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The battle between al Qaeda in Iraq on one side, and the residents of the Baghdad district of Amariyah, the Islamic Army of Iraq, and the 1920 Revolution Brigades on the other, dominated the headlines late yesterday and this morning. The Washington Post reported that the battle began Wednesday "over accusations that al-Qaeda in Iraq had executed Sunnis without reason," and portrayed the conflict as one pitting the residents of Amariyah against al Qaeda. The Associated Press stated the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades had also joined the battle against al Qaeda. And, perhaps most significant, AFP reported that the Anbar Salvation Council had sent in a unit to fight al Qaeda in the neighborhood.
"We dispatched around 50 of our secret police from Anbar to Amiriyah, and started to hit Al Qaeda there. We killed a lot of them," Sheikh Hamid al-Hais, the head of the Anbar Salvation Council, told AFP in a phone interview. "A similar operation will be launched in Al-Ghazaliyah against Al Qaeda today. We have sufficient information on places they are in, and we will punish them."
The Anbar Salvation Council has formed a "clandestine SWAT unit" that is capable of operating outside of the western province, an American military intelligence official close to the operations of the group told us. These are the "secret police' described by of Sheikh al-Hais.
This is not the first expeditionary engagement by the Anbar Salvation Council. In the beginning of May, this "clandestine SWAT unit" engaged al Qaeda in the town of al-Nibayi, near Taji in Salahadin province. The Anbar Salvation Council then claimed they had killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, but they had actually killed Muharib Abdul Latif, al Qaeda's information minister, as well as Sabah Hilal al-Shihawi, Latif's religious advisor, and Abu Ammar al-Masri, an operative that was "facilitating insurgent activity and infrastructure support for al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Back in Amariyah, Mohammed Abdul Khaliq, the neighborhood mayor, claimed al Qaeda is on the decline due to its abuse of power, but warned U.S. forces to stay out of the fighting. "I think this is going to be the end of the al-Qaeda presence here," Mr. Khaliq told the Washington Post in a telephone interview. "But if the Americans interfere, it will blow up, because they are the enemy of us both, and we will unite against them and stop fighting each other."
There have been conflicting reports of U.S. involvement in the fighting. "Lt. Col. Dale C. Kuehl, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, who is responsible for the Amariyah area of the capital, confirmed the U.S. military's role in the fighting in the Sunni district," according to the AP. The American intelligence official informed us that U.S. forces are hesitant to engage in fighting as they are "unable to distinguish between the Islamic Army in Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and al Qaeda"--all are fighting in plain clothes. Six al Qaeda have been reported killed and 45 captured. U.S. and Iraqi security forces are said to have moved into the neighborhood and established a curfew.
The fighting between al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic Army of Iraq, and the 1920 Revolution Brigades is not a new development. In March of this year, the two sides fought pitched battles in the town of Amiriya in Anbar province, as well as in Diyala. Just today, al Qaeda attacked the 1920 Revolution Brigades in Baqubah. "Northeast of Baghdad, an al-Qaida-linked suicide bomber blew himself up Friday in a house sheltering members of the rival 1920 Revolution Brigades, killing two of the other militants and wounding four," the Associated Press reported. "The suicide bombing of Sunni insurgent groups is no small matter," the American intelligence official told us in a phone interview. "Al Qaeda is alienating these groups while diverting needed resources from attacking U.S. and Iraqi government targets."
In March, we noted that "elements of the Islamic Army in Iraq, Jaish Al-Mujahideen, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and other elements of the Sunni insurgency are battling al Qaeda in Anbar, and are fighting alongside government forces. Al Qaeda is countering by assassinating as many of the leaders of the Sunni opposition as possible." This fighting has spread outside of Anbar, into Diyala, Salahadin, and Baghdad as the Awakening movement spreads to the provinces. Today, the 1920 Revolution Brigades has been "by and large co-opted," according to the American intelligence official, while the Islamic Army in Iraq is fragmented between pro and anti-al Qaeda factions.
The fighting in Amariyah comes just as Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, discussed the prospects of reconciliation with insurgent groups, with the exclusion of al Qaeda. "I believe there are elements [of the insurgency] that are irreconcilable, but I believe the large majority are [reconcilable]," said LTG Odierno in yesterday's press briefing. "The figures I use, I believe, about 80 percent are reconcilable, both Jaish al-Mahdi as well as Sunni insurgents. I believe little, very few of al Qaeda are reconcilable, but there might be a small portion."
To conduct reconciliation talks, each insurgent group will first need to establish a political wing. This is where the Anbar Salvation Council, and its political arm, the Anbar Awakening, came into play in the province. "The Awakening is the face of reconciliation for all practical purposes in Anbar," the American intelligence official familiar with the group informed us.
LTG Odierno confirmed this in yesterday's press briefing. "[The Iraqi government has] reached out to the tribes in Al Anbar, and they are working with them in order to continue their movement towards the political process," he said. "And that's what this reconciliation is about. It's about bringing these groups into the political process so we can deal with their differences in a peaceful way instead of in violent ways." And, as we have noted repeatedly, the Awakening movement is spreading throughout Iraq.