Great strides have been made to turn the native elements of the Iraqi insurgency against the al-Qaeda wing of the insurgency. Insurgent groups in Anbar province and the city of Samarra have declared war against al-Qaeda. But news the Karabilah tribe is summarly rounding up al-Qaeda without a fight should be viewed with skepticism.
Omar at Iraq The Model translates and reprints a spectacular claim by Arabic newspaper Dar al-Hayat which purports a massive operation to purge the al-Qaim region by local tribal groups is currently underway. According to Sheikh Usama Jad’aan, the leader of Karabila tribes in Qaim, “the operation will continue to eliminate terror elements according to a quality plan… 270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested, in addition to some Iraqis who were providing them shelter… the operation is conducted in coordination between the tribes and the minister of defense Sa’doun al-Dulaimi and since we arrested hundreds of terrorists, I don’t expect the operation to take a lot of time”.
While the news would be a positive development, it appears this story has little basis in fact. An inquiry to Lieutenant Colonel Dale Alford, the Battalion Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, whose unit is parked in the al-Qaim region and would be aware of such a massive operation, denies the report, “We have caught a number of foreign insurgents over the past couple of months and the tribes are providing us information and working with us, but nothing like the report [referenced]. The Marines of 3/6 and the Iraqi Army Brigade are still taking it to the bad guys, all while helping the people of this region rebuild there lives.” According to Captain Christopher O’Connor, the Operations Officer for the 3/6, the battalion captured five foreign fighters several nights ago.
The round up of such a large number of al-Qaeda could not occur without the knowledge of the U.S. and Iraqi military stationed in the region. The Marines and Iraqi Army units maintain battle positions in each of the towns and cities in the al-Qaim area, and would be watching this unfold. A roundup of al-Qaeda by ill-trained local tribal militias would not be a casual, routine affair. Coalition forces have fought tough battles in the region against the terrorists. al-Qaeda leaders have been known to wear suicide belts and detonate on the first sign of capture. al-Qaeda fighters would not timidly surrender to the tribes; there would be heavy fighting and militia and civilian casualties cannot be hidden for long. And there is the simple problem of what to do with over 270 violent prisoners, unless they have been summarily executed, which also would not go unnoticed.
The Karabilah tribe was one of several tribes which cooperated with al-Qaeda in the past, and may be attempting to ingratiate itself with the Iraqi government and working to mitigate the ill-will it accumulated while supporting with the terrorists. The word of the head of the Karabilah tribe alone should not be taken as evidence of a massive roundup in al-Qaim, as an operation of this scale would leave a wide footprint, one that could not be missed.