Al Qaeda is having a bad reaction in Diyala province.
12:00 AM, Aug 29, 2007 • By MARIO LOYOLA
Many of the al Qaeda fleeing Operation Lightning Hammer have headed south along the seam formed by Coalition forces moving in strength between Baqubah and Baghdad--the way west was blocked by a screen of air assault squadrons, and the way north was blocked by the troops heading down from the north end of the valley.
A little over a week ago, some of those fleeing were stopped near Kanan, a town several miles west of Baqubah, by what the military describes as "concerned local nationals"--basically, one of the neighborhood watch groups that are springing up all over Diyala province.
Unfortunately for the insurgents, the local tribal sheiks had recently sworn allegiance to the central government, alliance to the Coalition, and enmity to al Qaeda. A firefight ensued and the al Qaeda group was hit hard, reportedly losing some 15 fighters in the engagement.
Several days later, around sunrise on the morning of August 23, the al Qaeda fighters returned, armed for revenge.
Initial reports had the number of attackers around 200, butinitial reports in Iraq are almost always wildly exaggerated. Elements of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division (one of the units involved in the Lightning Hammer clearing operations) arrived later that day to do battle-damage assessments and interview the locals.
According to their reports, this is what happened:
During the attack, ten villagers were killed and eleven more injured, while 14 civilians were kidnapped--nine women and five children. The kidnap victims were related to Sheik Younnis, who was killed in the attacks. An Iraqi Army checkpoint was attacked, also near the village of Sheik Younnis. A mosque was also damaged (no word on the extent of the damage, but I was told that it was still standing--contrary to initial reports). In addition, two houses and an Iraqi Police checkpoint were destroyed by explosives.
Incidents such as this, horrifying as they are, need to be seen in their true light. The attackers of the Kanan incident did their cause no good at all. According to the military, many villagers told the visiting brigade commander that al Qaeda's brutality would only stiffen their resolve and cause other nearby villages to stand up against them.
Al Qaeda is no longer master of events in Iraq. Since the surge in operations--and particularly since the start of Phantom Strike--they have lost the initiative. They attacked when and where they did because they are on the run and getting no local support. The attack was forced upon them by the dilemma they face: what to do with their weapons.
Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is embedded with the Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq.