Fighting between the Awakening movements and al Qaeda in Iraq spiked over the weekend. At least four high-profile engagements and bombings occurred in Baghdad, Anbar, Ninewa, and Diyala provinces.
The largest clash occurred on Sunday in the eastern region of Diyala province in the villages of Nai and Safit. Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters attacked the villages, but the local tribes fought back. Twenty-two al Qaeda fighters and 17 tribesmen were killed in the battle, KUNA reported. Al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to regroup in eastern Diyala after being ejected from much of central Baghdad province during operations this summer and fall.
To the west in Anbar province, al Qaeda fighters attacked an Awakening checkpoint in the city of Barwana near Haditha. Four terrorists were killed in the clash.
On Saturday two engagements, one in Baghdad and one west of Mosul, resulted in both al Qaeda operatives and members of the Awakening killed. The largest strike occurred in Baghdad, where two were killed and 10 wounded in a roadside bomb attack near the headquarters of the Adhamiyah Awakening Council. At least one member of the Adhamiyah Awakening was killed and eight wounded.
To the west in Mosul, “a platoon of the Ninewa Sahwa (Awakening) Council managed to kill three gunmen suspected of belonging to the al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq in the district of al-Biaaj,” Voices of Iraq reported. “The al-Jazirah platoon of the Ninewa Sahwa Council attacked a stronghold of al Qaeda in an area that lies between Matar 3 and al Karakshi in the district of al-Biaaj, southwest of Mosul, and killed three gunmen.” One of the Awakening fighters was killed and three wounded.
The provincial Awakening Councils and the independent Concerned Local Citizens groups have been targeted by al Qaeda and its puppet Islamic State of Iraq. These groups are softer targets as opposed to US and Iraqi Army units as the groups are lightly armed and do not operate on secured bases.
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 the 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 off 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.
“Abu Omar Baghdadi” is the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al Masri and is actually played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima. The US learned of Baghdadi’s identity after capturing al Qaeda in Iraq’s media emir earlier this year. Al Masri created Baghdadi to put an Iraqi face on al Qaeda’s operations.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.