Counter-Terrorism: Analyzing The Anbar Miracle


December 13, 2007: Iraqi's Anbar province has seen a 91 percent drop in attacks on U.S. and government forces in the last year. Such declines have been continuous for the last ten months. Most of western Iraq, a huge, largely desert area, and its all one province, Anbar province. Home to 1.2 Sunni Arabs, it supported Saddam Hussein for years, and was hostile to U.S. forces for overthrowing Saddam and allowing the majority Shia Arabs to gain control of the government.

Al Qaeda, and several Iraqi terrorist organizations, set up bases in Anbar in 2003. This led to several major battles with U.S. forces (Fallujah, Ramadi) that forced the terrorists to keep their heads down, but did not drive them away. As early as 2004 the terrorists began having problems with the locals, who quickly tired of living in the middle of a war zone. By 2005, some of the Anbar tribes were openly fighting the terrorist groups. As a result, the terrorists are spending more of their time trying to keep their Sunni Arab base in line. The "red-on-red" battles between Sunni Arabs, that U.S. Marines first noted two years ago, has increased month by month.

But as long as Sunni Arabs can continue to set off bombs in Baghdad for the foreign media, the decline of the Sunni Arab terror campaign will go largely unreported. Thus, without getting much attention in the media, violence against U.S. and Iraqi forces went from 460 incidents a week a year ago, to 40 for the first week of this December. An "incident" is just that, everything from someone firing a few shots at a patrol, to troops finding, and disarming, a roadside bomb (one of the largest categories of incidents). Such incidents for all of Iraq run to about 600 a week.

There are 72,000 troops and police in Anbar (one third each for U.S. Marines, Iraqi Army and locally recruited police). There are also over 20,000 armed men in tribal militias who are now hostile to any Islamic terrorists they might encounter. And there are still al Qaeda, and other types, of Islamic terrorists in Anbar. It's expected to take another two years before all the terrorists are found and killed or arrested. By then, U.S. troops should be able to leave, and leave security to Iraqi forces.

The lesson to be learned, and it's not a new or unique one, is that determined terrorists have to be fought, and local support recruited. That can take time, but it was clear early on (2004) in Anbar, that many of the Sunni Arabs were afraid of al Qaeda, not supporting them. Those Sunni Arabs were not going to step up and join the government until they were sure that U.S. and Iraqi forces would remain the strongest force in the province. Most of the Sunni Arab tribes bought into that by late 2006. That was when al Qaeda lost Anbar. Now the challenge is not to lose it back.


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