Iraq president Jalal Talabani’s motorcade was attacked by a roadside bomb near the Turkoman town of Tuz Khurmatu south of Kurdistan last Friday, Jan. 20. An Iraqi official spokesman reported the president himself was not traveling in the convoy, but the blast injured five members of the presidential staff. Talabani stayed mum.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources reveal that the Iraqi president, a Kurd, was indeed in the convoy and the casualties were much graver than given out – four dead. Talabani’s armored car was badly dented and one of his closest aides was seriously hurt. They also disclose that the author of the assassination attempt was al Qaeda’s Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi. There was good reason to muddy the facts; they exposed how far the terrorist group has improved its intelligence on Talabani’s movements.
Of late, the Iraqi president rarely leaves his fortified, well-guarded home and place of work in Suleymaniya and gives Baghdad a wide berth. Since it is hard to believe that al Qaeda has found a way into the Kurdish intelligence service detail which stands guard over Talabani, the leak about his movements must have come from a source in Baghdad.
Talabani and his security advisers have known for some weeks that he is squarely in the sights of Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam as a primary target for assassination.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources explain why.
1. A successful al Qaeda operation to liquidate the president of Iraq would be a coup worthy of headlines around the world and Arab media. It would deal a painful psychological blow to the Bush administration and the morale of the US army in Iraq.
2. The second reason is less obvious: Talabani is immersed in a new project to sever operational links between Iraq’s Sunni insurgent leaders, on the one hand, and al Qaeda and Ansar al Islam, on the other. Zarqawi figures that knocking Talabani out of this equation would kill this project stone cold. Sunni leaders will think twice for a very long time before they broach such a project again.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iraqi sources report that Talabani has six guerrilla organizations in play. His point man is the Iraqi Sunni General Wafiq Samarai, former military intelligence chief under Saddam Hussein who defected and lived in exile in London. The general is using as middlemen several heads of the big Sunni tribes, including the Dulaimis, one of the most powerful tribes of the northwestern province of al Anbar and the Janaban of the Samarra district of central Iraq.
Talabani drives a wedge between Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda
The Sunni guerrilla groups with which Samarai is about to wind up pacts are: the Islamic Army, the 20th Rebel Battalions, the Moujiheddin Army, the Al Anbar Insurgents and two small guerrilla groups. All six have agreed to break off ties with al As Qaeda and place their domains out of bounds to Zarqawi’s and Ansar al Islam’s men and operations. Now Talabani and Samarai is working on bringing their leaders together with Americans representatives to hammer out two further issues:
1. The size of US aid allocations to these groups – most probably in the shape of paychecks for those of their followers who take up security duties against al Qaeda operatives. They will want to be sure of regular assured sums and how they will be channeled.
2. Coordination with US forces on the ground to avoid situations in which one side attacks the other or impedes the other’s military activities.
Our Iraqi sources report that Talabani owns a strong interest in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion, not just to help the Americans but in order to broaden his sphere of influence beyond the domains controlled by his PUK party and intelligence service. Since announcing his intention of quitting the presidency in Baghdad, he is focusing on building up his Kurdish fief which has languished in the two years of his tenure in Baghdad. Talabani is intent on drawing a Sunni belt of allies around his territory to act as a buffer between his bailiwick and the violent, lawless organizations of Iraq, whether al Qaeda or Shiite radical militias.
He is taking advantage of the repugnance evinced by the local Sunni populace, especially in Anbar province and Samarra, for foreign Arab and Muslim fighters swamping their regions and forcibly imposing Islamic edicts on the indigenous communities.
Our counter-terror sources report that Sunni locals were particularly incensed when they discovered that a deadly suicide attack in Baghdad in early January was the work of a Saudi called Shezaf al Shihadi. The bomber had been a famous comic actor on the Saudi religious TV station Al Majad. These Iraqi communities want to see the back of foreigners of his ilk.