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US Papers Tue: New Chances for Al-Qaeda?
Cleric's Ascent to Local Strongman Shows Shift, Bombings in Iraq as Biden Visits
By DANIEL W. SMITH 01/13/2009 01:59 AM ET
Still not a great deal of Iraqi coverage, with the usual complete absences in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Baghdad explosions and Sen. Biden are reported on in the New York Times, and al-Qaeda’s past dominance/Iraq’s new power struggles are covered in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

From Baghdad
Timothy Williams of the New York Times reports that a series of bombings around Baghdad killed eight people and wounded at least 29 others on Monday morning, a few hours before Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in the Iraqi capital for an unannounced visit, and met with President Jalal Talabani.

Williams points out that most of the bombs seemed to target Iraqi police and army convoys, the trend for some time now. He lists the circumstances of several bombings in some detail, giving a good overall idea of the kind of incidents which most frequently occur. Sticky bombs are a running theme. According to the US military, an American soldier was killed in a non-combat-related episode on Sunday in the city of Samarra, but they gave no further details.

On Monday, the Iraqi government also released a national poverty survey of 18,144 families conducted during 2007 by the World Bank, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and the Kurdish Regional Ministry of Planning, which found that “most of the families lacked indoor plumbing and that about half the homes were infested with insects or rats”.

Elsewhere in Iraq
Next are two articles which explore the past dominance of groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, the role of the Sons of Iraq, and the new power struggles which have arisen.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Tom A. Peter files from Yusufiyah, and begins with...
Three months before Amin al-Qaraghouli walked into a meeting of tribal sheikhs here and blew himself up, killing 23 people, he was in jail for planting roadside bombs. He was freed after local elders backed his claim that he had abandoned his violent past. The Jan. 3 attack in this town of dirt roads and mud-brick buildings 25 miles southwest of Baghdad was the worst suicide bombing in months and a deadly reminder that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) remains within striking distance.
Peter poses the question “As US withdraws, will Al Qaeda in Iraq find new openings?”, and though he cites examples, as above, that its presence remains, the answer is mostly “no.” Though some locals in Yusufiyah are still protecting members of al-Qaeda, they have been mostly stamped out by the SOI, and the size and general presence of the Iraqi security forces, though flawed, bodes well.

If violence does return in Iraq when the US leaves it is likely to look different, if for no other reason than because many of the key players from the insurgency were killed or captured during the surge, says a senior lecturer at Cambridge University who specializes in war and insurgencies.

Peter ends with an unsettling local solution in Yusufiya.
While the growth of tribal influence may provide a counterbalance to sectarian politics, it could also lead to a rise in violent civil disputes. The Yusufiyah bombing reveals frustrations within the local SOI group, the country's community policing program that arose from the Awakening Movement.

From now on, Mr. Qaraghouli, the deputy, says if the SOI know someone is guilty of murder they will skip the court and execute the alleged killer themselves. He admits this type of vigilante justice could create enduring bloodshed. "We will risk hate and fighting forever. It will affect the future of our sons," he says, undeterred.
On page one of the Washington Post, a second look AQI, SOI, and new power structures within Iraq. The most impressive article of the day, by Anthony Shadid, is about the rise of power of a Sunni cleric in the northern city of Thuluyah.

The subject, Nadhim Khalil and others (both for and against him) tell of his past as an al-Qaeda allied insurgent involved in sectarian violence and his transformation into what he has now become – a strong-talking cleric/SOI leader with great power and influence in the area, who aspires to be a member of parliament.
He heads a council of 10 tribal leaders established last year by Maliki, the prime minister's tentative but far-reaching attempt to cultivate rural support. He said he meets with the U.S. military every two weeks. Each Tuesday, he gathers a council in Thuluyah with the mayor and heads of the police, city council and army to review security here.
What changed since his al-Qaeda days, you ask?
Khalil's analysis is blunt: He used to be on the losing side. His formula is simple: With God, guns and money, he is now the authority in town.
"I'm sure the Americans will leave after a little while, and there's nothing I achieve by killing them now. I could kill them anytime, anywhere, and so what?" he asked. "In the beginning, the thought was that you could achieve your goal with weapons, but honestly? That investment has shown no return. That company has shown no profit."

He doesn’t seem like the kind of person you’d want as an enemy.

Shadid, with the extended story of Kahlil’s rise to prominence, tells the story of how power throughout parts of Iraq is playing out, and it is not all comforting.
Definitely worth a full read.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.


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