THE WINDS OF AL-ANBAR
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 4/17/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com
The intra-Sunni fighting in Al-Anbar province is continuing, and the violence is rising. I'll try my hand at laying out some of the recent events, and explain a little bit of how the various elements you may hear about in the news are related. I've distilled a fair bit of material from Bill Roggio, other sources, and personal knowledge. I don't have a lot of time, so this will probably be sloppy and fairly unedited.
Since the start of the year, Al-Qaeda In Iraq has attempted 11 chlorine VBIEDs, nine in Al-Anbar, one in Tadji, and one in Baghdad. Of those, nine have detonated with varying degrees of success, and two were found and disabled in Ramadi. The most recent attacks were this morning, in downtown Falluja, outside the government center. Iraqi troops engaged two trucks just after 0630, causing both to explode just short of the base.
Taken together, the string of chlorine bombings have killed 32 Iraqis and wounded over 600, most of them civilians. One U.S. soldier was wounded in an attack on an Iraqi Police checkpoint, as well as possibly more today in Falluja. These attacks have overwhelmingly been targeted towards Iraqi forces, and the leaders and people of the tribes who have begun to oppose Al-Qaeda In Iraq.
There are thirty-one major tribes in the Al-Anbar province. Of those thirty-one, twenty-five support the Anbar Awakening effort of the Anbar Salvation Council -- the social and political gathering of sheiks and former insurgents who oppose terroism in Al-Anbar. Of the six remaining tribes, the Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and the Anbar Salvation Council are attempting to split two off from the Al-Qaeda umbrella organization, Islamic State of Iraq. Those two tribes are the Al-bu Issa and the Al-Zuba'a. Both have started to fight against Al-Qaeda, and are beginning to pay for it dearly. One chlorine bomb detonated in the Al-bu Issa region of Falluja, as I wrote before, injuring 250 civilians.
Thahir al-Dari is the sheik of the Al-Zuba'a tribe. His son, Harith Dhaher al-Dari was a military leader in the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades. The 1920 Revolutionary Brigades is a nationalist Sunni insurgent group that was formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Earlier this year, the group began to split -- one splinter wanted to remain with Al-Qaeda, and the other wanted a break because of disagreements over methods and goals (including issues such as Al-Qaeda's frequent targeting of civilians). Since the rift began, members of the 1920's Brigades have been working with the Anbar Salvation Council (including fighting Al-Qaeda in defense of one of the council leaders), and reportedly engaging in talks with the government and coalition forces. Harith al-Dari was killed by Al-Qaeda fighters near Abu Ghraib yesterday, along with a bodyguard.
His father, the sheik, narrowly escaped. Salam al-Zuba'a is one of the deputy prime ministers of Iraq, from the Al-Zuba'a tribe. He narrowly escaped being assassinated in a car bomb attack on his mosque on March 23rd. The chief suspect in the bombing is one of his bodyguards -- accused of being a member of an insurgent group friendly to Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Anbar Salvation Council.
Two years ago, Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan tried to gather other tribes together to stand against Al-Qaeda. He was swiftly killed, and the leadership of the other tribes was dismantled. Al-Qaeda then filled the vacuum, and the insurgency became stronger. Al-Qaeda has tried at least four times to kill senior leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council with bombs or all-out assault, and has killed several leaders of insurgent groups that show signs of willingness to work with the Anbar Salvation Council or the Iraqi government. This time around, though, the situation is far more favorable to the sheiks than it was two years ago. First, the U.S. military has finally begun to work with the tribes in a realistic fashion, paving the way for tribal militias to supplement the Iraqi Forces. Secondly, the Iraqi Forces themselves are far more numerous and better equipped than they were two years ago.
I'll go out on a little bit of a limb and say that the insurgency is quickly approaching a tipping point. If things continue as they are right now, our military won't need a surge to chase the terrorists out of Anbar -- the citizens will do it for us, which is as it should be. It's beginning to show already: more local tips, more police recruits (far more than anticipated) -- and sadly, in bigger and more desperate Al-Qaeda attacks.
At this point, a reconciled insurgent is better than a captured one, and a captured one is better than a dead one. That is a hard fact for the military to accept. We are quickly approaching the point at which more and more soldiers and Marines will be asked to support men who fought with and sometimes killed their brothers-in-arms. That is not an easy thing to do, even in the aftermath of a conventional war, and it is far more difficult when fighting an insurgency. However, it is absolutely necessary. We will be asked to fight the strategy of our enemy rather than his fleeting fighters. We will have to defeat Al-Qaeda's attempts to disrupt and derail the efforts of the population to end the violence. We will have to spend more time away from our big, safe bases, and more time getting to know the local leaders -- the leaders that can tell their men to join the Iraqi forces and forsake the insurgency. We will spend more time with their people -- the people that have known the insurgents since they were children. The people that form an intelligence net far more effective than ours will ever be, if they trust us enough to share it.
It's a big job, but I think we may have finally learned enough forgotten lessons from places like East Timor, Vietnam, Ireland, Malaysia, and others that it just might work this time.
Color me hopeful.
Last point: Robert Gates was quoted in Iraq to the effect that the level of American forces would depend upon the degree of progress made. It wasn't clear to me whether that meant troops would be withdrawn if there was progress, or if there wasn't. But he did say we would not indefinitely patrol Iraqi streets. Gates, I think, understands that the Army and Marines simply have to have a a withdrawal soon--just as Melvin Laird did in 1969-70.
On another front, on Thursday I caught some interesting questioning of Alberto Gonzales by my own new Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (back in my home state to which I shall be returning in about two months. ) I didn't see any reference to it in the major media, but John Dean, bless his heart, picked it up. To wit:
In a premise to a question for Gonzales, Senator Whitehouse said he had found correspondence in the files of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the days when Orrin Hatch was chairman relating to an investigation of the relationship between the Clinton White House and the Justice Department (under Attorney General Janet Reno). Hatch was concerned about the independence of the Department of Justice, so he wanted to know who in the White House could speak with whom in the Justice Department. The correspondence showed that four people in the White House (the President, Vice President, chief of staff, and White House counsel) could speak with three people in the Justice Department (the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney and the Associate Attorney General) - period.
Senator Whitehouse discovered - and created a chart to make the point - that in the Bush White House, a shocking 417 people could speak with 30 different people in the Justice Department. It was a jaw-dropper. As Chairman Leahy said, when he asked Senator Whitehouse to continue when his time expired, in his thirty years on the Judiciary Committee, he had never seen anything like the open contacts from the White House to the Justice Department that had occurred in the Bush Administration.
Gonzales really had no response when asked about this subject. But this information shows that, in this Administration, the Department of Justice has become a mere political appendage of the White House. (I have a number of friends who are career professionals at the Department of Justice, and since Gonzales arrived, they have said that morale at the department has tanked, for they all feel the politicization of the place, and they do not like it. Many of these gifted, experienced professionals are leaving, which will hurt the Department, the government, and ultimately all of us.)Meanwhile, Gonzales told Senators repeatedly that when they attacked the conduct of prosecutions they were attacking the career personnel!