More Sunni – al Qaeda Divisions: The Real Civil War

Anbar tribes and tribes from the city of Hawijah oppose Zarqawi’s jihad

Faced with the continued prospect of submitting to the brutality of al Qaeda, Sunni tribal leaders continue to band together to fight the terrorists in their midst. The Washington Post provides a look at the state of affairs between al Qaeda and the tribal leaders in Anbar province and central Iraq. A tribal council was held in the city of Hawijah, which lies directly north on the Tigris River,and has been a hotspot of the insurgency. Many Sunni leaders were willing to go on the record to express their defiance:

“We are a group of the Anbar people who want to get rid of Zarqawi . . . because this is the only way to make the Americans withdraw from Ramadi or Iraq in general…We are against Zarqawi and his followers because they aim to extend the presence of the occupation and hurt our forces to make them weak… I cannot say that all the people in Ramadi support us, but I can say 80 percent of them do…We have killed a number of the Arabs, including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis, Syrians and Jordanians… We were also able to foil an attack by Zarqawi’s men who were trying to attack an oil pipeline outside Ramadi. We killed four Iraqis trying to plant the bomb under the pipeline.”

An al Qaeda operative known as Abu Azzam (not that Abu Azzam) lashed out against the Iraqis in Ramadi fighting against his cause, “[they] are collaborators and dogs for America. They kill the mujaheddin to get money from the American crusaders. They are cowards and we have killed a lot of them. . . . All the people here support us and our jihad against the Americans and their followers.”

The declarations against al Qaeda are encouraging. The risk alone of speaking out is great, as al Qaeda has murdered, raped and intimidated those who opposed them in the past. The tribal leaders are explicitly putting themselves, their families and their tribesmen in Zarqawi’s crosshairs. The fact they are willing to publicly oppose al Qaeda in Iraq demonstrates a marked shift their attitudes towards both al Qaeda and the prospects for the Iraqi government.

The split between al Qaeda and the nationalist elements of the Sunni insurgency began to appear as far back as Fallujah, when al Qaeda fighters were found murdered in the city, and al Qaeda ‘commissars’ executed local fighters who abandoned their fighting positions as the American onslaught of the city intensified. To this day, Zarqawi and other al Qaeda members refer to the “betrayal of Fallujah” and how the Muslim political and religious leaders abandoned them during the fight. Over the past year, we have seen numerous cases of red-on-red fighting, as well as an open declaration of war against al Qaeda by one of the largest insurgent groups in Iraq, the Islamic Army of Iraq, along with other groups.

As we’ve pointed out several times in the past, the importance of turning Sunni groups naturally sympathetic to al Qaeda’s cause is a tremendous ideological victory in the War on Terror. It is not important that the Iraqi people like us (a good number of them do, but that’s besides the point), but that they see al Qaeda for what it is, and reject their ideology.

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

14 Comments

  • Marlin says:

    There have been at least 4 separate articles in the last couple of days that support Bill’s thesis.
    ——————-
    Iraq’s western Anbar province, the crucible of the Sunni Muslim insurgency since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion nearly three years ago, is showing signs of calm in recent weeks, and U.S. leaders say cooperation is emerging among once bitter enemies.
    Insurgent attacks last week in the province dropped by more than a quarter, U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said in a briefing here this week. At the same time, U.S. military and civilian leaders have softened their rhetoric against the largely Sunni insurgents. Rebels once denigrated as “Baathist thugs and killers” are now often described as nationalists.
    U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said last week’s bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine – and the reprisal attacks on Sunni Arabs – created a stronger impetus for Sunni-American cooperation.
    “There is an improvement in Anbar,” Abizaid told The Associated Press on Saturday. “A lot of people in the Sunni community are talking to us, lessening the cycle of violence. Many Sunni leaders are moving forward to take part in the political process.”
    […]
    U.S. military leaders have attributed improving relations in the province to several factors, including a confluence of interests. Americans frequently say Sunni participation in government is key to preventing an Iraqi civil war and the country’s breakup. And Sunnis have leaned on Americans to gain leverage in Iraq’s feuding political system and protection from Shiite militias.
    […]
    Taylor and Lynch say American and Iraqi leaders have cultivated dialogue with Sunni imams, tribal sheiks and other leaders. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari recently dedicated $75 million for reconstruction projects selected by local leaders, who were visited recently by the minister of defense and deputy interior minister.
    Associated Press: Iraq’s Anbar Province Shows Signs of Calm
    ——————–
    Faced with attacks against their sheikhs and clan members, a number of Sunni tribes from Hawijah — a rebel bastion in northern Iraq -= have declared war on Al-Qaeda’s frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
    “We shall fight all those who commit such attacks, notably Al-Qaeda,” the tribal leaders said in a statement that has been circulating around Hawijah
    In the last month-and-a-half, the head of Al-Nuaim tribe, Ibrahim Al-Nuaimi, and one of the heads of the powerful Jubur tribe, Ahmad Mehdi Saleh, have been assassinated in this Sunni rebel bastion, 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of Baghdad.
    Khaled Abdel Hussein, a doctor at Hawijah’s general hospital, was also killed by armed men who barged into the hospital building and sprayed it with bullets.
    General Hatem Khalaf Al-Obaidi, head of the police of nearby Kirkuk, was also gunned down while in the area.
    “It is a terror campaign against our leaders,” Sheikh Abdel Rahman al-Assai, head of the Obaidi tribe, told AFP.
    “We are not going allow them to silence us and do this to us. The resistance opposes the occupation and is an Iraqi affair.
    “Terrorists and Takfiris (Sunni extremists) kill, kidnap and terrorise our people. We cannot accept this,” he said.
    He felt it was legitimate to kill these men as they belong to “Zarqawi and such groups.”
    Agence France Presse: Sunni tribes of Iraq’s rebel bastion declare war on Zarqawi
    ——————-
    In a report carried on Sunday by the daily al-Sabah, Sheikh Usama al-Jadaan, a Sunni Arab tribal leader, said that tribesmen had captured 1,700 terrorists of Syrian, Jordanian, Yemeni and Algerian nationalities.
    The Times of India: Iraqis capture 1,700 suspected terrorists
    ——————–
    In response to rising violence, major Sunni tribes in central and southern Iraq are attempting to form a “National Tribal Front” to coordinate efforts to lessen tensions.
    The tribes began the initiative in the wake of the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariyah Shiite shrine in Samarra, which inflamed tensions between Iraq’s Shiites and its Sunni minority. Since the bombings hundreds have died in sectarian clashes; dozens of mosques of both sects have been destroyed.
    […]
    “Our main target is to bury the current sectarian feud before it snowballs and leads to more catastrophes, with the main beneficiary being the American occupier. Those inciting violence are trying to distort the image of the people of Iraq, whether Shiites or Sunnis,” Fayadh told Azzaman news agency.
    Fayadh said the effort came from an initiative first made by tribesmen in southern Iraq who are members of dominant tribes in Sunni dominated areas. He said many Shiite tribal leaders had contacted him condemning acts of violence that followed the Samarra bombing.
    United Press International: Iraqis to form National Tribal Front

  • More Sunni – al-Qaeda Divisions: The Real Civil War

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    Anbar tribes and tribes from the city of Hawijah oppose Zarqawi’s jihad
    Faced with the continued prospect of submitting to the brutality of al-Qaeda, Sunni tribal leaders continue to band together to fight the terroris…

  • Sunni tribes declare war on al-Qaeda in Iraq

  • Rob says:

    This is where the rubber meets the road. If Iraqi Sunis can be forced to realise what killers Zarqawi and Al Qaeda are and what a dead end they are fighting towards, the myth and romance of Al Qaeda will start to disipate. I have to believe that this is part of the Presidents strategy. It appears to be working.

  • Tom W. says:

    Al Qaeda in Iraq may soon have more to worry about than the Sunnis…
    From today’s Pentagon briefing:
    SEC. RUMSFELD: I will say this about Iran. They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq. And we know it, and it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment.
    Q : Why is that?
    SEC. RUMSFELD: I’ve said all I have to say.
    //www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2006/tr20060307-12619.html

  • SGT Medzyk says:

    “. . . All the people here support us and our jihad against the Americans and their followers.”
    Which, of course, explains the many villages that al-qaeda terrorists live in peaceful harmony with their neighbors.
    That’s sarcasm folks….

  • Enigma says:

    We are a group of the Anbar people who want to get rid of Zarqawi . . . because this is the only way to make the Americans withdraw from Ramadi or Iraq in general…
    I have been wondering how long it was going to take the Sunnis to realize this. Their participation in the insurgency has likely prolonged the American presence they oppose.
    An interesting question occurs to me: did the Ba’athists blunder by starting the insurgency too soon, while the bulk of US forces were still present in Iraq? If they had waited until after US forces withdrew in 2003, might they have succeeded against much weaker opposition than they now face?

  • Nicholas says:

    Good point, Enigma.
    I think the reason that didn’t happen was that people like Bin Laden were constantly saying that the US is weak and would pull out at the first sign of trouble, so they started a campaign to cause casualties, thinking US and coalition troops would leave due to political pressure.
    Obviously, they miscalculated. It would have been much more clever to behave until the coalition troops leave then start a proper civil war. However, I think they’re too disorganized to co-ordinate at that level. Terrorism is not a very precise tactic.

  • C-Low says:

    Tom W
    Iran sending in guys I don’t think would scare AQ.
    If it is true Iran sending in actual boots rather than just the weapons I would suspect Sadr is preparing do something stupid again. We better fade his a*s this time.
    Enigma
    I’m with you on that one. I have long wondered myself how long it was going to take the Sunni’s to see the writing on the wall and face the reality that they either join in then let the US leave and slowly work they way back into control or fight as the Shia and Kurd get trained up to take over as the dominators for the next 50+yrs.
    Early on they would have had guaranteed top positions since they were the only ones trained up experienced. That small window is quickly closing the Shia and Kurd are taking over getting trained up and experienced soon if not now they will not need the Sunni. When that happens and we pull out if the Sunni don’t take their place allowed they would be forced into place. That last part by the way will be Arab style force not limited western style.
    Great article Bill. You called this what a 1yr or more ago. There is obvious difference between reporters who report the facts how they fall with some educated commentary and reporters who report facts that support their personal agenda while having commentary that is void of experience or education pertaining to the story.
    It really is a sad sad state of our nation that when we win their will be a large portion of our population nearly all Media and 97% of the Dem party who will be absolutely discredited. How anyone can allow themselves to invest in defeat of their own nation is just sick.

  • hamidreza says:

    Tom-W,
    Iran and al-Qaeda are on the same side in Iraq. This is a marriage of convenience. The killing of Shiites in Iraq does not faze Iran. The victims are Arabs and not Persians. The immediate goal of both of them is to force the US out. It is only the US that is in the way of Iranian takeover of southern Iraq. The Shiite militia wish to take over the Iraqi state in Shiite areas and hand it over to the Iranians.
    What benefits Iran now is instability, insecurity, and civil war. The agents that Iranians are sending into Iraq are there to support and set up the militias belonging to Sadr, Badr, Hizbollah. Fazila, and Dawa. At the same time this puts pressure on Sistani, and marginalizes the secular middle class Shiites. Sectarian war benefits these militias, and Jaafari is assuring that the sectarian war continues and the Interior Ministry becomes their vehicle. This fits in the plans of al-Qaeda as well.
    However, it may appear that the bombing of the Askari mosque may have backfired on Iran and caused a re-alignment of forces, bringing the Sunnis closer to the US camp and Sistani/seculars farther away from the militias. Maybe that is why Iran is sending in agents to make up for this blunder, which I am sure was orchestrated by Iran’s al-Qaeda allies inside Iraq.
    What has to be done I think is to commence a very public trial of Sadr and the Mahdi army, based on their actions in the past 3 weeks, and have the parliament vote to expell Sadr’s parliamentarians, and issue an arrest warrant for Sadr. Then they can form a government of “national unity”. I think Sistani will go along with such a plan.
    Could it be that the AC130 brought in are for the specific purpose of attacking the Mahdi army? You would think they are useless against the hit and run nature of the Sunni insurgency.

  • skip says:

    Rumsfeld’s quote is part of the escalating war of words being waged between the US and the Iranian regime.
    Yesterday it was Cheney, today Rumsfeld’s quote makes the circuit. I wonder who’s next? Bolton?
    In any case I believe that this is designed to achieve two purposes. First, to keep iran on the front burner and force the Iranian regime to react. Like the fight between Darth Vader and Luke, the stuff has to keep flying at them from all directions.
    next, these words are for domestic consumption. Escalation of the war into Iran is a possibility and imho the Bush Admin is laying the political groundwork for this.
    C-low, the Sunni have a third option: find a way to get along with others. It’s a radical idea, I know, but it might just work.
    My thinking is that when the sunnis living in mud huts see the way the Kurds are living they might just think about a tribal leadership change. the modern world can be quite seductive and a life of herding goats and committing low level crime might not appeal to the younger sunnis.
    We shall see.

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