An update on the al-Masri investigation as Anbar’s tribal fighters are operating outside of the province
Information on the status of Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s commander and the Minister of Defense for al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, has remained essentially static since yesterday afternoon. Multinational Forces Iraq have taken a wait-and-see approach, and the Iraqi government has refused to confirm his death. What is clear is that a battle between forces of the Anbar Salvation Council and al Qaeda in Iraq occurred in the town of al-Nibayi, near Taji in Salahadin province, al Qaeda took casualties and U.S. and Iraq security forces, along with the tribal fighters of the Anbar Salvation Council are securing the scene of the fight in an attempt to find al Masri’s body.
The Anbar Salvation Council is openly taking credit for the strike in Salahadin. “Eyewitnesses confirmed his death and their corpses are still at the scene,” said Sheikh Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council. “We have evidence and eyewitnesses and our contacts with the tribes there all confirm the killing,” said Hamid al-Hayis, another leader of the Anbar Salvation Council.
The identification of al-Masri’s body may prove difficult as the al-Nibayi region is still contested. The Anbar Salvation Council has again sortied into the village in an attempt to secure the battlefield. “The area is still under their control, early this morning we sent an armed group to scout the situation, but we haven’t heard back from them yet,” Hamid al-Hayis told AFP. If al-Masri was killed, al Qaeda in Iraq will fight hard to keep the Coalition from recovering his body.
The tribal fighters will no doubt be accompanied by the hunter-killer teams of Task Force 145. “The team [of] military forensics will examine a number of corpses, taking fingerprints, scrutinizing teeth and DNA, to see if al Masri is indeed among the dead,” noted Richard Miniter. “Whether he is dead will remain a mystery until the military team completes its work. Thanks, to Egyptian intelligence, America has extensive medical records on al-Masri.”
Despite whether al-Masri is killed or not, the event highlights a significant development in the civil war within the Sunni community. The rise of the Anbar Salvation Council has far reaching consequences in the wider Sunni community beyond the backwaters of Anbar province.
After less than one year since its formation, the Anbar Salvation Council is no longer content with remaining a static paramilitary force designed to protects the tribal areas, cities and towns within the province. The Anbar Salvation Council has formed an expeditionary unit or units, designed to operate outside of Anbar’s provincial boundaries, apparently with the approval of the Iraqi government. The group is taking advantage of its tribal affiliations, which span the provincial boundaries. It is using the intelligence gained from former insurgents in its midst to attack al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent groups in their strongholds.
The Anbar Salvation Council is now working with the nucleus of the Sunni Iraqi Awakening movements in Salahadin, Ninewa, Diyala and Baghdad provinces to attack al Qaeda nationwide. Two Diyala tribes, the Karki and Shimouri, “signed a peace agreement at the home of the Mujema tribal leader in Diyala province, Monday,” and “promised to ‘consolidate and unify to battle all insurgents that penetrate among [their] tribes.'” This will play an important role in the upcoming Diyala Campaign to root out al Qaeda’s bases, training camps, fortifications and command an control centers in the province. If al-Masri survived yesterday’s battle near Taji, he is now faced with the threat of the Anbar Salvation Council attacking his forces not just in Anbar, but nationwide.
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