By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 6 -- First they killed the chief of the Naim tribe and his son. Then they killed a top tribal sheik who headed the Fallujah city council. Then they assassinated the leader of the al-Jubur tribe.
And now the reported killers of all these men -- al-Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- have a powerful new enemy.
Tribal chiefs in Iraq's western Anbar province and in an area near the northern city of Kirkuk, two regions teeming with insurgents, are vowing to strike back at al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Arab-led group that is waging war against Sunni tribal leaders who are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. Anbar tribes have formed a militia that has killed 20 insurgents from al-Qaeda in Iraq, leaders said.
Separately, more than 300 tribal chiefs, politicians, clerics, security officials and other community leaders met last week in Hawijah, about 35 miles southwest of Kirkuk, and "declared war" on al-Qaeda in Iraq. In a communique, the participants vowed "the shedding of blood" of anyone involved in "sabotage, killings, kidnappings, targeting police and army, attacking the oil and gas pipelines and their transporters, assassinating the religious and tribal figures, technicians, and doctors."
"Hawijah was never a hideout for terrorists and fugitives," the statement added. "Anyone who provides refuge to terrorists will be considered and dealt with like a criminal and terrorist."
Last month at a briefing in Baghdad, Maj. Gen Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman, said Zarqawi "finds these tribal leaders who have opted to embrace the democratic process . . . and he works to assassinate" them.
"What we're finding is indeed the people of al-Anbar -- Fallujah and Ramadi, specifically -- have decided to turn against terrorists and foreign fighters," he said. "The tribal leaders, if you will, said, 'Okay, that's enough, let's take out Zarqawi and his network and get them out of our cities.' " Lynch said "local insurgents" had killed six Zarqawi deputies in Ramadi since September.
Anbar province is a center of the insurgency and the deadliest region of the country outside of Baghdad for Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces. Tribal chiefs there said their militia, the al-Anbar Revolutionaries, has killed 20 foreign fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq and 33 Iraqi sympathizers who aided the insurgents with arms and money in the past two months.
"Forming the group did not come from nothing," said Khalaf al-Fahdawi, a leader of the Sunni Albu Fahd tribe in Anbar. "It came from a need to destroy al-Qaeda, which we thought the Marines might have been able to do. We were wrong, since these armed men became stronger and raped other cities."
Leaders in Anbar and south of Kirkuk said they opposed both Zarqawi and the American military occupation of Iraq, describing them as feeding off each other to the detriment of the country.
"We are a group of the Anbar people who want to get rid of Zarqawi . . . because this is the only way to make the Americans withdraw from Ramadi or Iraq in general," said Ahmed Abu Ilaf, 30, a welder and member of the new Anbar militia from Ramadi, about 60 miles west of the capital.
"We are against Zarqawi and his followers because they aim to extend the presence of the occupation and hurt our forces to make them weak," said Hussein Ali al-Jubouri, a Sunni tribal leader and Hawijah city council member.
Hawijah leaders said they, too, wanted to create a militia to enforce their threats, but that U.S. military officials were opposed to the idea. For the time being, they said, they would intensify their cooperation with Iraqi military and police units.
Members of the Anbar militia said the group comprised about 100 people who have had relatives slain by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The group is led by Ahmed Ftaikhan, a former Iraqi intelligence officer from the now-disbanded Iraqi army who lives in Ramadi.
Fahdawi, the sheik from the Albu Fahd tribe, said the militia was forged in a series of secret meetings among tribal leaders, each of whom was asked to help form the group. Some contributed men, some money, Fahdawi said. U.S. military officers attended some of the meetings, he said, and helped "with "all kinds of financial support."
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, denied that American forces were funding the militia.
"All military activity is conducted through the legitimate structures of the Iraqi government and security forces," he said in an e-mail. "We are working hard to ensure these structures function properly, and funding a program such as this would only undermine that process."
A fighter in Zarqawi's group, calling himself Abu Azzam, said the al-Anbar Revolutionaries "are collaborators and dogs for America. They kill the mujaheddin to get money from the American crusaders. They are cowards and we have killed a lot of them. . . . All the people here support us and our jihad against the Americans and their followers."
Fahdawi said, "I cannot say that all the people in Ramadi support us, but I can say 80 percent of them do."
Ilaf, the militia member and welder from Ramadi, said the group has had real success.
"We have killed a number of the Arabs, including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis, Syrians and Jordanians," he said. "We were also able to foil an attack by Zarqawi's men who were trying to attack an oil pipeline outside Ramadi. We killed four Iraqis trying to plant the bomb under the pipeline."
Other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.