Saturday, March 11, 2006
Insurgent groups in one of Iraq's most violent provinces claim that they have purged the region of three quarters of al-Qa'eda's supporters after forming an alliance to force out the foreign fighters.
If true, it would mark a significant victory in the fight against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'eda in Iraq, and could partly explain the considerable drop in suicide bombings in Iraq recently.
"We have killed a number of the Arabs, including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis and Jordanians," said an insurgent representative in the western province of Anbar.
The claims were partly supported by the defence ministry, which said it had evidence that Zarqawi and his followers were fleeing Anbar to cities and mountains near the Iranian border.
It is this move that is believed to have prompted a statement a fortnight ago from the insurgent groups in the central city of Hawija that they were declaring war on al-Qae'da. It is being interpreted by intelligence experts as a response to an unwanted influx of foreign fighters seeking refuge. Iraq's Sunni Muslim insurgents had originally welcomed al-Qa'eda into the country, seeing it as a powerful ally in its fight against the American occupation.
But relations became strained when insurgents supported calls for Sunnis to vote in last December's election, a move they saw as essential to break the Shia hold on government but which al-Qa'eda viewed as a form of collaboration. It became an outright split when a wave of bombings killed scores of people in Anbar resulting in a spate of tit-for-tat killings.
In reaction, the insurgent groups formed their own anti-al-Qa'eda militia, the Anbar Revolutionaries. The group has a core membership of 100 people, all of whom had relatives killed by al-Qa'eda. It is led by Ahmed Ftaikhan, a former Saddam-era military intelligence officer.
It claims to have killed 20 foreign fighters and 33 Iraqi sympathisers. Many more are said to have fled. The United States has confirmed that six of Zarqawi's deputies were killed in Ramadi.
Osama al-Jadaan, a tribal chief, has claimed that with the support of the Iraqi army his supporters have captured hundreds of foreign fighters, and has sought to prevent jihadis entering the country from Syria.
Al Qaeda thought that the Coalition's invasion of Iraq would polarize the Arab and Muslim world to its advantage, sending thousands of recruits in its direction and metastesizing the jihad. Maybe it has. But the American military and bull-headed intransigence of the current American president have proven to be much harder targets than bin Laden and his gang imagined they would be. The jihadis found that they could not drive the Americans out with direct attacks, so they murdered Iraqis who "collaborated" with the new government. A year ago January the first elections proved that there were far more "collaborators" -- nine million or more -- than could possibly be killed by al Zarqawi's thugs. So they switched tactics again, hoping next to start a full-blown sectarian civil war. The wisdom of the clerics, the self-interest of the Sunni tribal leaders, the horror of al Qaeda's mass attacks and, yes, deft American diplomacy among the factions have neutralized that tactic as well. Now al Qaeda is quite publicly on the run in Iraq.
Whether or not Iraq emerges as the Jeffersonian democracy imagined by the most optimistic supporters of the war, any obvious defeat of al Qaeda there will be much more than a tactical setback. The public defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq will be a lesson to Arabs and Muslims everywhere in the world that jihadism is a losing ideology, and that given the chance in Afghanistan and now Iraq, the great majority of Arabs and Muslims will choose otherwise. That is the key to victory, and the strategic significance of the Iraq war.
UPDATE: See this related report from Iraq the Model, via Pajamas Media.