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April 04, 2007


Gregory Gause

Al-Hayat a few days ago (I forget whether it was Saturday or Sunday's paper) reported on this, portraying it as a split within the Kata'ib al-'Ashriin between those who were willing to do along with the growing al-Qa'ida-ization of parts of the Sunni insurgency and those who did not like that trend and were willing to do a deal with the government. Part of the split, according to the article, was tribal, in that one group (sorry, I forget which tribe it is, maybe the Jubour) was appalled at the al-Qa'ida practice of assassinating al-Anbar leaders who were not toeing their line, including many of their own people. The report also said that this break-away group had the blessing of the AMS and Harith al-Dari, and that in fact one of al-Dari's relatives was one of those assassinated by the al-Qa'ida types.

One can read this two ways, of course: 1) Hurray! Real splits in the Sunni insurgency, a real set-back to al-Qa'ida. I hope that is it; or 2) that al-Qa'ida is actually making headway in its efforts to take over the Sunni insurgency, in effect forcing a rump group from a major insurgent/Sunni Arab organization to leave because the organization itself has gone with AQI. This is an empirical question, but I would not be as quick as the esteemed Abu Ardvaark to discount the possibility that AQI is making real headway. Two years ago I would have discounted this possibility also. Now I am not so sure. The dynamics of violent resistance favor the most extreme over long periods of time. When I read interviews with leaders in the Anbar Salvation Council, they do not sound like guys who are winning. Meanwhile AQI has declared the Islamic State in Iraq, has set up an information office and seems to be doing stuff that indicates some amount of institutionalization.

These are straws in the wind, I realize. I do not know what is going on in al-Anbar and Diyala and Baghdad. If anybody does, please let us know. But right now, I am not ready to read this bit of news as unabashedly positive as the noble and enlightened author of this invaluable blog.


Greg - thanks, I missed the al-Hayat story, must have been when I was on the road. One correction, though: I didn't mean to present this as "positive" or to downplay the possibility that ISI is doing well. Just wanted to put the info out there since I hadn't seen it mentioned anywhere yet. Anyway, I'm going to elevate your comment to the main post because it's useful context.

Gregory Gause

Many thanks to the estimable Abu A for putting my first post on the main page. Now, of course, I have to do more work to support my point.

I rifled through my recycling bin and found that particular copy of Al-Hayat. It was Sunday April 1 (though I do not think that the article was an April Fools joke), page 1. It is datelined Baghdad, but with no correspondent's name. That might be prudent talking about these things.

An Iraqi government source, it seems from Talibani's office, reports that there are contacts between Talibani and elements of the al-'Uwaysat 'ashira (near Falluja) to "withdraw from their alliance with al-Qa'ida and support the Anbar Salvation Council in its armed operations against al-Qa'ida." The story goes on to say that these contacts come after the decision by the Zawb'a (transliteration?) 'ashira to join the Anbar Salvation Council. The article says that most of the members of the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution come from this tribal group.

The source in the Iraqi president's office reports (note the source for all of this) that the government is also in touch with elements of the al-Jabour tribe in Tikrit to try to bring them around, because AQI kidnapped their shaykh, Naji Jabara.

The source also says that the government is in touch with a number of other tribal and militia groups in the insurgency to "cut their political and military and financial relations with the Islamic State of Iraq."

There was also an al-Hayat article on March 31, again with no correspondent named,again on the front page above the fold, datelined al-Anbar and Baghdad, which talked about the break in the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution and the creation of Hamas-Iraq, which said that the break came after the break-away leaders had engaged in talks with the government and the U.S. This article quotes somebody named Abu Hadhifa, an official in the break-away group, as saying that al-Qa'ida had assassinated one of the founders of the 1920 Battalions, Harith Thahir al-Dari, a cousin of Harith al-Dari of the Association of Muslim Scholars, because he refused to join the Islamic State of Iraq. The article goes on to report later that around 30 leaders of the 1920 Battalions and the Islamic Army had either been assassinated by AQI or had died in battles with AQI over control of ammunition caches. It also cites a statement by Harith al-Dari attacking the Islamic State of Iraq and saying it was a suspicious plan to divide Iraq.

Abu Hadhifa denied that his organization had entered into any kind of final agreement with the government and the Anbar Salvation Council. However, he said that the crisis in the insurgency goes beyond the assassinations, as AQI is intimidating the officials and funding sources and confiscating the weapons and ammunition stores for all sorts of insurgent organizations if they do not pledge allegiance to AQI and its leader, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and turn their funds over to him.

The al-Hayat correspondent goes on to say that the newspaper had received an announcement from the 1920 Battalions confirming the split in the organization, attributing it to the willingness of the break-away group (Hamas-Iraq) to negotiate with the government and coordinate with the Anbar Salvation Council.

The article also quotes a source in the Islamic Army confirming clashes with AQI.

So, what to make of all of this? Clearly something has happened in the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution. Some of them have come over, or are in the process of coming over, to the government. We do not know how many or what this means, but Talibani would not have talked about it at a press conference if there wasn't some basis to it. But we also know, if we can believe these sources, that AQI is trying to do something equivalent to what Bashir al-Gemayel did with the Lebanese Christian militias in the late 1970's: pull off Mafia-style intimidation hits to bring all the armed forces under their control. It is very much worth watching how this all plays out. Like Abu A, I wonder about the credibility of all these sources. But all this bears watching.

Complusive Reader

These could be new developments, or, considering the "government source", that this may be a more sophisticated "psy-ops" in attempt to split the insurgency? The reason I bring this up is that the Al-Hayat article mentions the "Anbar Salvation Council" which has been touted for the last two years intermittently. I wonder, what ties the frequency of mention of "Anbar Salvation Council" to events on the ground? Failure of the government or failure of the occupation? Remember, the "Anbar Salvation Council" was supposed to take back Ramadi a couple months ago? Didn't we (Americans) just destroy the town recently? I'm very skeptical of any mention of "Anbar Salvation Council".

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