November 10, 2005: Recruiting for the "Desert Protection Force" is proceeding well. Intended to number some 1,200-1,500 men, the DPF is a tribally-based police force intended to patrol the enormous and sparsely populated Anbar Province, in Iraq's west, and, not incidentally, to provide the local Sunni tribes with a stake in the new government. But there have been some glitches. Despite frequent reassurances from senior Iraqi defense officials that the DPF will not be deployed outside of Anbar, tribal leaders remain unconvinced. To reassure them, the government has "donated" vehicles to tribal leaders , and has some of their bright young kinsmen "hired" to fill various administrative posts (reportedly some 250 have been so "employed").
Although seen as corrupt practice in Western terms, this sort of activity is commonplace in the Middle East. In Iraq it's a sign that the country is getting "back to normalcy." The concerns of tribal elders about the deployment of the DPF outside of Anbar was deliberately intended to elicit such government largess, and the arrangement implies that the Sunni tribes are willing to cooperate with the new government. Willingness to accept bribes is considered willingness to deal, and opens the possibility that those who are being bought, will stay bought.
In reaction to the DPF, al Qaeda has declared it has established a base area in western Iraq, roughly defined by the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and the Kurdish controlled area of northern Iraq. This move has been discussed previously by al Qaeda, but the establishment of the DPF, and the growing number of Sunni Arab tribes, in western Iraq, that are joining the government, has forced al Qaeda to make some dramatic moves. In addition to declaring the "liberated zone," al Qaeda also bluntly threatened the Iraqis in the zone with kidnapping and murder if they do not cooperate with the terrorists.
A further annoyance for al Qaeda was the UN decision to extend its official sanction for foreign military operations in Iraq. The current mandate was set to expire at the end of the year, after the December 15 parliamentary elections. The UN mandate is recognition that there is an Iraqi government in Iraq, and is issued with the approval of the government of Iraq. This sort of thing makes it difficult for al Qaeda, as popular as the organization is with many Moslems, to get any official backing from Moslem governments. Still, many governments, with majority Sunni Arab populations, have been hesitant to establish full diplomatic relations with Iraq (which is run by Shia Arabs). Al Qaeda, for all its faults, is seen as a champion of Sunni (and Islamic conservative) supremacy in the Moslem world. Al Qaeda also has a lot of clout in the international media which, because of the popularity of "opposition to American hegemony" (and related current enthusiasms), get denounced far less than it deserves. So many journalists buy into the "whatever America does must be evil" line, that al Qaeda gets cut a lot of slack, even though they are an organization of murderous terrorists and opposed to most social policies backed by these same journalists. It's a strange situation, but al Qaeda is getting better at taking advantage of it. For example, despite the great hate most Iraqis feel for al Qaeda and the anti-government groups in general, the foreign press still tries to legitimize the terrorists as "insurgents" and freedom fighters. Thus the establishment (via press release) of an "al Qaeda liberated zone" in western Iraq, will get some respectful attention from the general media. After four years of defeats, al Qaeda needs all the victories it can get.
After four days of fighting, the west Iraq city of Husaybah was declared pacified. This campaign featured the first use of multiple Iraqi infantry battalions in a combat operation. Iraqi troops and police are staying in Husaybah, to insure that al Qaeda and Sunni nationalists do not resume their terror campaign to take back control of the area. This is expected to further anger al Qaeda and other anti-government forces, and increase the fighting between anti-government groups. In the last year, there have been more and more battles between these anti-government factions. Of late, it has come down to turf battles between al Qaeda led groups (meaning mostly non-Iraqis) and various Sunni Arab anti-government outfits. The basic problem is that al Qaeda believes it should be the leader of the fight, while the Iraqi groups disagree, to the point of deadly violence. Local civilians are caught in the middle, especially when it comes to money. Both al Qaeda and the Sunni Arab rebels extort "taxes" (protection money) from businesses in areas where they operate. Al Qaeda insists that it should control the money, and its collection. The Iraqi groups, who are fighting to "get the foreigners out of the country," are not happy with Moslem foreigners trying to tell them what to do with Iraqi money. However, al Qaeda continues to cooperate with the Sunni Arab groups, who still have more money and popular support in the Sunni Arab community. But the tensions within the anti-government groups is not going away, even as the Iraqi army and police grow stronger and more effective each month.