The Iraqi Insurgent Divide Widens
The residents of troubled Sunni city of Samarra, where the insurgency has maintained an active presence, have voiced its dismay ay al-Qaeda’s brutal tactics. One week ago, a local resident tipped off Coalition forces on the whereabouts of an insurgent bomb-making cell. A joint Iraqi-Coalition raid netted seven suspects, including two of the city’s most wanted terrorists. Two days ago, a demonstration against al-Qaeda, organized by the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Muslim Scholars’ Association, turned out over 1,000 protestors.
Kamal Ahmed, a protest organizer, spoke out against al-Qaeda; “They have to stop killing innocent people like recruits, journalists and children… If they don’t stop, we’ll fight them directly.” Abu Omar, of the Islamic Army of Iraq, spoke out against al-Qaeda propensity to kill innocent bystanders; “We work against the US occupation without hurting innocents… If al-Qaida is against the ideology behind the insurgency, it’s time to force them out of our country. We will kill the militants to show how far we will go to save the lives of innocent people.”
Maj. Gen. Richard Zahner, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence for Multinational Forces - Iraq, provides some reasons for the split between domestic insurgents and al-Qaeda. Of note:
Iraq’s complex network of tribes and family relations means some families have members on both sides of the conflict. The foreign fighters’ killing of police and government officials is beginning to trigger a response from local insurgents who are more loyal to tribe and family than to ideology… Al-Qaeda’s aim of turning Iraq into a strict Islamic caliphate has turned some Iraqi fighters against the group…
The split between the insurgents and al-Qaeda is yet another example of problems with coexisting in close proximity to al-Qaeda. While the insurgents and al-Qaeda may share a similar goal - the ejection of U.S. forces from Iraq - there is a certain limit which groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq will reach before ending cooperation with al-Qaeda. The wanton murder of their neighbors and the imposition of Taliban-like rule appears to be the limit.
Time Magazine finally addresses the issue of the split in the insurgency in an article titled A Rebel Crack-Up? U.S. Senator Jack Reed is quoted as saying “”The center of mass of the insurgency is not the foreign terrorists… They’re a small band able to create spectacular attacks. But the real long-term danger is the Sunnis continuing to fight.”
When looking at the security situation strictly in Iraq, this is true as if al-Qaeda is indeed marginalized or ejected, the Iraqi government will still need to deal with the more extensive domestic insurgency. But al-Qaeda provides the knowledge, expertise, leadership and cash for the most violent attacks, which threatens the confidence in the Iraqi government. al-Qaeda’s removal from the scene would allow for the government to negotiate and deal with the more ‘saner’ elements of the insurgency, knowing they are no longer in bed with the foreign terrorists. The insurgency will not end with the removal of al-Qaeda, but it will certainly change its nature.
When looked at from a higher level - the overall struggle against al-Qaeda in the Global War on Terror - the rejection of al-Qaeda by their Muslim brethren fighting against the forces of the West is a major strategic defeat for al-Qaeda. The premier terrorist group and self-proclaimed defenders of the faith could not maintain support in the heart of the Middle East among its most likely group of supporters: minority Sunnis subject to the rule of a Shiite-dominated government. This is part of the ideological struggle which is sorely missed in the popular reporting and analysis.