November 1, 2007

AQI Defeated

Michael Yon reports on a meeting held between US forces and the Iraqi Islamic Party, whose spokesman comes from a politically influential tribe in Iraq. At the meeting, Yon noticed that the usual singular focus on security issues has declined to a lower-priority agenda item, and that rebuilding issues now receive the most attention. The IIP spokesman explained why:

“Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated,” according to Sheik Omar Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party and a member of the widespread and influential Jabouri Tribe. Speaking through an interpreter at a 31 October meeting at the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters in downtown Baghdad, Sheik Omar said that al Qaeda had been “defeated mentally, and therefore is defeated physically,” referring to how clear it has become that the terrorist group’s tactics have backfired. Operatives who could once disappear back into the crowd after committing an increasingly atrocious attack no longer find safe haven among the Iraqis who live in the southern part of Baghdad. They are being hunted down and killed. Or, if they are lucky, captured by Americans.

Colonel Ricky Gibbs, the American brigade commander with responsibility for the Rashid District in south Baghdad today told me, “So goes South Baghdad goes Baghdad.” General Petraeus had told me similar things about the importance of South Baghdad. In fact, Rashid is quickly developing into what might be one of the final serious battlegrounds of the war.

AQI has tried shifting strategies, moving away from inflaming sectarian conflict now that they have been discovered as its main provocateurs. Now they have started to create rifts between the tribes, ironically arriving at a tribal strategy later than the Americans. Omar told Yon that the tribes won't play along this time, as they can see exactly what AQI wants to do. In fact, leaders have warned the young men in the tribes that they will kill them if they work with AQI -- and 70 Jabouris have found out how serious the leaders are about that policy.

We certainly saw the mental defeat and collapse of morale indirectly in Osama bin Laden's last message. Their collapse in western Iraq and flight to the borders indicate how seriously they have lost, and the large declines in violence show how effective AQI provocations had been until the surge and the opposition of the tribes in the Awakening took place. AQI terrorists can no longer hide in Iraqi populations, because hiding among Iraqis has become more dangerous than getting captured by the Americans. Instead, they're running away from Iraq.

If AQI collapses entirely in Iraq, it will be a severe blow to bin Laden's network. He had made Iraq a central front for his war against Western influence in the region and personally blessed this branch of his organization. Osama will look impotent in a failure on that scale -- and that could prove fatal to AQ and eventually to Osama himself.


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