Al Qaeda in Iraq has intensified its war on Sunnis attempting to break away from the insurgency and reconcile with the Iraqi government. Al Qaeda announced its Ramadan assassination program at the start of the Muslim holy month and is executing its plan in Salahadin province, where the opposition to al Qaeda is still in its infancy.
In a coordinated suicide attack in Baiji, two suicide bombers struck at senior members of the Iraqi police and the Salahadin Awakening Council, the Sunni political front organizing in the province against al Qaeda. The first suicide bomber drove a pickup truck packed with explosives into the home of Colonel Saad Nifous, Baiji’s chief of police, who was wounded in the strike. “Three houses were completely demolished,” said Lieutenant Colonel Fadhil Mahmoud of the provincial Salahadin police. “Eight people were killed and 16 wounded and they are still searching for other bodies under the rubble.”
The target of the second attack, which occurred minutes after the first suicide strike, is still unclear. The Times reported that Thamir Attallah, the military chief of the Baiji Awakening Council was the target. Reuters stated Hamad al Jubouri, the leader of the Salahadin Awakening Council, was in al Qaeda’s crosshairs as he visited a mosque.
The Reuters account is clear that al Qaeda hit a mosque in Baiji. Recovery efforts are underway near the mosque, as “several houses next to the mosque were flattened.” The fate of Jubouri and Attallah is still unknown, but anonymous police sources are saying Jubouri was not killed.
A senior US military intelligence official close to the workings of the Awakening movements in Iraq told The Long War Journal that the death of Jubouri might be a “definite blow to our efforts,” as “the Salahadin Awakening is still a new organization and is not as battle-tested as the main [Anbar Awakening] force or the Baqubah Guardians in Diyala.”
Today’s suicide attack in Salahadin is the second major strike against the leadership of province’s Awakening movement in five days. On October 4, al Qaeda attacked the convoy of Sheikh Muawiya Jebara, a senior member of the Salahadin Awakening Council as he traveled near the provincial capital of Samarra. Jebara and three bodyguards were killed in the attack.
Salahadin province is one of the last refuges for al Qaeda in Iraq. The terror group remains strong in the regions around Samarra, Tarmiyah, and Baiji. Iraqi and Coalition special operations forces conduct raids daily in the rural regions around these cities. The cities of Karmah in Anbar and Taji in Baghdad provinces border southern Salahadin and remain al Qaeda hot spots.
The Anbar Awakening encountered a similar assault on its leadership by al Qaeda in Iraq in the winter and spring of 2007. Al Qaeda launched over 10 chlorine-bomb attacks against leaders of the Awakening in Anbar province and attacked mosques, apartment complexes, and funerals while its leaders were present.
Al Qaeda assassinated Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha in a car bomb attack just outside of his home in Ramadi on the opening day of Ramadan. Sattar was the founder of the Anbar Awakening movement and organized the Anbar tribes to oppose al Qaeda in Iraq in the province that was once the bastion of the Sunni insurgency. Al Qaeda in Iraq immediately took credit for the murder, calling it a “heroic operation.” The Anbar Awakening has survived the assassination of Sheikh Sattar, as his brother Ahmed took over the leadership of the council and other leaders vowed to continue the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq.
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