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April 28, 2006
Zarqawi Got His Answer

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared on video earlier this week, exhorting Iraqi Sunnis to join the insurgency and defeat the United States. Today the Iraqis gave an answer to one of his lieutenants, only the message will not get hand-delivered, thanks to the Iraqi security forces:

Iraqi commando forces acting on a tip raided a house where Hamid al-Takhi and the two other insurgents were hiding in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of Baghdad, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed. All three were killed in a gunbattle.

Mohammed said al-Takhi had been responsible for many insurgent attacks against coalition forces and civilians in the area.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq — the country's most feared insurgent group — appeared in a video earlier this week trying to rally Sunni Arabs to fight Iraq's new government and denouncing Sunnis who cooperate with it as "agents" of the Americans.

Apparently, Zarqawi needs to hone his presentation skills. In an area heavily populated by the same Sunnis that he called to terrorism, the Iraqi security forces got hot intel on a key member of the insurgency and adeptly canceled his ticket. That speaks volumes for two reasons. First, the Iraqi civilians didn't buy Zarqawi's nonsense, not while his lunatics blow up everyone in sight, and they have reacted by giving out better and more useful intelligence to security forces. Second, this appears to have been an exclusively Iraqi operation. The emergence of the new Iraqi Army and police forces show the country's increasing ability to stand on its own.

That should become even easier after the leading cleric in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, not only endorsed the new Iraqi Prime Minister but also called for a dissolution of all militias, including the Shi'ites. Nouri al-Maliki met with Sistani yesterday and got an endorsement for the government push to absorb all militias into the military structure. Sistani released a statement pressuring all factions to comply:

"Therefore, weapons must be exclusively in the hands of government forces, and these forces must be built on a proper national basis so that their loyalty is to the country alone, not to political or other sides," a statement from al-Sistani's office said.

Maliki wants to build a civilian-controlled security force, one that has no loyalty to anything except the democratic government, and the endorsement of Sistani provides a critical piece of that effort. Maliki told the cleric that he will appoint defense and interior ministers without any connections to existing militias. Sistani agreed with this approach and urged him to make security his first priority. This impacts no one more than Moqtada al-Sadr, his ostensible acolyte but more practically his biggest rival. Sadr's Mahdi Army will have the highest profile in this push to eliminate sectarian militias, and it will prove interesting to see if Sadr can withstand Sistani.

The resolution of the political impasse in Iraq has paid dividends. Let's hope this continues. If it does, Zarqawi may have more video sessions in his immediate future.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 28, 2006 5:41 AM

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