al Qaeda in Iraq targeted Sattar and an Imam who opposed the Islamic State of Iraq
al Qaeda in Iraq has stepped up its campaign to eliminate the indigenous Sunni opposition in Anbar province. According to an American intelligence official and a military officer, al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to destroy all effective Sunni opposition in the province. Over the past week, al Qaeda has conducted two major suicide attacks in Habbaniyah and Ramadi against two influence members of the Sunni opposition to al Qaeda in Iraq: Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, and the imam of a Habbaniyah mosque who spoke out against al Qaeda.
On February 19, al Qaeda in Iraq targeted the home of Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the head of the Anbar Salvation Council, which is a grouping of Anbar tribes that oppose al Qaeda’s implementation of sharia law and murder of both Shia and Sunni alike. al Qaeda targeted Sattar’s home with two suicide strikes, the first of which breached the wall of the compound, and the second of which was designed to hit the building. Eleven were killed, including women, children and policemen.
al Qaeda used the same tactics in the Sattar attack as it did in the suicide attack on a U.S. outpost in Tarmiya, just north of Baghdad, which killed 2 soldiers and wounded 17. al Qaeda has used this method against U.S. and Iraq security forces, as well as against the media living in the Palestine Hotel, in the past.
Sattar escaped, but, as one military intelligence officer informed us, his loss would be a devastating blow to efforts to bring the Anbar Sunnis to secure the province. Sattar has organized 8 battalions of Emergency Response Units. These ERUs consist of local tribesmen whose mission is to provide security in Ramadi. Three of these battalions have already been formed and deployed. Sattar is seen as one of a handful effective leaders in Anbar province that are able to organize resistance to al Qaeda.
Saturday’s attack against the Habbaniyah imam demonstrates the extreme measures al Qaeda will take to murder its opponents. In order to get to the imam, who, according to Reuters “had spoken out against Sunni al Qaeda members during prayers on Friday,” al Qaeda targeted a mosque. The suicide bomber killed 39 and wounded 62. The explosion destroyed a nearby market, and many women and children are said to have been killed.
Habbaniyah is a strategic region of Anbar province, as it sits across the line of communication between the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. The Iraqi brigade deployed to the region has had some success in rolling back the insurgency, and al Qaeda has a vested interest in eliminating the local opposition. An Imam speaking out against al Qaeda is a prime target for assassination.
al Qaeda in Iraq has been targeting political, religious and military leaders as well as tribal sheikhs who oppose al Qaeda’s vision for Iraq. This campaign has recently caused Mishan al-Jabouri, the owner and producer of al-Zawraa, or ‘Muj TV,’ to lash out against al Qaeda and threaten the terrorist group with violence from Sunni insurgents who have tired of al Qaeda’s attacks on civilians, Sunni nationalists either not aligned with the terrorists or who work with the government, and even the Shia.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.