Iraq Update

Political developments, where’s the civil war, and Operation Tribal Chivalry launched in Anbar – by tribal sheikhs?

President Talibani has pushed the political process forward by calling for the new parliament to convene on March 19, and the contentious debate over the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance’s choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari will come to a head. A majority of the Parliament, a coalition of the Kurdish parties, the Sunnis and the secular party of Allawi rejects Jaafari’s selection. And while this does not get much attention, there is a significant element of the UIA which dislikes the selection of Jaafari, as they feel he will beholden to Muqtada Sadr, whose party provide thirty votes to allow Jaafari to win a narrow 64-63 vote within the UIA selection process.

General John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, warns of an increase in sectarian violence, but believes the threat of civil war, while still possible, is capable of being contained by Iraqi Security Forces, “There’s no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we’ve seen. And it is of great concern to all of us. It’s my belief that the security situation in the country, while changing in its nature from insurgency toward sectarian violence, is controllable by Iraqi Security Forces and multi-national forces.” It should be remembered that sectarian violence is not civil war, and the Middle East and the greater Islamic world is rife with such violence. Countries such as Nigeria, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, thailand and others suffer from such sectarian strife.

As the fitful political negotiations and fears of a civil war continue in Iraq, al Qaeda is attempting to step up its campaign to incite a sectarian conflict and a wider civil war. Reuters provides a snapshot of today’s major attacks throughout Iraq. Suicide and car bombs are the weapons of choice, and the attacks are increasingly being directed at Iraqi Security Forces and sectarian targets. The locations of the attacks are in the heart of Iraq, and civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

BAGHDAD – A U.S. Abrams tank was set ablaze when a roadside bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The tank crew was not injured.

FALLUJA – At least 11 people, including five policemen, were killed when a suicide truck bomber struck a checkpoint manned by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces in eastern Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

SAMARRA – An Imam of a Sunni mosque was killed and two people wounded when a car bomb exploded in front of a mosque in central Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

SAMARRA – Two civilians were killed and another two were injured when a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol missed its target in southwestern Samarra, police said.

TIKRIT – Two roadside bombs targeting a police patrol exploded in the centre of the town of Tikrit 175 km (110 miles), killing one policeman and injuring another four, police said.

The murder of civilians and the targeting of Sunni leaders have pushed Sunni groups to fight back against al Qaeda. The Associated Press provides further details on the Sunni tribes efforts to eject al Qaeda from their territory. Sunni politician Abul-Rahman Mansheed, who represents Hawija, has boldly declared opposition to al Qaeda, “Under my leadership and that of our brothers in other tribes, we are getting close to the shelter of this terrorist… We will capture him [Zarqawi] soon.

Thirty nine propane tanks were found in the house where a large weapons cache was discovered in Al Anbar Province. The tanks had the bottoms removed to make room for them to be made into improvised explosive devices. The cache discovery was made by Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. Photo by: Cpl. William Skelton

The success in Anbar can be directly attributed to the year long operation to clear the region of al Qaeda and the insurgency from isolated strongholds, and operations persist to this day. Outside of Fallujah, the ‘Outcasts’ from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted a three day operation which netted what is believed to be “some kind of IED factory and safe house,” along with numerous munitions and materials used to create roadside bombs.

The Associated Press also reports tribal leaders in Anbar province have launched Operation Tribal Chivalry to round up al Qaeda fighters in the region. According to Osama al-Jadaan, a tribal chief of the Karabila tribe, “So far we have cleared 75 percent of the province and forced al-Qaida terrorists to flee to nearby areas.” While these claims should be taken with a grain of salt, again, the open declaration of war against al Qaeda by Sunni tribes and insurgent groups provides an indicator of al Qaeda’s popularity in the region, and is a major ideological victory.

Because of the campaign against al Qaeda in Anbar, al Qaeda and Zarqawi are said to “have begun fleeing Anbar province and Ramadi, its capital, to cities and mountain ranges near the Iranian border.” Zarqawi has proven to be quite elusive, and the latest rumor of his capture has yet to pan out. He was last believed to be in the Hamrin region of north-central Iraq.

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

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  • Marlin says:

    Iraq the Model has just put a post up today where Omar quotes the al-Bayina al-Jadida newspaper as recently mentioning that Zarqawi had moved to the outskirts of Salahiddin and sought to hide in the Himreen Mountains (these are technically hills lying Northeast of Salahiddin, southeast of Kirkuk and extend to the Iranian borders where they merge with Zagrus Mountains) for about a month before fleeing to Afghanistan through Iran.
    A Google map of the Himreen(Hamrin) Hills area is also provided as part of the post.
    ITM: Where is Zarqawi?

  • blert says:

    If true, Zarqawi’s retreat at this time is strategic.
    Might he be headed for a confab with Dr. Z?
    AQ-I has gone off the rails. The Iraqi Army is proving too much to handle. It needs to keep flooding the zone: more troops to the Tigris and West Baghdad.
    Figure the Iraqi Army to grow uptowards 250,000. It needs to be the biggest player so as to de-fang the militias. During this growth phase, it needs to out bid the militias for the best talent.
    A rapid expansion of construction battalions is in order. The Iraqi Army must double as a trades college.

  • Marlin says:

    But relations became strained when insurgents supported calls for Sunnis to vote in last December’s election, a move they saw as essential to break the Shia hold on government but which al-Qa’eda viewed as a form of collaboration. It became an outright split when a wave of bombings killed scores of people in Anbar resulting in a spate of tit-for-tat killings.
    In reaction, the insurgent groups formed their own anti-al-Qa’eda militia, the Anbar Revolutionaries. The group has a core membership of 100 people, all of whom had relatives killed by al-Qa’eda. It is led by Ahmed Ftaikhan, a former Saddam-era military intelligence officer.
    Sunni insurgents ‘have al-Zarqawi running for cover’

  • C.S. Scott says:

    According to Osama al-Jadaan, a tribal chief of the Karabila tribe, “So far we have cleared 75 percent of the province and forced al-Qaida terrorists to flee to nearby areas.”
    Bill…In the past wasn’t the Karabila tribe pro-al Qaeda and against the government in Baghdad? Maybe during operations last summer and fall.
    As for Zarqawi, I still speculate that he is in Diyala province where he can move back and forth across the Iranian border. Read more about why I think that.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Yes, the Karabila, Sulemani and several other tribes were pro al-Qaeda in the past. This all changed after the ops last year. They figured out who the “strong horse” is, and are now working against al-Qaeda.


    The reaction in the Arab world to the American reaction to the Dubai Ports World deal has been predictably negative, and, while I don’t usually agree with Arab criticism of the United States, in this case I have to say…

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    I would speculate Zarqawi is in Hawija. I’ve had a gut feeling that there was a “Northern” ratline for a while. Southern Diyali is a possibility, but northern Diyali is too Kurdish.
    Just a hunch.

  • C.S. Scott says:

    Okay, thanks Bill…that’s kind of what I thought but wanted to confirm that.
    SD…you could be right and good point about the heavy Kurdish presence in northern Diyala.


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