Monday, February 06, 2006

Iraqi Authorities Say Zarqawi is Now in Iran

Oliver Poole, Telegraph:
Iraqi insurgent groups are turning against their former al-Qa'eda allies, amid a succession of tit-for-tat assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. Evidence of growing splits has encouraged US commanders' hopes of isolating fanatical groups - such as that led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - and drawing Sunni factions into negotiations.

But American forces are cautious, saying both Iraqi and al-Qa'eda groups remain committed to attacking coalition troops.

The tensions between the insurgent groups were apparent during last December's elections.

Al-Qa'eda, dominated by foreign jihadis, threatened to disrupt the ballot, but several Iraqi insurgent groups allowed Sunnis to vote in unprecedented numbers.

Now they are attacking each other. In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, one of the most unstable, leaflets have been distributed by both sides claiming responsibility for killing opponents.

The first known victim was Hameed Faisal, a university professor killed after he denounced al-Qa'eda leaders following a suicide bomb on Jan 5 that killed 80 people.

In retaliation, an al-Qa'eda member, Medhat Abu Mustafa, was shot, followed by the revenge assassination of a Sunni nationalist leader, Nasser Abdul Karim.

In a statement released to the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper, six Iraqi armed groups, including the 1920s Brigades and the Islamic Movement for Iraq's Mujahideen, announced that they had united to form a "people's cell" to confront Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa'eda in Iraq, and provide security in Anbar.

Similar situations have been seen elsewhere. In Samarra, an insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad, 1,000 people demonstrated 12 days ago after al-Qa'eda members hauled 40 men from a bus and executed them.

Tension has increased in the city since a sheikh was killed in September after travelling to Baghdad to seek help from the defence ministry to combat al-Qa'eda infiltration.

In response, his tribe abducted three men and held a trial in a farmhouse after a lengthy interrogation. The men were publicly executed.

Seventeen further al-Qa'eda members were grabbed in subsequent weeks.

American intelligence and local reports, which are impossible to verify independently, say similar incidents occurred in Husayba, Yusifiya, Dhuluiya and Karmah.

Further signs that al-Qa'eda was no longer untouchable emerged yesterday in an unverified report that its fourth most senior activist in Iraq had been killed, with a senior intelligence official claiming that Zarqawi had fled to Iran. READ MORE

The Americans hope that a split in the insurgency could mean that some armed groups could be persuaded to pursue their aims through parliament rather than violence.

But intelligence experts say a more likely result is an agreement in some districts to leave US forces alone when they conduct operations specifically targeting al-Qa'eda.