Thursday, January 26, 2006


General sees rift in Iraq enemy
By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
BAGHDAD — A deepening rift between radical foreign-led fighters and native Iraqi insurgents has turned violent, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Iraq says. That creates an opportunity for American forces to try to persuade local guerrillas to put down their weapons and join the political process, he says.

"Now you actually have a wedge, or a split, between the Sunni population and al-Qaeda in Iraq," said Maj. Gen. Richard Zahner, deputy chief of staff for intelligence for multinational forces in Iraq. "It poses a significant crossroads for these groups as they look at where they head."

The U.S. military cited incidents of insurgent infighting in a rare public description of a split:

• At least six ranking members of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been assassinated by Sunni insurgents or tribal gunmen in separate incidents since September, Zahner said. The killings are usually in retaliation for al-Qaeda's role in violence, such as the execution of local police officers, he said.

• In Ramadi, in western Iraq, he said, armed clashes have erupted between local Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda operatives in recent months. At least one high-ranking al-Qaeda member, Abu Khatab, was recently run out of Ramadi by insurgents loyal to the local tribe.

• Near the Syrian border, members of the Albu Mahal tribe, which attacked U.S. positions as recently as March, have lately been pointing U.S. troops to al-Qaeda hideouts, Zahner said.

Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, also said there is a rift in the insurgency, calling it a "a major step forward in our fight against terrorism."

Several trends have accompanied the split:

• The constitutional referendum in October and parliamentary elections in December attracted more Sunni voters than in the past. Voter turnout in the largely Sunni province of Anbar, for example, climbed from 2% in elections Jan. 30, 2005, to 55% in the vote last month. Al-Qaeda insurgents, however, have continued to attack voters and people involved in politics.

• Iraq's complex network of tribes and family relations means some families have members on both sides of the conflict. The foreign fighters' killing of police and government officials is beginning to trigger a response from local insurgents who are more loyal to tribe and family than to ideology, Zahner said.

• Al-Qaeda's aim of turning Iraq into a strict Islamic caliphate has turned some Iraqi fighters against the group, Zahner said.

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