Down, not out


Al Qaeda in Iraq has suffered stunning losses over the past two years, but a core of the intractable wing of the insurgency persists. A tragic case in point from the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD – He compared al-Qaida in Iraq to wolves, urging that the terrorist group be crushed since he believed its members would never reject violence. But the wolves got to the Iraqi counterterrorism officer first.

Ahmed Subhi al-Fahal’s death in a suicide bombing in Tikrit could embolden al-Qaida loyalists to try to make a return to the area around Saddam Hussein’s hometown where he held sway. On Friday, within hours of his killing, dozens of Web sites affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq were already celebrating the death of their longtime nemesis.

Al-Fahal, in his early 30s, was a lieutenant colonel in the Salahuddin provincial police force. But he was mostly known, by al-Qaida and the American military alike, as one of central Iraq’s top counterterror officials, bent on purging insurgents from his turf.

“It is better to kill al-Qaida’s members because it is no use to reform them,” al-Fahal said in a recent interview with Al-Arabiya TV. He was paraphrasing a religious saying that there is no use in trying to reform wolves – instead, they must be killed.

And kill them he did.

In his interview, al-Fahal claimed he killed more than 250 al-Qaida terrorists: 200 Iraqis and 50 Arab foreign fighters.

Al-Fahal’s philosophy on AQI echoes something Sheik Mishael Owdeh Abdullah Fatneh of the Albu Issa tribe told me in an interview the other week. After civilians in his tribe in the Fallujah region were attacked by a suicide truck bomb filled with chlorine gas in March 2007, Fatneh said that he realized there was no reconciliation possible for those who would commit such an act. For some of his tribe’s enemies, “killing or permanently removing them from Iraq” was the only practical solution.

Some American military officers in Fallujah at the time came to distinguish the hardcore from the influenceable insurgents with the labels “GBGs” and “BBGs”: “Good Bad Guys” and “Bad Bad Guys.” Despite many renouncing overt affiliation with AQI by 2009, BBGs remain intractable and retain capability, signaling that Iraq will suffer from assassinations and other statistically less relevant spasms of violence for some time to come.

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