In the western Iraqi town of Qaim, clashes continue between the pro-government Bumahl tribe and the pro-al Qaeda Karabila tribe. Newsday, in an article titled “Heavy Fighting Erupts in Western Iraq“, reports that “20 members of the Bumahl tribe and 15 from Karabila were killed in the clashes,” with dozens wounded. Reuters reports 47 were killed in multiple U.S. air strikes directed at terrorist safe houses.
“Intelligence leads Coalition forces to believe that Abu Islam and several of his associates were killed in the air strike,” a U.S. military spokeswoman said in Baghdad.
A hospital official in Qaim, near the Syrian border, told Reuters at least 47 people died in the U.S.-led strikes. Mohammed al-Aani said 35 people died in one house and another 12 in a strike on a second house.
The U.S. military said in a statement it had carried out three separate strikes, initially dropping four bombs on a house in Husayba, near Qaim.
The operation is interesting for reasons other than the obvious positive implications of infighting between Sunni tribes and the rejection of al Qaeda in Qaim. The U.S. appears to have actionable and accurate intelligence in the Qaim region. This is the second successful high-casualty air strike in the area this week following clashes between the Bumahl and Karabila tribes.
Note how the safe house was under observation, the fleeing terrorists were tracked and subsequently attack. This particular battle was conducted over a short span of the Euphrates River, with the enemy being chased from town to town, with no respite.
“At approximately 6:20 a.m. (0220 GMT), two bombs were dropped on a second house in Husayba, occupied by Abu Islam, a known terrorist,” the statement said. “Islam and several other suspected terrorists were killed in that attack.”
A U.S. spokeswoman said some of Abu Islam’s associates then drove around six km (four miles) to a house in Karabila.
“Around 8:30 a.m., a strike was conducted on the house in Karabila using two precision-guided bombs. Several terrorists were killed in the strike but exact numbers are not known,” the statement said. Abu Islam is an alias used by several known Islamist militants.
KUNA reports Abu Islam, also known as Amir Hussseiba, is “a leader of the terrorist groups in the western area.”
It is likely the intelligence was a combination of on the ground sources from the Bumahl tribe, coupled with the U.S. military’s manned reconnaissance and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities. The involvement of U.S. Special Operations forces cannot be discounted. The merging of on the indigenous ground human intelligence combined with superior U.S. surveillance capabilities is a powerful force multiplier in the Anbar region.
There is a real battle occurring in Western Iraq between the pro government and pro al Qaeda tribes, which is generally being ignored by the media. Local support for the Iraqi government, and a willingness to openly fight al Qaeda and cooperate directly with the U.S. military in the wildest and most lawless regions of Anbar speaks volumes of the success being made to win hearts and minds among the Sunni population.
Political negotiations are all well and good, and are greatly desired. But nothing can substitute for the willingness to pick up arms and actively fight the depravity of al Qaeda, and their ultimate promise of retribution. This is the ultimate political statement. The Bumahl tribe has put its finger to the winds, and decided to back the Iraqi government and its U.S. ally, a bold move when considering the Iraqi tribal units are well known for their caution.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.