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Today's Washington Post notes a significant event in the foreign-based "insurgency" that has killed hundreds of Iraqis as well as American troops in Iraq. The terrorists of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi found themselves faced off against native Iraqi forces after killing a local tribal chief while the Marines watched from the sidelines. Most significantly, the Iraqis who had had enough of the Zarqawi insurgency were Sunnis:
For four days this month, U.S. Marines were onlookers at just the kind of fight they had hoped to see: a battle between suspected followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a foreign-born insurgent, and Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters at the western frontier town of Husaybah.
In clashes sparked by the assassination of a tribal sheik, which was commissioned by Zarqawi, the foreign insurgents and the Iraqi tribal fighters pounded one another with small weapons and mortars in the town's streets as the U.S. military watched from a distance, tribal members and the U.S. military said. ...
The Sunni Arab tribe involved in the clashes, the Sulaiman, lost four men, Salman Reesha Sulaiman, a member of the tribe, said in an interview after the fighting, which occurred during the first week of May.
On the Zarqawi side, 11 foreign fighters were killed outright, plus an unknown number of other foreign fighters and their Iraqi allies in U.S. bombing runs after local tribes tipped off their location to the Americans.
The fighting at Husaybah was a dramatic sign of the fractures in support and allegiance the foreign fighters are experiencing, several Iraqi political leaders and other Iraqis said. The battles also revealed what appeared to be fissures within the network's top leadership, they said.
The fighting started when the local tribal sheikh invited the Marines to a goodwill lunch to promote good relations between his tribe and the Americans. Zarqawi ordered him assassinated for the crime of collaboration, and proudly took credit for the murder after it occurred. However, Arabs don't take kindly to the killing of their tribal leaders, even by accident; they won't stand for their deliberate killing, regardless of the reason.
Nor did Zarqawi make his presence in Husaybah particularly popular after the murder. He forced the women to cover themselves from head to toe, and forbade the men from wearing "Western" clothing. Satellite and music stores had to close their doors, and Zarqawi's minions openly bragged about making Husaybah another Fallujah, perhaps forgetting Fallujah's eventual fate.
Eventually the provocations became too much for the Sulaiman, which reacted with surprising force and vehemence. In this, they embodied the hope of American policy regarding the insurgents -- that the Iraqis themselves would rise up and fight them on their own, without American prompting. In fact, as the Post reports, both sides took care to avoid hitting Marine positions in order to keep them from entering the battle on behalf of the Sulaiman -- Zarqawi for obvious reasons, and the Sulaiman for reasons of honor. Once the Zarqawi terrorists went on the run, the Sulaiman provided intelligence to the Marines, who attacked them from the air.
This demonstrates the progress that America has made in Iraq, and how much damage that Zarqawi's indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians does to his cause. The Sunni have not remained monolithically opposed to Americans, and tribe by tribe may have started to realize that the collapse of the Ba'athists does not necessarily mean that they face slavery by the Shi'a. In fact, after Husaybah, they understand even more clearly that slavery comes from Zarqawi and his ilk -- and they're willing to fight to defeat it.Sphere It View blog reactions
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