Thursday, January 24, 2008

Al Qaeda's Not Done Yet

Reports of the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq are, as it turns out, somewhat exaggerated:

American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq’s bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military’s strategy to pacify the nation.

At least 100 predominantly Sunni militiamen, known as Awakening Council members or Concerned Local Citizens, have been killed in the past month, mostly around Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baquba, urban areas with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, according to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani. At least six of the victims were senior Awakening leaders, Iraqi officials said.

Violence is also shaking up the Awakening movement, many of whose members are former insurgents, in its birthplace in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. On Sunday, a teenage suicide bomber exploded at a gathering of Awakening leaders, killing Hadi Hussein al-Issawi, a midlevel sheik, and three other tribesmen.

American and Iraq officials believe that al Qaed is behind most of the attacks, though they also lay some blame at the feet of renegade members of the two prominent Shiite militias, the Badr corps and the Mahdi army. But clearly, there are those among the Sunni who are not prepared to cooperate with the Shiite-dominated government. The article also discusses in some detail the threat that Sunni militia members will begin to peel away from the Awakening movement:

Killings of guardsmen are mounting even as Awakening members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Iraqi government, which has yet to fulfill its promise to integrate 20 percent of the volunteers into the Ministries of Interior and Defense and give nonsecurity jobs to the rest — a process that American officials say could take until the end of the year.

“If I give you a gun and tell you to stand at a checkpoint but I don’t give you support, how long will you stay?” asked Khadum Abu Aya, one of the Awakening leaders in Adhamiya, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad that was once dominated by Sunni insurgents.

Despite their opposition to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abbas says, most Awakening members feel even more alienated from the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “Fifty percent of Al Qaeda in Adhamiya has joined the Awakening,” he pointed out.

It is clear then that the window of opportunity presented by this movement for some greater political reconciliation is narrowing. Unfortunately, reconciliation is stalled (or denounced as unnecessary by some Iraqi leaders) and no movement forward seems to be in the works. It's difficult to say at what point substantial political progress will be made that will justify our continued presence, and time is clearly running out.

No comments: