Iraq: Sunni Tribes Rise Up Against Al-Qaeda, Without Giving Up Guerilla Action
The effect the Americans rely on is similar to the domino theory: push the first tile down so it topples onto the second one, which will topple over the next until the whole line collapses. But when the terrain is as hazardous as Iraq and the “dominos” are the Sunni tribes linked to al-Qaeda, after four years of war the exercise necessarily bumps into obstacles.
Since the formation of an “Al-Anbar Safety Committee” in Ramadi on September 16, 2006, the American Army has praised this initiative, which, it claims, is the source of the reduction in attacks against its soldiers in this province that had been the hard core of the insurrection. A political extension of the committee, the “Al-Anbar Reveille,” led by Abdul Satar Abu Richa, has installed its offices in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
A similar committee is attempting to form in Baquba in Diyala province. On June 10, the American Army congratulated itself after “tribal officials signed an historic agreement in the city of Saddam Hussein’s birth,” Tikrit, in Salaheddine province. More than a hundred sheiks “gave their agreement” there to “defend the province against al-Qaeda.”
The armed groups of the nationalist Iraqi guerilla perceived the October 15, 2006 procession in Ramadi of hooded armed men proclaiming the birth of an “Islamic state of Iraq” led by al-Qaeda as an imposed and unacceptable sovereignty.
But the execration of al-Qaeda nonetheless does not mean that insurgent groups or tribes agree to “collaborate” with the Iraqi authorities, or, still less, with the American Army, perceived as an occupying force.
The story of the “historic agreement” of Tikrit, reported by sources that prefer to maintain their anonymity – tribal chieftains or Iraqi observers contacted by Le Monde in Amman or over the phone in Iraq ? differs from the American version.
The attempts of the head of the new committee, Sheikh Hamed Ibrahim Salem Al-Juburi, “who is not from Tikrit, but from a village close to Biji,” these sources specify, have been met by numerous rejections, notably from Saddam Hussein’s tribe, the Abu Nasser known as Beigat. According to these sources, on May 26, a conference that brought together numerous tribal chieftains took place in the Saddam Al-Kebir mosque in the center of Tikrit, following which a communiquè expressed “the categorical refusal to participate in this committee.” Several days later, according to one tribal chieftain, “resistance fighters attacked Sheikh Hamed Ibrahim al-Juburi’s house, destroyed his house, and kidnapped four of his sons.”
“Stop the Mess”
The head of the “Al-Anbar Safety Committee,” Sheikh Ali Al-Hatem Al-Douleimi, paints a terrifying picture of the problems he has to confront. “We have assembled 32,000 fighters from all the Al-Anbar tribes,” he asserts from Ramadi during a June 8 telephone conversation. “The government does not help our committee. It intervenes directly with the tribes, which produces catastrophic results. The tribes use these weapons to fight against one another. Half the money is stolen; the weapons are resold in the markets. The tribes can dismiss any policeman or official. The only help we demand is the nomination of an officer solid and resilient enough to stop the mess.”
Still more serious, according to him, many al-Qaeda fighters are Iraqi, sometimes from the same tribes that are fighting them. “Some have been arrested by the Al-Anbar Committee’s battalions. As for what happens after their arrest …” “If we have proof of their crimes, we judge them according to sharia (Islamic law),” he relates. “We kill them and get rid of their bodies. Otherwise, we hand them over to the national police for investigation. Usually, we judge them ourselves since we know they’re murderers.”
With respect to “the honest resistance,” continues Sheikh Ali Al-Hatem Al-Douleimi, “we don’t fight against them because they are sons of our tribes. We have asked them not to kill Iraqis, but [rather] Americans, al-Qaeda, Moqtada Al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, and all the militias.”
According to Sheikh Hatem, “many areas of Al-Anbar remain under al-Qaeda’s control, including Ramadi’s center city, Falluja, the cities of Haditha and Kaem at the Syrian border and, more generally, the entire region between Ramadi and Samarra.”
The fight against al-Qaeda, in which some Sunni tribes now take part, seems far from being won.
Interview With Hareth Al-Dari, Secretary General of the Committee of Muslim Ulemas
By Cecile Hennion
Tuesday 12 June 2007
“Al-Qaeda demanded the allegiance of the Iraqi mudjahadijn. That led to fights.”
How do you describe the situation of the Sunni in Iraq, for whom you are the principal religious representative?
The Sunni are marginalized, since the political process established by the (American) occupier is based on sectarian affiliations. The centers of power have been bestowed upon several Shiite and Kurd politicians, who have plunged the country into a tragic state.
An arrest warrant has been issued for you. You’ve taken refuge in Jordan …
Not only did they issue an arrest warrant. (The Iraqi authorities) sent a secret letter to all their foreign embassies, asking that they put my activities under surveillance. Many brothers and I myself have been physically threatened. That doesn’t frighten me, because our fate is ruled by Allah.
The Iraqi government accuses you of inciting community violence.
They’re the ones who called on the United States and the British to invade Iraq by inventing lies about weapons of mass destruction. The Americans have finally discovered their lies and are angry at having been dragged into this quagmire. This government denigrates the opposition and everyone who denounces its sectarian and racist policy.
The Sunni tribes have formed an “Al-Anbar Reveille” to expel al-Qaeda from that province. Is that a strategic turnaround for the Sunni insurrection?
The resistance pursues the task it set itself from the first days of the occupation and continues to prove its power. The occupation forces declare an increased number of losses every day.
The “Al-Anbar reveille” is led by Abdul Sattar Abu Richa, who represents neither the Al-Anbar tribes nor any Iraqi tribe. He’s at the head of a bunch of bandits and unemployed men supported by the Americans and Maliki so that they can supplement the occupation forces in what they call the “war against terrorism.” Abu Richa is a parvenu who has exploited al-Qaeda’s mistakes.
Wasn’t your eponymous nephew, Hareth Al-Dari, believed to be the commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades (a Sunni insurrection group), assassinated at Abu Ghraib in February by al-Qaeda?
Hareth was, in fact, killed by al-Qaeda. He belonged to the 1920 Revolution Brigades, but I don’t know whether he was its leader. When al-Qaeda announced the creation of “an Islamic state in Iraq,” that provoked problems with the resistance. Al-Qaeda demanded that the mudjahadijn swear allegiance to it. The Iraqi resistance fighters found themselves forced to choose between laying down their weapons and being attacked. Factions did not agree. That dispute led to fights. My nephew died a martyr.
You have criticized Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi (the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq killed in 2006) for the decapitations of hostages. What is your opinion of al-Qaeda today?
We make a distinction between the resistance and terrorism. The resistance attacks the occupiers and their Iraqi collaborators. Terrorism targets the innocent sons of the Iraqi people. We have issued over 400 fatwas condemning criminal acts targeting civilians.
What relations do you enjoy with Arab leaders?
Relations with Arab countries are better than ever, but their support is only moral. We hope for more on a diplomatic level.
Do you have contacts with France?
Unfortunately, there are no direct relations with the French government, but I have very good relations with France’s former ambassador to Baghdad, Bernard Bajolet, now posted to Algeria. I went to see him in Algiers.
You were in contact with the Americans in 2004. Are there negotiations underway between the United States and the Committee of Ulemas?
I did, in fact, speak to an American chargè d’affaires in 2004, thanks to Mr. Bajolet’s intervention. At issue were the first Iraqi elections (those of January 31, 2005). Those elections brought a sectarian and spiteful government to power. I told the American: “The only thing capable of restoring calm is your departure. Draw up a communiquè establishing a schedule for the withdrawal of your troops.” The American answered: “We don’t agree.” I haven’t seen any Americans since.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.