Sunni Insurgent Leader Paints Iran as 'Real Enemy'

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, left, talks with Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek in Baqubah, where U.S. troops are battling Sunni extremists. An insurgent leader said U.S. forces would do better to free detainees, lift barriers and provide services.
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, left, talks with Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek in Baqubah, where U.S. troops are battling Sunni extremists. An insurgent leader said U.S. forces would do better to free detainees, lift barriers and provide services. (By Robert H. Reid -- Associated Press)
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 14, 2007

BAGHDAD -- He wore a pale yellow dress shirt and black-rimmed glasses that lost their tint when he entered the dark lobby of a Baghdad hotel. He drank orange soda and refused a cigarette. His face was tense, but he spoke in a calm, open way about the satisfaction of killing Shiites with his own hands.

Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government, while outlining the dimensions of an armed insurgency that extends well beyond al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organization that U.S. officials routinely identify as their central enemy.

Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq's Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy -- deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods -- only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans.

If U.S. forces release Sunni detainees, remove the concrete blast barriers that now cordon off several neighborhoods and improve services in areas neglected by the Shiite-led government, "the attacks will be reduced 95 percent within days," he said. He added that the Americans' insistence on striking Sunni areas "is generating an increasing resistance."

A balding, wiry man who associates said had been an officer in the Fedayeen, the black-clad paramilitary force of the ousted government of Saddam Hussein, Abu Sarhan refused to give his real name. He said he was the "general coordinator" between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Omar Brigade, an insurgent group founded in July 2005 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006.

Zarqawi created the Omar Brigade to fight Shiite militias, particularly the Badr Organization, which is loyal to the country's largest Shiite political party, now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. In Amiriyah, the western Baghdad neighborhood where the Omar Brigade is active, the group is believed to have planted roadside bombs that have killed U.S. troops. Abu Sarhan said he had not personally taken part in those attacks. But he could not say the same for Shiite targets.

"Since the beginning of the occupation until now, I have participated in killing many of the militia members, I say it frankly," he said.

Asked how many, he looked down and paused for several seconds, his hands interlocked on the cafeteria table. "It's hard to count," he said.

An associate of Abu Sarhan's vouched for his leadership credentials. And a college student in Amiriyah, who said he is not an insurgent but that he had met Abu Sarhan briefly about two weeks earlier, said the Sunni insurgent is considered the leader of the Omar Brigade.

Abu Sarhan's views illustrate the deep animosity toward Shiites that fuels so much of the sectarian violence in Iraq. His comments also suggested a more restrained view of the United States, which he considers an occupier but one that should not leave immediately.

"I personally don't have a hatred of the American people, and I respect American civilization," he said. "They have participated in the progress of all the nations of the world. They invented computers. Such people should be respected. But people who are crying over someone who died 1,400 years ago" -- referring to Shiites and their veneration of a leader killed in the 7th century -- "these should be eliminated, to clear the society of them, because they are simply trash."

"The real enemy for the resistance is Iran and those working for Iran," he went on. "Because Iran has a feud which goes back thousands of years with the people of Iraq and the government of Iraq."


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