Fighting between al Qaeda and elements of the insurgency, and al Qaeda and tribal groups, has been occurring i n Iraq for some time. Reports have been trickling in for well over a year in incidences of resentment, infighting and outright open warfare between the groups. In the Qaim region of Western Iraq, along the Syrian border, members of the Albu Mahal tribe rose up against al Qaeda and their tribal ally. Further incidents of “red-on-red” fighting occurred in the cities of Husaybah and Mosul. In Ramadi, insurgents openly took up arms against al Qaeda for threatening their Shiite neighbors.
The reasons for the infighting are varied, but often al Qaeda oversteps its bounds with the local Iraqis. In some cases, al Qaeda attempts to skim from the profits of criminal enterprises, sometimes well in excess of 50%. Sometimes the terrorists attempt to install its draconian form of Taliban-like rule in local communities, and murder the residents for minor offenses of the law. al Qaeda is insensitive to the fact that civilians are often caught in the crossfire of their horrific suicide attacks; in fact civilians are often the main targets. And al Qaeda occasionally makes the penultimate mistake of intimidating or even killing insurgent leaders or respected members of the tribes.
Today’s New York Times provides further evidence of the tensions that exist between the local insurgents and al Qaeda. The complaints voiced by the four insurgents mentioned in the article are not new, but do highlight the level of interaction between the serious rifts between the groups, as well as the accuracy of the accounts that there is indeed a significant foreign element to al Qaeda in Iraq’s membership.
The local insurgents and citizens possess contempt and disgust for al Qaeda’s arrogant behavior and grissly tactics. Abu Lil, an insurgent, describes a meeting between the two factions;
“[al Qaeda] said, ‘Jihad needs its victims… Iraqis should be willing to pay the price.'”
We said, “‘It’s very expensive.'”
The meeting ended abruptly, and Abu Lil and his associates walked out, feeling powerless and angry.
“I wished I had a nuclear bomb to attack them,” he said. “We told them, ‘You are not Iraqis. Who gave you the power to do this?'”
Some insurgents have switched sides and now openly fight al Qaeda. During the fighting in the Qaim Region, the Albu Mahal tribe was a former ally of al_Qaeda. They turned on the terrorist group after al Qaeda demanded an excessive cut from their smuggling profits, and intimidated and assassinated tribal leaders. Over the spring and summer of 2005, the Albu Mahal fought al Qaeda without Coalition or Iraqi government assistance,
The Albu Mahal tribe is now an ally of the Iraqi government, and provides the majority of the troops for the Desert Protection Force, which is a organization of the local tribal fighters that provide for local security and act as scouts for Iraqi Army and U.S. Marines operating in the area. Strategy Page reports the Desert Protection Force is resisting deployment out of the Qaim region because they would not be able to fight al Qaeda; “Tribes there are willing to support the DPF, but want solid assurances that their boys will remain in the province – they see the DPF as helping them keep control of their own turf, which happens to include keeping al Qaeda out.”
As the political process slowly advances, and more Sunnis are drawn into the political realm, al Qaeda’s attacks will increase in ferocity and lethality. The domestic Iraqi insurgency and al Qaeda will become increasingly at odds as the local Iraqis do not desire to see their friends and families slaughtered by foreigners, no matter how much the insurgents dislike the Americans. Or, as one insurgent from the Qaim region put it; “Frankly, I don’t like the American occupation but I prefer the American occupation to occupation by Al Qaeda…”
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