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Counter-Terrorism: Al Qaeda's Last Stand in Anbar
   

November 24, 2006: Earlier this year, al Qaeda declared western Iraq (Anbar province) to be their new base of operations. Shortly thereafter, a coalition of Sunni Arab tribes agreed to work with the government to destroy al Qaeda forces in the area. This brought to a head two years of violence in western Iraq. While many of the tribal chiefs out here had been allies of Saddam Hussein, and his Baath Party, this was mainly because Saddam was generous with the tribes, and pointed out that, in the wake of the 1991 Shia Arab revolt (which the Sunni tribes helped put down), if the Sunni Arabs did not stick together, the more numerous Shia would destroy them. The Kurds, who already had a sanctuary (protected by American and British warplanes) in the north, would join in slaughtering the Sunni Arabs, if given a chance. Then,  after Saddam was overthrown, and al Qaeda offered to help the Sunni Arabs eject the Americans, and regain control of the country, the Sunni tribes kept fighting. But the alliance with al Qaeda soon unraveled. By 2004, Sunni Arab tribesmen were fighting with al Qaeda. The problem was that al Qaeda did not believe the tribes were aggressive enough, or religious enough. First threats, then the murder of Sunni Arab tribal chiefs, brought al Qaeda into open warfare with the tribes. At first, the anti-al Qaeda tribes were not the majority, and they were outgunned by the Baath Party terrorist organizations and pro-Saddam tribes. But month-by-month, more tribes turned against al Qaeda and Baath. For the last year, as more American and Iraqi troops moved into western Iraq, the fighting became more intense. 

Over a dozen tribes are now pro-government, with tribemen joining the police force, and serving in their own neighborhoods. Recruiting was slow at first, even with the approval of the chiefs. Only 30 stepped forward last June, but now there are 1,300 tribesmen in the police force. During that same period, some 750 al Qaeda and Baath terrorists have been killed in Ramadi, the center of al Qaeda power in Anbar. There are only a few hundred of them left, and the government controls two-thirds of the city. During that same period, the number of terrorist attacks, including roadside bombs, has also fallen by two-thirds. 

This has brought about a civil war in western Iraq, with Sunni tribes fighting each other. Even with al Qaeda and the Baath Party terrorists, the anti-government tribes are on the defensive. Ramadi, which was to be the capital of the new al Qaeda sanctuary, is in ruins, and the scene of daily fighting, and defeats for the terrorists.

Al Qaeda no longer boasts of a base in western Iraq. To do so would have to address the fact that most al Qaeda losses in the area have been at the hands of angry Sunni Arab tribesmen. The tribes are fighting for their homes, and western Iraq is the only part of the Iraq that is almost wholly Sunni Arab. Angry Kurds and Shia Arabs are driving Sunni Arabs out of other parts of Iraq, and the only alternative to foreign exile, is moving to western Iraq. The only way to hang on to western Iraq is to eliminate the al Qaeda and Baath Party groups that refuse to halt their terrorist operations. Al Qaeda knows it's losing its battle for western Iraq, which is one reason why they have shifted so many resources, especially cash and leadership, to Afghanistan. The al Qaeda defeat in western Iraq has not gotten much attention in the media, but it's there, it's real and it will soon be over.