Saturday, September 17, 2005

More good news from Iraq

The recent counter-insurgency operation in Talafar was important from a tactical point of view but also because it signals a strategy shift in how Coalition Forces operate and collaborate with the Iraqis’.

This Press Briefing on “Overview of Operation Restoring Rights in Tall Afar, Iraq” illustrate it very well. A number of journos ask questions about the operation to Colonel H. R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, assigned to Multinational Forces Northwest in Iraq; they are from Reuters, CNN, Los Angeles Times, etc..

Strangely, none of this appears on their papers or broadcasts. Excerpts:

I'd like just to briefly characterize the enemy, describe who we're fighting here. This is an enemy, who when they came in, they removed all the imams from the mosques, and they replaced them with Islamic extremist laymen. They removed all the teachers from the schools and replaced them with people who had a fifth-grade education and who preached hatred and intolerance. They murdered people. In each of their cells that they have within the city has a direct action cell of about 100 or so fighters.

The enemy here did just the most horrible things you can imagine, in one case murdering a child, placing a booby trap within the child's body and waiting for the parent to come recover the body of their child and exploding it to kill the parents. Beheadings and so forth.

And we were able to gain access to intelligence here by a very good relationship with the people, who recognized this enemy for who they are and were very forthcoming with human intelligence. In one raid in the beginning of June, for example, we were able to capture 26 targeted individuals, some of the worst people here in Tall Afar, within a 30-minute period. And the enemy began to realize this isn't working either, they can't hide in plain sight anymore.

So, we achieved, I think, an unprecedented level of cooperation between civil officials and our partnership units: the police, the mayor and the people. (Laughs.) I think the people are sick and tired of this violence, of this enemy, and they are very grateful for our efforts, and the Iraqi army's efforts in particular, to rid them of this enemy. The cooperation with the people, again: another important element of our success here, the access to the intelligence that that relationship we've developed with the people has given us.

Read it all, as it will make clear that the latest communiqué from Zarqawi confirms that the terrorists are having a tough time:

A closer look at al-Zarqawi's rhetoric shows that he is up against a wall. While he appears strong enough to wreak havoc on the population -- claiming more than a dozen car bombings and twice that many armed attacks on police and civilians this week -- he also made a point this week to chastise Iraqi tribesmen whose support for his movement has eroded considerably in recent weeks.

Other evidence points to a growing discontent among tribesmen. Last month, four Sunni tribes in Al-Ramadi forced al-Zarqawi loyalists from two neighborhoods after they tried to force long-time Shi'a residents from the city (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 August 2005). Sunni tribesmen are thought to have provided al-Zarqawi and his supporters safe haven, transportation, and other assistance that aided their insurgency over the past 2 1/2 years. If that support dries up, al-Zarqawi's ability to operate in the Sunni stronghold areas will be radically affected.

It seems that one of the first priorities now for the Iraqi government would be to act on the warrant for the arrest of Al Sadr to eliminate a possible ally of the Sunni/foreign insurgency:

Al-Sadr has increasingly aligned his view with Sunnis opposed to the transitional government, the U.S. "occupation," and the draft constitution. Like al-Zarqawi, al-Sadr loathes the Shi'ites aligned with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The cleric views SCIRI as his main rival for power, and SCIRI's armed wing, the Al-Badr Corps, as the main rival to his militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army.

From al-Sadr's perspective, an alliance with al-Zarqawi would serve his goal of driving U.S. forces from Iraq, deposing the transitional government, and establishing an Islamic state in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi shares the same political goals -- although the two men differ on doctrinal grounds. In both men's quest for power, an alliance would bolster the insurgency. Most likely, both men assume that they could use the other, and should the insurgency triumph, each could overpower the other to become the supreme authority in Iraq.


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