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Daily Column
Iraqi/Arab Papers Saturday: War(s) in Anbar
Al-Qa'ida Establishes its State in the Province; Tribes and Locals Push Back
By AMER MOHSEN 03/02/2007 11:24 PM ET
Az-Zaman reported that the alleged rape case of Sabreen al-Janabi, along with the arrest of several Iraqi women by the security forces, are creating a backlash against the Iraqi police, who have been increasingly targeted by armed groups in the last few days.

After demands were rejected to release Iraqi women held up in Abu Ghreib prison, Az-Zaman said that 14 Iraqi policemen were “executed” by an armed group that had taken them hostage in Dialy province.

Meanwhile, Iraqi papers report that units of the American and Iraqi armies are starting to take up positions in more violent parts of Baghdad, departing from an earlier practice whereby security forces would concentrate in the safer areas, in fortified positions.

Al-Mada said that the reordering of army units in Baghdad is a prelude for the launch of similar “security plans” in the Anbar and Dialy provinces, where large swaths of the landscape are still under the control of anti-government armed groups.

Developments in al-Anbar need to be watched closely, as more and more sources report the eruption of clashes between al-Qa'ida and other armed groups, involving tribes as well as security forces.

In an unsigned report on al-Anbar published in pan-Arab al-Hayat, the province was described as the site of several conflicts being waged at once. News outlets relayed in the last few days that dozens of al-Qa'ida elements were killed in Falluja (80 killed, according to the estimates of the Interior Ministry), what was not emphasized by the Western press was that the battle did not occur solely between al-Qa'ida and the Iraqi state, but that it was the result of an al-Qa'ida offensive against a rival tribe (the Abu 'Issa), which fought back along with the security forces, repelling the attackers.

According to the al-Hayat piece, al-Qa'ida is fighting several enemies at once in al-Anbar; firstly, rival factions in the insurgency refuse al-Qa'ida’s plans to dominate and centralize the insurgency in its own hands. Second, several Anbari tribes are rejecting the projects and tactics of al-Qa'ida and its factions, which is pushing them to build alliances with the security forces. Finally, the Iraqi government is benefiting from this state of affairs to build bridges with local forces and besiege al-Qa'ida’s presence.

The problems started, al-Hayat claimed in its story, when al-Qa'ida decided to launch the project of an “Islamic state” in Iraq, based in al-Anbar. The idea did not find wide acceptance among the populace, al-Hayat added, especially when al-Qa'ida started using threats and violence to coerce the tribes. According to “sources in the armed groups”, “the behavior al-Qa'ida’s elements . . . began to resemble that of bandits,” which alienated many Anbaris, and the fanatical groups started issuing identity cards, making arrests and collecting taxes on behalf of the “Islamic state.” These practices led to the defection of several tribes to the government’s side. (The report named the Bu 'Issa and the Bu Mir'i clans).

The political map of al-Anbar remains unclear and few observers offer confident analysis on the relations between the many factions that constitute the Iraqi insurgency. Al-Hayat’s report named “the Brigades of the 1920 Revolt” and “the Islamic Army” among those who suffered losses in al-Qa'ida attacks. The two groups participated heavily in the resistance against the US military, and are said to be controlled wholly by Iraqi elements, as opposed to al-Qa'ida’s factions, who enjoy support from outsiders. But these remain “impressions” and “rumors,” not confirmed reports, as these groups remain underground and make rare media appearances, aside from videos and statements emphasizing their attacks against US forces.

Al-Mada had a front-page story on the same topic, detailing a scene of the showdown between al-Qa'ida and Iraqi tribes in the small city of Hit on the Euphrates. “Hit can no longer stand al-Qa'ida, it is an eternal divorce,” said a local schoolteacher. Supposedly, major tribes in the city have cooperated with the Iraqi police to expel al-Qa'ida’s elements from their town. The move was directed specifically at al-Qa'ida, not at Iraqi factions who fight the US military: “the police apparatus was able to isolate al-Qa'ida from Iraqi-based armed groups . . . who say that they only target the Americans,” a “security source” told al-Mada.

According to al-Mada’s report, the police are providing services and subsidized goods to the populace in order to set an example for other cities to follow. Hit was once a safe haven for extremist groups, and its strategic location made it a staging ground for al-Qa'ida’s operations in the province.


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