cannot thrive.
al Qaeda is fighting hard to maintain its lines of communication along the Euphrates River, and the Qaim region is vital to keeping the ratline open, as it sits on the Syrian border. Combat in Qaim, the Coalition occupation of the vital Sunni cities of Ramadi, Hit and Fallujah, as well as the establishment of bases in Rawah and at Haditha Dam, are placing pressure on the insurgency, forcing them to commit resources to fight in what used to be their safe havens.
Progress, while slow, is being obtained without a strong US/Iraqi presence in the region. This bodes well for the time when the focus shifts to deploying significant numbers of Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar.
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