The US Military Loses its Sunni Linchpin in Iraq
The loss of Osama bin Laden’s “emir” in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, may change some modes of al Qaeda violence but is unlikely to turn the tide of terror in Iraq.
But before he was dispatched in a targeted US assassination fed by Jordanian intelligence and Iraqi leaks, Zarqawi performed his last brutality and struck the US military a resounding blow.
Iraq was reeling this week from the rising tempo of terrorist attacks and a death toll mounting to 100 a day. Baghdad hospitals reported receiving 1,400 bodies in May, many of them victims of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian war whose flames Zarqawi was fanning ruthlessly. There was a sense in Iraq and the Middle East at large that the crisis was careening out of control up to the point of no return. His death Wednesday, June 7, provided a welcome moment of release from the stark reality. But it did not come soon enough.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive sources now disclose that Sunday, May 28, a killer squad sent by al Qaeda’s Iraq chief murdered Osama Sheik al-Jadan, chieftain of the Karabila Sunni tribal federation. The hit was carried out in Baghdad’s high-end Mansour district near the Green Zone, fortified seat of Iraq’s government, the American embassy and the US high command.
Our sources report that the US had been building up the Sunni sheikh for six months as its great white hope for reining in the insurgency and spearheading the operation to contain al Qaeda’s push out of the western provinces to seize more territory.
Al Jadan was granted millions of US dollars and equipped with a steady supply of weapons and ammunition in order to array his tribal fighting men along a line running from Ramadi northwest of Baghdad up to Ruthba in the West that would hold back al Qaeda and its allies from marching on the Baghdad conurbation and the south.
The information gathered by his tribal spies on al Qaeda’s movements was supplemented by US intelligence. Their ambushes exacted heavy terrorist casualties. The Americans prized the tribal chief all the more as a political leader as his collaboration with US forces deepened. US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad saw al Jadan as the key that would open the door for America and the Iraqi government to do business with the Sunni community.
His assassination by Zarqawi’s killers brought home to Washington how far they had come to rely on the tribal chief. The shock was comparable to the stunning effect of an earlier loss, the assassination of the young Shiite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei weeks into the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The son of the revered Iraqi cleric Imam al-Khoei,he was brought back from exile in London, armed with a US military-CIA trained militia and all ready to be set up as a prestigious, pro-American head of the Shiite community after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Another assassination derailed another American plan
But Tehran sent the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr back from Iran to assassinate Khoei before he found his bearings. The US-trained militia broke up and Washington was forced to ditch its plan.
The death of al-Jadan, our Iraqi sources report, likewise scuttled the security setup which American forces had toiled for more than a year to put in place in central and western Iraq in the hope of arresting the advance of Zarqawi’s forces and allied groups, like Ansar al Sunna. Karabila tribesmen lost the urge to fight Zarqawi and withdrew from the field, followed by more Sunni tribes who had sided with the Americans.
The next to withdraw were the Sunni tribal and clan chiefs and informers, who served US forces as their support and information structure. They began refusing payment, meaning they had quit service with the US army.
At this point, US military commander in Iraq Gen. George W. Casey, rushed 1,500 troops of the 2nd Brigade of the US 1st Armored Division from Kuwait to the Anbar province. They were needed urgently to hold the territory together, take over the key positions deserted by the Karabila tribes and rescue American-Sunni ties from collapse.
Casey also pulled six Iraqi brigades out of Baghdad and its outlying towns and deployed them with the US increment in the west. Their exit gave rise to the appalling surge in violent atrocities in and around Baghdad as terrorists and groups bent on inflaming sectarian warfare took advantage of the vacuum.
Casey will no doubt try and capitalize on the shock effect of Zarqawi’s violent passing to recoup US ties with the Sunni tribes and stabilize the western front. He needs to make haste, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iraqi sources say, because moderate Sunni factions and politicians have lost heart from the assassination of the Karabila chieftain and complain that Sunnis in Baghdad and other places are suffering ethnic cleansing as part of the communal war. In the final days of Zarqawi’s life, he began to see more active support for his campaign of terror from previously uncommitted Sunnis than ever before.