AQI’s Last Stand?

Al Qaeda’s efforts in Iraq have been less than successful over the past year, due in large part to the Anbar Awakening and the related Councils of Concerned Citizens/Sons of Iraq movements, and the support offered those movements by Petraeus’ COIN methods manifested by the “surge.” Essentially, as Tigerhawk predicted a while back (and I discussed here), once the locals got sick of the barbaric tactics employed by al Qaeda and its fellow travelers, anti-American feelings simply were not enough to continue even passively supporting the terrorists and insurgents. It was pretty clear who offered the better deal, and the Iraqis rose up in great numbers to protect their families and their homes.

Now, in Nineveh, Michael Yon reports that AQI may be on it’s last legs and that this time they have not found hospitable grounds from which to base their terror tactics (via: Hot Air):

Al Qaeda is still trying to spin Iraq into civil war, but whereas in 2005-2006 al Qaeda was succeeding, today al Qaeda is being shredded.

An Iraqi officer near Sinjar told me that recently a group of perhaps twenty “jihadists,” many of them foreign, descended on a Nineveh village. The Iraqi officer said the terrorists killed some adults and two babies. One baby they murdered was 15 days old.

Until recently, such terror attacks inside Iraq could have coerced the village into sheltering Al Qaeda. Yet this time, the “jihadists” got an unexpected reception. Local men grabbed their rifles and poured fire on the demons, slaughtering them. Nineteen terrorists were destroyed. Times have changed for al Qaeda here. Too many Iraqis have decided they are not going to take it anymore. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still fighting, and they are tough and wily, but al Qaeda Central seems to realize there are easier targets elsewhere, perhaps in Europe, where many people demonstrate weakness in the face of terror.

Nineveh is presently one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq, due apparently in large part to the fact that al Qaeda remnants have “coalesced” there. But the province is also home to the Yezidis, a Kudish people who are no strangers to resisting terror:

(c) 2008 SPC Patrick Fougere

Yezidis (also spelled Yazidi) are fond of Americans and our soldiers get along great with them. Saddam called them Devil worshippers, but then it was Saddam’s wars that killed over a million people and filled human lungs with poison gas. The Yezidis are more concerned about sending their kids to school and then off to university.

Back in 2005, I went alone without soldiers to Yezidi villages. I would not hesitate to stay the night in a Yezidi village. A pilot told me that if he ever had to make an emergency landing, he would try to reach the nearest Yezidi village. So when the villages of Qahtaniya and Jazeera were bombed, our people knew that friendly people had been attacked, and the helicopter and ground crews, along with American Special Forces and other soldiers, rushed to help. When Iraqi government officials arrived, Yezidis threw rocks at them, and the officials retreated. Yezidis tend to get along well with people who do not barbarize them. But Saddam was a criminal, and he unleashed his cannons on Yezidis, and the other Kurds, and the Shia, and the Iranians, and the Kuwaitis, as well as financing attacks against the Israelis.

Accordingly, AQI was not likely to find much fertile ground here. It is true that Ansar al-Islam and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan have operated in de facto Kurdistan for some time, but those groups held sway primarily along the Iranian border (Nineveh borders Syria in the West), and their survival was predicated on their usefulness to Saddam against the PUK and KDP (and, at times, to the KDP against the PUK). Regardless, Islamic fundamentalism is not high on the list of priorities for the Kurds.

Given that setting, it is perhaps not surprising then that AQI is struggling in Nineveh:

There are no guarantees, but this could be the endgame for major combat operations in Iraq. Combat is likely to heat up in Mosul and western Nineveh by about May. There likely will be some reports of increased US and Iraqi casualties up here, but this does not mean that we are losing ground or that al Qaeda is resurging – though clearly they are trying. If there is an increase in casualties here as we go into the summer of 2008, it is because our people and the Iraqi forces are closing in. We have seen just how deadly al Qaeda can be. This enemy is desperate. They know they are losing. They are not likely to go out easy. The enemy is smart, agile and adaptive. Likely they will land some devastating blows on us, but at this rate, our people and Iraqi forces appear to be driving stakes through al Qaeda hearts faster than al Qaeda is regenerating.

While Yon is probably a bit more optimistic in his reporting than some other independent journalists such as Michael Totten, he’s not one to shy away from realities. Taking this report with a customary grain of salt, it surely sounds like good news. Or at least hopeful news. I guess the old adage applies: pray for the best and expect the worse.

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4 Responses to “AQI’s Last Stand?”

  1. on 25 Mar 2008 at 5:05 pm Joshua Foust

    I’ve never understood the neglect paid to al-Sadr and Sistani during all the hype about AQI (who never, according to the DIA, made up more than 15% or so of the insurgents we were fighting). They used to be enemies number 1 (at various points). While it’s great they have been largely co-opted, I still worry that the presence of powerful Shiite clerics with their own armies won’t play well with the Sunni Sons of Iraq, who have formed the great bulwark against AQI.

    Michael, you’re right to see this as a hopeful sign that AQI can’t seem to find a foothold. It’s one problem out of the way, and we’re all quite happy to see it fading in importance. But you’re also right to be cautious (and not predicting the end of “major combat operations”… again?… like Yon). Iraq’s problems remain multitudinous, and far too many are a hair’s breadth from spinning out into violence again.

  2. on 25 Mar 2008 at 9:11 pm Joshua Foust

    Woops, I hadn’t read the news today when I left that comment. Which I guess makes it more apropos.

  3. on 26 Mar 2008 at 11:12 pm MichaelW

    Sorry for the delay, but I did want to acknowledge your cogent comments. Surely the cease-fire is relevant, but I think this is the prime point:

    Michael, you’re right to see this as a hopeful sign that AQI can’t seem to find a foothold. It’s one problem out of the way, and we’re all quite happy to see it fading in importance. But you’re also right to be cautious …

    AQI, and al Qaeda may be settled (in Iraq), but that is not the be-all-end-all of our work there. I like your characterization of “one problem out of the way” because, if successful, that is exactly how I see it. The space has been created, and now it’s up to the Iraqis to follow through.

    I know you view the recent Badr bridages/Shia militia violence as disruptive (and it is), but I can’t help but notice that it is the primarily Shia government forces that are battling them and laying down the law. The peace is definitely fragile, but there are hopeful signs. Shia Iraqi army clamping down on Sadr’s Shia forces are one such sign. Let’s just hope that it’s a sign of better things to come.

  4. on 27 Mar 2008 at 3:46 am Joshua Foust

    Kind of. It’s not so much laying down the law as rival Shia factions going after each other. Remember the Nir Rosen report I got so much flack for posting? In it, he relayed multiple stories of the Sunni complaining the Shia government was too beholden to Iran. I sort of look at the fighting in Basra as Sadr the nationalist (who hates Iranian influence in Iraq) versus Maliki and the ISCI (which is entirely beholden to Iran). In other words, we are probably supporting the wrong guy simply because he happens to have engineered his way into Prime Minister some months ago.

    I dunno, I could be wrong on that (though I know I’m not wrong on ISCI’s affiliations or their influence in the Maliki government). But I don’t see how it bodes well for the country.

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