Al Qaeda in Iraq is continuing to target the local security forces formed by the Awakening movements in the Sunni regions in the central and northern regions in Iraq. On Christmas day, al Qaeda in Iraq conducted suicide attacks in the cities of Baiji and Baqubah. At least 29 Iraqis were killed and 105 wounded in the attacks on Awakening forces in the northern cities.
The suicide bombing in Baiji was the larger of the two attacks. A truck packed with explosives rammed into a checkpoint manned by members of the Baiji Awakening and Iraq Army soldiers. Multinational Forces Iraq reported 20 killed and 80 wounded, but Salahadin province Governor Hussein Mahjoub told KUNA that 25 Iraqis were killed and 90 wounded. “Most of the people killed and wounded were civilians who gathered in front of the station to have their vehicles fuelled,” an unnamed security source told Voices of Iraq.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry responded by detaining Colonel Saad al Nofous, Baiji’s Chief of Police, and by arresting members of the Awakening. “[Al Nofous] has been sacked and subjected to interrogation upon instructions from the interior minister,” Brigadier General Abdul Kareem Khalaf told Voices of Iraq. “All forces belonging to the awakening council were detained in the light of the suicide bombing attack that killed 20 people and wounded 80 others this morning.”
Baiji is a strategic city in Salahadin province, which hosts Iraq’s largest oil refinery. The Salahadin Awakening formed in late May, and al Qaeda in Iraq immediately began to target the group’s leadership.
The second attack occurred in Baqubah, the provincial capital of Diyala. A suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives detonated in the midst of a funeral for two members of the 1920s Revolution Brigades who were accidentally killed by US forces earlier this week. Four mourners were killed and 15 wounded.
Among those reported killed was Farhan al Bahrazi, a leader of the 1920s Revolution Brigades in the region. The 1920s Revolution Brigades, a nationalist Sunni insurgent group, has fought against al Qaeda in Iraq, and helped liberate the city for the terror group this spring. The insurgent group recently merged with the Diyala Awakening Council.
The Awakening Councils, supported by the US and Iraqi governments, and the Concerned Local Citizens are largely made up of local and regional tribes and former insurgents. These groups pose a direct threat to al Qaeda in Iraq. The movements can often identify al Qaeda fighters and possess intelligence on their networks, while boosting the number of security forces available to fight al Qaeda. As towns and cities are secured, it frees up Iraqi and US forces to move to more troubled regions.
On December 3, “Abu Omar al Baghdadi,” the fictitious leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, released an audiotape outlining its “ghazw campaign” targeting the Awakening movements, the volunteer Concerned Local Citizens movements, and all who cooperate with them. “The individual mission of each mujahid [during the ghazw campaign] … is to conduct 3 IED attacks or 3 attacks with explosives, especially martyrdom attacks, or at least to kill 3 ‘apostates and traitors.'” The campaign is to end on or around January 29, 2008.
Al Qaeda kicked off its anti-Awakening campaign strongly, with eight significant attacks during the first five days. Attacks against the Awakening and Concerned Local Citizens movements have since decreased. In many cases, the Iraqi volunteers are initiating the fighting.
Al Qaeda attempted a similar offensive during the month of Ramadan this year. The offensive was unsuccessful, despite the assassination of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Awakening.
Meanwhile, Coalition Special Forces continue to target al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior leadership. Since December 23, Coalition Special Forces teams, as part of Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to bring down al Qaeda in Iraq’s networks, has killed 13 al Qaeda operatives and detained 59. The raids have focused on media and car bomb cells, weapons and foreign fighter facilitators, and cell leaders in Diyala, Salahadin, Baghdad, and Ninewa provinces. These four provinces encounter 80 percent of the attacks in Iraq.
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