Al-Qaeda in trouble in Iraq?
There are signs that Al-Qaeda might be in some trouble in Iraq.
Could the Sunnis be the solution to the problem of al Qaeda in Iraq? Recent events have shown that the marriage of convenience between domestic opponents to the new Iraqi government and foreign terrorists seeking to foment a civil war may be headed for annulment.
The strain has been showing in recent weeks in Ramadi, the capital of al Anbar province, along the Euphrates River west of Baghdad. Seeking to incite a violent confrontation, Zarqawi's terrorists had ordered members of the city's Shia minority to get out of town. On August 13, they tried to eject them by force, and found the way barred by armed Sunni militia. The ensuing gun battle lasted for an hour before Zarqawi's fighters retreated. On August 18 a group of mostly Sunni political, tribal, and religious leaders (including the governor of al Anbar), hosted by the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, were meeting in a mosque discussing the new constitution when Zarqawi's men opened fire on them. The next day Abu Muhammad Hajeri, a Saudi leader in Zarqawi's group, was found dead with three other members of the group, killed by local tribesmen in retaliation.
Infighting like this is not unprecedented — last March seven foreign fighters were killed in Ramadi, allegedly as reprisal for the assassination of a prominent member of the Dulaimi tribe and former officer in Saddam's fedayeen militia who was working with Coalition forces in Fallujah. The Dulaimi are one of the largest tribes in Iraq, and had enjoyed a measure of autonomy under Saddam's regime. They boycotted the January 2005 elections, but have since moved towards sanctioning limited participation in the political process. The Dulaimi led the defense of the Shia families in Ramadi; such a prominent Sunni group becoming engaged in the political system cannot be good news for Zarqawi.
Zarqawi's group styles itself as an insurgency, and in the grand scheme of things they aspire to be regional or even global revolutionaries under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. However, their biggest problem in Iraq is that they have no popular base. Their main sources of support are external forces seeking to destabilize the country, such as Iran, Syria, and some private interests in Saudi Arabia. Zarqawi's domestic backers only lend him aid as a matter of expediency and opportunism; it is nice to have a supply of foreign suicide attackers around. But this commonality of interests will not last forever — indeed the worm seems to be turning — and when al Qaeda becomes more liability than asset the Sunnis may well start cashing in on the millions we are offering in reward money.