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October 5, 2006
Iraqi Tribes Get Enthusiastic About Counterterrorism

When Nouri al-Maliki negotiated a deal with tribal leaders in Anbar to fight terrorists, some wondered whether the tribes would follow through on their pledges. That question appears answered, according to the LA Times, which reports that they have responded with surprising enthusiasm to the government's call for assistance:

U.S. officials say the decision of some tribal leaders to begin going after insurgents reflects growing public anger over attacks that have killed or injured more than 8,000 Iraqis, according to local government figures. They also say there has been growing alarm on the part of some tribal leaders over insurgents' demands for adherence to strict Islamic law. U.S. military leaders say that alarm has inspired a sense of partnership that didn't exist earlier.

"It's only frankly been the last six months that they've recognized two things: One, they can't do it themselves, and two … they had much more in common with the coalition than they do with Iran," said a senior U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ...

For many tribesmen, support for the government's efforts may be motivated as much by revenge as by hopes for reconciliation with the government: A car bomb in January killed more than 70 police recruits, many of whom were tribesmen, and a local clan leader was assassinated a month later. A popular cleric, Sheik Ayad Izzi, was shot to death in December in a killing that was later blamed on a fatwa, or religious edict, from a young Al Qaeda imam.

Sunni and tribal militiamen have waged retaliatory attacks against Al Qaeda targets for much of the spring and summer, apparently stepping them up in the last few days as plans for the organized tribal force gathered steam.

Last week, Al Iraqiya television reported that the reputed head of Al Qaeda in Al Anbar province, Khalid Ibrahim Mahal, was killed in a joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Tribal leaders took credit for assisting with the operation.

To some extent, it sounds as if the tribal forces were practically panting to get into the fight. Their leaders have watched with horror and rage while foreigners target and kill Iraqis by the dozens, and they want to see both the so-called insurgency and the American occupation end. The tribal leaders also see radical Islamists as a threat to their power, and rightly so. While they want Iraq to have an Islamic nature, they do not want either a Sunni or Shi'ite theocracy on the Iranian or Taliban model.

The tribal backlash shows why the Zarqawi strategy was always a loser. Al-Qaeda needed to win over the Iraqi people to its radical Wahhabist vision, a tough sell in a majority Shi'ite nation. Instead, Zarqawi tried to start a civil war with the short-term goal of getting America to run away from it. That would separate the Sunni areas of Iraq from the oil-producing areas of the nation, locking them into poverty and granting their sectarian opponents the riches of the nation. That's especially true in western Iraq, where Anbar lies, and the tribes have begun to realize the long-term dangers of such a split.

Maliki has managed to make a deal in everyone's best interests in Anbar. Hopefully the tribal leaders can maintain the enthusiasm when they create a formal fighting force for the region under the auspices of the Iraqi government. The al-Qaeda insurgency appears ready to fall in Anbar.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 5, 2006 5:19 AM

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