Al-Qaeda’s situation in Anbar province and the embattled city of Ramadi has slowly worsened since the deadly suicide strikes against police recruits. The attack did not deter Sunnis in Ramadi from volunteering for the police, and provoked a backlash against al Qaeda’s gruesome tactics. Sunnis in Anbar, including in the cities of Samarra and Ramadi, have vowed to fight al Qaeda, and six insurgent groups, including the Islamic Army of Iraq, declared war on the foreign terrorists.
The latest news from Ramadi indicates a “3,000-strong militia has been created in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, central Iraq, to protect civilians from insurgent violence.” There is no word on the actual makeup of the militia or if it is even deployed, however it is likely the group is made up of Iraqis who have fought the U.S. and Iraqi military. A similar arrangement was made in the al-Qaim region with the Desert Protection Force.
While the Iraqi government searches for solutions to splitting the insurgency and bring groups into the security and political processes, al Qaeda is working to shore up its fighting capabilities by creating a “Mujahedeen Council.” According to the Chicago Tribune, “the council’s purpose was to ‘unite the approach of the mujahedeen … in order to dismiss all the differences and disagreements and controversies.'” Zarqawi was not appointed to lead the council, but instead an Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi was appointed the emir of the Mujahedeen Council. According to a posting on an al Qaeda in Iraq website, “What Sheik Abu Musab did when giving up the title of Emir, this is a favor by the Emir of Slaughter to block the road to all those who say he is a foreigner.”
In other words, the council needed an Iraqi face, as Zarqawi is now a liability to the public face of al Qaeda’s jihad in Iraq. Zarqawi’s actions shows he has taken Ayman al-Zawahiri’s advice to heart. In his letter to Zarqawi, Zawahiri implored him not to alienate the “Muslim masses” but to “strive to involve the Muslim masses in the battle, and to bring the mujahed movement to the masses and not conduct the struggle far from them.” Zawahiri is telling Zarqawi not be so ideologically blind as to reject allies based o n minor differences in faith. Zawahiri explained how the Taliban failed by excluding Islamist movements deemed unworthy due to minor ideological differences:
We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile. Even the students themselves had a stronger affiliation to their tribes and their villages than their affiliation to the Islamic amirate or the Taliban movement or the responsible party in charge of each one of them in his place. Each of them retreated to his village and his tribe, where his affiliation was stronger!!
Zarqawi acquiesces to Zawahiri and creates an inclusive organization with outside groups, and appoints an Iraqi to command the Mujahedeen Council. This demonstrates Zarqawi recognizes his plan to incite a Sunni-Shiites civil war, which Zawahiri condemned on practical terms, has failed. The question is, has al Qaeda shifted its mode of operations too late to recover from its mistake? Sunnis appear to be testing the waters with the elected Iraqi government and are committing to fight al Qaeda.
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