Iraqi Al Qaeda Leader al-Zarqawi Critically Wounded

Is Sectarian Strife Developing A Lasting Stranglehold on Iraq?

“We have information in the Ministry of Interior that al-Zarqawi was wounded, but we don’t know how seriously,” the Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr recently announced at a news conference. “We are not sure whether he is dead or not but we are sure that he is injured.”

This confirmation of the rumors surrounding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s health, the Jordanian-born terrorist leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as the arrest of two of his top aides, is a major morale boost for both the US army and the Iraqi security forces, who increasingly are taking over from the army.

Yet the thinning out at the top ranks of the Al Queda network, is no guarantee at all that the security situation is going to be any less precarious. Some wonder whether it is even possible for the newly trained Iraqi police and army to even get a grip on the situation.

If you may believe the US army and the Iraqi interior ministry, all is not lost by far. In the wake of the recent arrests, they claim they are hot on the trail of a string of other terrorists in north-western Iraq. The arrests made involved one of the most wanted people in northern Iraq, Mullah Kamel al-Assawadi, a close aide of Zarqawi. He was captured by Iraqi forces when he tried to bribe one of their checkpoints. The second person to be arrested was an unnamed regional secretary in Baquba, a Northern provincial capital.

Al Queda’s propaganda war, meanwhile, also continues. It has capitalized on the allegations that the US army is making up stories of victories. The internet is its main channel to communicate these messages. The reports posted by the terrorists are often however received with the scepticism that the people writing them intend to bestow on the US army and the Iraqi lawmakers.

One such report by the Iraq-based Al Queda in the Land of the two Rivers, as the movement names itself there, accused the Pentagon of fabricating many instances of sectarian violence in Iraq.

The group contends the US army manufacturing stories of victories they either created themselves to gain a locality’s sympathy. It also reported the army made errors of judgement on several occasions. It has listed examples including attacks of homes with mortar rounds to later put the blame on the mujahideen. The army also has been accused of setting up fake explosive devices on the side of the road near a school or a hospital to later dismantle the device and be revered as heros putting their lives on the line for ‘Muslims’, as the Iraqi population is referred to on such occasions in the reports.

Yet, the US side of the story shows its give and take in this game. Even though army and official spokespeople begrudgingly admit issues such as the mistaken identity of captured fighters, they’ll soon after have stories ready that somehow come across as making up for the loss of the public’s confidence. And even though the attitude to US army victories is increasingly a ‘let’s wait and see if this one turns out a false alarm’, the fact that there at least appears to be some openness in the verification process is a key element in winning a propaganda war. People, in chosing who to believe, will generally side with the side which has best pretense to the moral high ground when it comes to truth verification.

Firm arrests and pictures to show for it largely offset people’s suspicions however and tend to lead to allegations to the other effect – the pervasive elusiveness of the Al Queda leaders, who are seldom seen alive and kicking.

This hidden dimension is what underlies the risk of the violence developing from being an awful but nevertheless merely gloomy reality -that people report it is possible to live under- into a more macabre force of destruction. American army officials described this recently when they told the press that the lesser in number terrorists become, the more desperate their tactics. And the viler the counter moves, likely. ThereÃ?´s not much evidence that any secondary counter wave is emerging, but it’s everyone’s fear. It is the kind of undermining dynamic that could be lethal in that it would really throw the country into a irrevertible civil war.

So far, the apparent lull in violence until the end of January elections and then the sudden dramatic escalation in number of car bomb explosions and suicide bombers has hardly been understood by either the Iraqi population, the US army and the international community. The US army’s response has been to do their utmost to train the local forces to get things under control faster.

Determining who’s responsible for what killings is difficult. It’s long been thought there are dozens of insurgent groups, with differing agendas, sometimes acting autonomously, sometimes in loose co-operation.

There might be an increasing direct political aspect to the violence. No one’s really sure if there are emerging patterns, but it’s beyond doubt that time is of the essence to prevent the conflict from dragging larger portions of the society into politically and ethnically inspired sectarian strife that would becoming a feature of the daily scene for the years, rather than months to come.

The involvement of Sunni leaders, who swore two years ago they would fight until the US army would be gone, is key here. Their voiced wish to return to the mainstream could be only adding to the precariousness, but then, denying them access could too. On the one hand, there’s nothing but positiveness about the calls by both Sunni and Shiite leaders for an end to the violence. Yet these are the very same people that are blaming Iraqi forcesÃ?´ partiality in dealing with the insurgencies, which attributes strongly if not is the inception of the politicization of the problem. They also possibly are the very same people that are directly linked or will be seen to be directly linked to the increasing targeted killings of senior clergy of each sect.

It’s these incidents that might develop some rootings, and which are feared can escalate the violence beyond proportions seen so far. The recent accusations by the head of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars that Sunnis had been killed by the Badr Brigades, a Shiite paramilitary force linked to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, evidences this. At the same it might be hopeful that Al Sadr, who went under cover since countering the US last August, has vowed he wants to return to politics again to reconcile the Muslim factions. “Iraqis need to stand side by side at this time,” al-Sadr said on Al Arabiya television, warning that extremists are provoking civil war.
Yet the recent attack that was aimed directly at the Kurdish separatist leader�´s house, as well as the killing of a senior official of the Iraqi Trade Ministry, identified as Ali Moussa, last week does not really set the scene for a flourishing cooperation.

It has been said that the violence is linked with the absence of real progress on the political front, and this is plausible. So long as a turn to politics is accompanied by reality in the case of al Sadr, perhaps there’s some hope. Al-Sadr’s is likely to be condoned by the US forces as much as he himself lets go of his condition to have the US forces out before the Sunnis will decide to participate in public life. A U.S. official is quoted as saying that al- Sadr’s activism will be tolerated by Washington so long as he refrains from crossing red lines, or violating the U.S.-backed government’s goal of peaceful restoration of order and national reconciliation. The issue indicates that the leader is seen as controversial, not to say subversive.

Politicians are in the process of drawing up the constitution and are bickering over issues. Politics reveal that there are real hurdles to be overcome before sectarian divides are bridged. The Sunni leaders have a chance still to show their value’s worth both in efforts to draw up the constitution and in campaigning for the National Assembly to be elected in December.The Kurds, who are semi autonomous, have even more difficulty organizing themselves. Massoud Barzani was due to call his parliament’s first session in April, simply didn’t do so. Meanwhile the two main political parties that vowed to unite their administrations, the KDP and the PUK, have yet to do so as well.

In a sense, there was a blessing in not seeing the sources behind the violence. The reason is that by linking attacks to groups, one provides a grounding for the terrorists who then get precisely what they�´re after; power and control over daily Iraqi life. In this respect, they�´re halfway there already. Saadoun al Dulaimi, the new (Sunni) defense minister�´s comment that it�´s not wise for the counter insurgency troops to barge into mosques, clamping down on suspected terrorists, is perhaps illustrative.

The Americans are training up the Iraqi forces as much as possible and it’s likely that we are going to see more incidents like the recently staged dramatic siege on Abu Graib. This ‘cordon and search’ operation looked as if it were carried out by the Iraqi security forces themselves was the first experiment with this tactic, meant to apprehend as many insurgents as possible in a dramatic siege.

Huge numbers of troops conducted the operation trying to smoke out insurgents-in-hiding and chase them in the streets if they fled. “The only areas where terrorists, or any other anti-government forces, can hide are those containing many Sunni Arabs. That means central Iraq, and especially [Western] Baghdad”, according to a report by the BBC. Further creating the impression that there’s no escape, the security forces said they acted upon newly acquired information about these terrorist, criminal and anti-government activities.

US officials say they don’t fear the opposition from ex Baath party insurgents who outnumber the other terrorists by far but that the viciousness of the foreign sponsored Jihad fighters is way more dangerous. The wider Arab world is blamed for turning a blind eye to this, most notably Syria. The Iraqi government last week called on Syria to hermetically seal off its border, but the Syrians say the border is practically closed off. In the context of the silent Arab condemnation of the US actions in Iraq, there’s not a lot that one can do here. There’s an impudence to this attitude in that these countries were complaining a while ago that should Iraq fall into chaos, their internal situation was also at risk.

Terrorists capitalize on the anomaly however, as well as on their detailed knowledge of the localities on the ground where Arab states fail to project their power. The apparently porous Syrian border area is also host to a terrorist bulwark and is believed to be an area where the Al Queda number two, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, (used to) hang out. The calls for prayer for this leader were re-launched via a website Thursday 26 May. They are explained as attempts by al Queda to cut short Western Press in case the leader dies of his injuries, reportedly shotwounds in his lungue. They also could be an attempt to establish the idea of a credible organisation. One website reports that Abu Hafs al-Kurani is going to replace the sheikh and praised him for carrying out the hardest known operations in the country. The information was signed off in the name of Abu Doujanah al Tunisi, who is part of the media committee of the organization and not known to sign off on reports.

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