February 17, 2007

Anbar Tribes Continue Turning Against Al-Qaeda

With all of the focus on Baghdad and the surge, the second portion of the President's new strategy has gotten little attention. Four thousand Marines have begun arriving in Anbar, the power base for al-Qaeda in Iraq, in order to clear the province of these terrorists. They may find their job a little easier than first thought, as the savagery of AQI has turned many tribal leaders against the extremists:

Sunni tribes in troubled Anbar province have begun working closely with U.S. and government forces, contributing nearly 2,400 men to the police department and 1,600 to a newly organized tribal security force, authorities say.

U.S. troops are training and equipping the new tribal forces, which are called Emergency Response Units (ERUs), and are charged with defending the areas where they live, according to the local U.S. commander.

By a U.S. count, 12 of the Ramadi area's 21 tribes are cooperating in the security effort, six are considered neutral, and three are actively hostile. That is almost the reverse of the tribal posture last June, when three were cooperative and 12 were hostile.

In the tradition of Arab tribes, the Anbar chiefs played both sides against the middle. They cooperated with both sides to get an idea where their interests would lie in the future, as well as to see which side would have the most staying power. The tribes had mostly remained hostile to the US -- understandable, as the Sunnis lost a great deal of power with the fall of Saddam -- until al-Qaeda made the mistake of killing one of the tribal chiefs and then hiding the body. The tribe could not bury him in the Muslim tradition, a scandal that infuriated Sunnis in Anbar and drove many to the US.

Since then, they have started a movement called The Awakening. Last fall, I posted about their pact with the US to hunt down AQI terrorists within the limits of Iraqi law. The Los Angeles Times reported that the tribes had coordinated efforts with American forces to kill one of the provincial AQI leaders, demonstrating their newfound commitment to counterterrorism in Anbar.

That commitment has become even more substantial. Since then, the tribes have contributed thousands of men to security forces specifically operating in Anbar, split between the Iraqi police and a tribal security force that coordinates with the Iraqi government. This seems especially meaningful, as the Sunnis of Anbar have little other incentive to work with the Shi'ite Maliki government. Their contributions to the police means that they have placed their young men in the control of the Interior Ministry, which the Iraq Study Group decided was so infiltrated with Shi'ite militia sympathizers that the police should be stripped from the ministry.

The surge allows the US to demonstrate its commitment to the tribes which have demonstrated their loyalty to us and to a terror-free Iraq. It shows that we are not the weak horse, and that they did not make a mistake by opposing our enemies in their back yards. We have an opportunity to discredit AQI and the assorted radical Islamists in Anbar if we remain dedicated to fighting the terrorists rather than finding ways to cut the resources to the front lines.


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