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Just When we Declared Victory in Anbar...

Much attention lately has been paid to the success the US military has enjoyed in Iraq's Anbar province in establishing a tribal coalition that has joined us in the fight against Al Qaeda. However, as the Washington Post reports, fractures in that coalition are beginning to surface:

A tribal coalition formed to oppose the extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, a development that U.S. officials say has reduced violence in Iraq's troubled Anbar province, is beginning to splinter, according to an Anbar tribal leader and a U.S. military official familiar with tribal politics.

In an interview in his Baghdad office, Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, 35, a leader of the Dulaim confederation, the largest tribal organization in Anbar, said that the Anbar Salvation Council would be dissolved because of growing internal dissatisfaction over its cooperation with U.S. soldiers and the behavior of the council's most prominent member, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. Suleiman called Abu Risha a "traitor" who "sells his beliefs, his religion and his people for money."

Lt. Col. Richard D. Welch, a U.S. military official who works closely with the tribal leaders in Iraq, said that relations inside the group were strained and that he expected a complete overhaul of the coalition in coming days.

A centerpiece of this strategy is supplying weapons to insurgent groups that have likely targeted US troops in the past. This high-risk strategy could potentially backfire if these tribal groups decide to eventually resume the armed struggle against US occupation:

"The question with a group like this always is, does it stay bought?" said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to suggestions that the United States is paying for loyalty from the tribes.

Although backing the tribal coalition looks like "the least bad option" under the current circumstances, he said, "The key is, what can the Iraqi government offer them over time, and is it enough for them to stay with the bargain?"

US military officials deny they are providing direct payments to the insurgents, but members of the Sunni coalition say otherwise:

Eight policemen loyal to tribal leaders in the Anbar Salvation Council said in interviews that the U.S. military was giving them weapons, money and other materials such as uniforms, body armor, helmets and pickup trucks. In addition, the United States was paying salaries of up to $900 a month to tribal fighters, they said.
"We hate al-Qaeda, but at the same time we don't like the Americans," said Emad Jasem, 23, from the Soufiya district, north of Ramadi. Although they were cooperating with U.S. troops because of "overlapping interests," he said, "no one should jump to the conclusion that we are on the side of the Americans and support them. Our loyalty is to our community and our city."

We shouldn't kid ourselves about the sort of people we are dealing with here. There are no "good guys" in Iraq, only different shades of bad. The ones who were shooting at our troops yesterday, and that we have allied with today, could be shooting at us again tomorrow. That's the way things work in byzantine politics of the Middle East where alliances shift as easily as the sand in the desert.

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Comments (3)

civil behavior:

Unfreaking believable.

What will they think of next.

I am currently a media embed in the Al Anbar Province. I'm in Habbaniya, between Fallujah and Ramadi.

I've spoken to, formally and informally, to hundreds of troops, elected Iraqi officials, Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army. I'm amazed by the shoddy reporting of the Washington Post article. Yesterday, I had lunch at a sheik's house. A sheik who is very interested in helping root out Al Qaeda. The week before I was at a police compound where Iraqi Army and Police were working with Marines to secure a police precinct. I visited the Iraqi side of this base where Police and Army are trained by Marines.

The Washington Post story is just another hit by the drive-by media. It's bad reporting, with an ideological slant that is simply not an accurate depiction of what's going on here. As far as I know, this writer has not visited this province.

Paul Hamilton:

Al Qaeda was never our main threat in Iraq to begin with. They might try to side with one terrorist group or the other in hopes of gaining some influence with whoever comes out on top of this civil war, but it's a historical fact that no outside group has ever influenced the outcome of any civil war anywhere at any time. This, like past cases, is a situation where various local groups are maneuvering for power. They want power for themselves, not to be the proxy for outsiders and so they'll toss out the interlopers just as soon as they are no longer useful.


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