Iraqi Army, al Qaeda fight second major battle in the town in just three weeks
Iraqi Security Forces fought a pitched battle against al Qaeda in Iraq in the town of Amiriya this afternoon, according to Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf, the director of the operations center in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. “Security forces supported by paramilitary units formed by Sunni tribes fought the militants in a battle that lasted several hours,” AFP reports. “Two top militants, Shakir Hadi Jassim and Mohammed Khamis, were among the dead.” Thirty-nine al Qaeda were killed and 7 were captured during the battle. There is no word on the number of security forces or “paramilitary units formed by Sunni tribes” killed during the fighting. The paramilitary units are the Emergency Response Units – battalions of tribal fighters formed by the Anbar Salvation Council.
Omar Fahdila reports that 11 tribal fighters and six police were killed in the battle, and the U.S. troops “found and securely detonated a tanker filled with chlorine gas the terrorists were planning to use in chemical attacks on the area.” The tribe fighting al Qaeda were members of the Albu Issa tribe, which al Qaeda targeted with a chlorine attack in Fallujah last weekend.
Amiriya was the scene of a major battle on March 2, when several hundred al Qaeda fighters massed and attacked the convoy of a senior leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, the grouping of tribes and former insurgents that now back the government and fight al Qaeda in Iraq. The local police held off the attack, called in for support and were backed by Iraqi police and Army, U.S. air support, and local fighters of the Thuwra al Anbar – the militia formed by the Anbar Salvation Council. Over 80 al Qaeda were reported killed and another 50 captured. The senior Anbar Salvation Council leader was traveling to attend the funeral of those killed during a savage al Qaeda suicide attack on a mosque in Habbaniyah.
Just last weekend, al Qaeda targeted Amiriya with a chlorine suicide bombing attack, along with Fallujah and Ramadi. “The second bomber [in Amiriya] targeted a tribal leader opposed to al Qaeda,” Reuters reported. Over 100 civilians were treated for chlorine gas exposure.
Amiriya has a specific significance to al Qaeda. This small town has been the focus of three high profile attacks since March 2, including two unusual massed attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq has devoted significant resources to such a small, backwater town. About 120 fighters have been killed and another 60 captured in two operations, while a chlorine bomb was also aimed at this town.
Al Qaeda is going after what it considers to be a high value target – a target so valuable it is throwing its precious resources into a maw to achieve a specific result. Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Rishawi or Mohammed Mahmoud Latif (aka Mahmoud al-Fahdaw), the leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council, may have a home in Amiriya, or may be using the town to base operations for their political and military front. Sheihk Sattar’s home in Ramadi was targeted by a multi-pronged suicide attack on February 19.
Sattar and Latif are two very high profile leaders of the resistance to al Qaeda, and al Qaeda in Iraq has a vested interest in killing them. Last year, al Qaeda shatter the leadership of the Anbar People’s Council, the precursor to the Anbar Salvation Front, via a campaign of intimidation and assassinations. Latif was the head of the Anbar People’s Council in 2006.
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