A Jan. 12 New York Times story, online at the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), indicates a civil war breaking out within Iraq’s Sunni insurgency:
In town after town, Iraqis and Americans say, local Iraqi insurgents and tribal groups have begun trying to expel Al Qaeda’s fighters, and, in some cases, kill them. It is unclear how deeply the split pervades Iraqi society. Iraqi leaders say that in some Iraqi cities, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and local insurgent groups continue to cooperate with one another.
American and Iraqi officials believe that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is largely made up of Iraqis, with its highest leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. Even so, among Iraqis, the group is still perceived as a largely foreign force. Evidence of the split is still largely anecdotal, and from most available evidence, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia remains the most virulent and well-financed group fighting in Iraq. But in most Sunni cities, Iraqis defied Al Qaeda’s threats and turned out to vote in large numbers on Dec. 15.
“The tribes are fed up with Al Qaeda and they will not tolerate any more,” said a senior Iraqi intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The intelligence official confirmed reports that a Sunni tribe in Samarra had tried and executed Qaeda members for their role in assassinating a local sheik. “It was a beautiful mistake,” the intelligence official said of the sheik’s assassination by Al Qaeda. “Now the tribes will kill Al Qaeda. Now they have the courage.”
An Attack’s Repercussions
Samarra, north of Baghdad, had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda’s fighters. In desperation, a local sheik, Hekmat Mumtaz al-Baz, traveled to Baghdad in September to meet with Iraq’s defense minister and ask for help, said one of the sheik’s aides, Waleed al-Samarrai. A few weeks after the visit, the sheik was shot dead by Qaeda gunmen in his yard.
The account was confirmed by a member of the tribe, and a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Baghdad. Samarrai spoke in an interview in Al Wasat Hospital in Baghdad, where his brother, Salim, the sheik’s bodyguard, who was wounded in a fight with Al Qaeda, was convalescing.
The tribe was furious, and its members tracked down the three men who carried out the killing. Elders from the tribe held a trial in a local farmhouse and interrogated the men for days. They said they worked for a fighter from Saudi Arabia who bankrolled the attacks, Samarrai said.
The Samarrai brothers said Al Qaeda’s appeal was based less on religion than on money. The Iraqis who killed the sheik were believed to have received $500 to $1,000 for the job, and the same amount for dozens of other similar killings, Waleed al-Samarrai said. He said local insurgents had changed allegiances, lured away by Al Qaeda’s money.
Members of the tribe swept the town and arrested 17 people they suspected were associated with the sheik’s killing. In one house raid, the tribe found men from Sudan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, a member of the tribe said.
Al Qaeda’s fighters struck back during the tribe’s offensive. A foreign Arab believed to be a Saudi wearing in a suicide belt blew himself up at the sheik’s funeral, killing one guest and wounding two, said Salim al-Samarrai, who said he witnessed the attack.
As a lesson to all those associated with the sheik’s death, the tribe staged a public killing. While the sheik’s father watched, men with machine guns shot the three men who carried out the assassination, the Samarrai brothers said. “Someone from outside the tribe should not tell us what to do,” said Waleed al-Samarrai, standing next to Salim’s hospital bed. “It is unacceptable for us.”
Disagreements over Al Qaeda’s bloody tactics between local insurgents and Al Qaeda’s fighters are as old as the war. Abu Lil, who fought in Taji in October, for example, claimed to have met with Qaeda fighters in late 2003. The militant group had just claimed responsibility for a double car bombing in Baghdad, and insurgents from the 20th Revolutionary Brigade, a nationalist group that Abu Lil belonged to at that time, were angry about the high civilian death toll.
Abu Lil, an elfin man with a cotton scarf tied around his head, talked in detail about the meeting as he sat on a couch in a house in Baghdad. The meeting was held in a farmhouse in Mosul, he said. About 25 men from Al Qaeda attended. Several appeared to be from Pakistan. Some spoke Arabic so poorly that they had to speak through a translator.
The discussion dragged on for seven hours, he said, but did not go well. The local insurgents demanded that the foreigners from Al Qaeda leave Iraq. “They said, ‘Jihad needs its victims,'” Abu Lil said. “‘Iraqis should be willing to pay the price.'”