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 Al Qa'eda 'making a comeback'

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تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Al Qa'eda 'making a comeback'    الثلاثاء 10 مايو 2011, 06:28

Al Qa'eda 'making a comeback'

For more than a month, security forces in Diyala province have been warning that al Qa'eda is making a comeback there, recruiting new fighters and informants, astutely choosing its targets and outsmarting local security forces.Those warnings have been borne out in blood over the past two weeks, with a series of attacks that have left at least 23 people dead and dozens wounded.

In the most recent assault, gunmen killed six people during what appears to have been a meticulously planned raid on a gold market in Baquba, the provincial capital. In addition to robbing merchants and shooting bystanders, the attackers left behind a car bomb that detonated when security forces arrived at the scene.The explosion and ensuing chaos allowed the gunmen, believed to be from the local affiliate of al Qa'eda, to escape unharmed.

A senior police intelligence official based in Baquba, 65 kilometres north-east of Baghdad, said: "Our intelligence network has been getting weaker and weaker, while al Qa'eda is successfully recruiting informants, tribe members and even children."He criticised the authorities for neglecting crucial elements of combatting secretive militant networks, and said that the effects were now being felt.

"We used to keep informants on the payroll and they were a rich source of information for us," the officer said. "Now we don't have the money to do that and the information has dried up. But al Qa'eda has money, and they've now got their network of informants working against us."According to the official, militants in Diyala appeared to be successfully tracking and predicting the movements of security personnel in the province, allowing them to carry out attacks with a large degree of impunity.

"Baghdad has lost its concentration on the basics of fighting al Qa'eda and it has made big problems," the official said. "We now expect the situation to get worse."At the end of last month, Diayala was hit in successive attacks. In the first, a suicide bomber (a favoured weapon of Islamic radicals in Iraq) blew himself up in a Shiite mosque in Balad Ruz, killing 10 worshippers and wounding 30 others.

The following day a Sunni cleric, his wife and their 11-year-old daughter were murdered at home, in the village of Imam Waiss, which is close to Baquba.The same day in the town of Buhruz, four Sunni brothers were gunned down by men in police uniforms. Three of the brothers had been members of the Sahwa tribal forces, a Sunni militia that had played a major role in beating back al Qa'eda since 2007, when it was at the peak of its powers in the country.

Locals suspect the cleric's murder was not a revenge attack by Shiite extremists - Diyala has a mixed Sunni-Shiite population and has seen widespread sectarian violence since 2003 - but was carried out by al Qa'eda sympathisers trying to reignite sectarian bloodletting.According to Diyala's municipal authorities, al Qa'eda has also been successfully attacking the electricity infrastructure, destroying vital power lines. The result is that, this summer, the province will be unable to get anywhere close to the electricity it needs to run the air conditioners and refrigerators, which are essential in Iraq's fierce heat.

The lack of electricity has become symbolic of government failures and a major source of unrest in the country. By knocking out power cables, militants will ensure that tensions remain high.Mohammed Naimey, head of the provincial electricity authorities, said: "Most of the provinces will be getting more electricity this year than last year but in Diyala, there will be 40 per cent less, it will be a hard summer,. Some gangs have managed to cut the main lines that supply Diyala with power. There's no quick solution to this problem."

Leaders of the Sahwa councils, which helped beat back al Qa'eda in the past, say the militants have been working to undo their alliances, with significant success. The Sahwa (or Awakening) Councils were established in 2007 in co-operation with US forces, who provided money and weapons to tribes that had once allied with al Qa'eda, convincing them to change sides.

Now there are indications that some tribal fighters are changing sides once again, and returning to the militants.Jasim al Zargushi, a tribal leader and Sahwa council head in Saadiya, in Diyala, said: "The situation is slipping back to where it was in 2007 We are once again seeing assassinations, kidnappings, bombings."

Mr al Zargushi said he believed members of his own tribal force had now been recruited by al Qa'eda, in part because money was on offer, but also out of disillusionment with the government."I regret to say it, but I think some of the Sahwa fighters from my tribe have gone back to al Qa'eda and nothing is being done by the authorities to change the conditions that make them do that."

The government took over the Sahwa scheme from the Americans in 2009 and has since been winding it down. Promises were made that tribal fighters would be found alternative work but, in reality, community leaders say many have been left unemployed and nursing a deep grudge against the government.That has been exacerbated by persistent corruption and a sense that the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, is seeking to consolidate power in Shiite hands, excluding Sunni-backed political blocs despite their strong showing in last year's elections.

"Al Qa'eda is exploiting a security gap in Diyala as the Americans reduce their role, tribal forces are cut back and the government fails to adequately step in as a replacement," said Hassan al Beyati, a former intelligence officer during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who now works as an independent security consultant.

He also said officers inside Iraq's security forces were giving information to anti-government militants, not because of ideology but in exchange for money."Military intelligence has been infiltrated by al Qa'eda because officers have decided that no one is working for the country and that the time has come to make as much money as possible while you can, and never mind the consequence," he said.

With US forces scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, Mr al Beyati said Diyala would, once again, become one of the key battlegrounds between Baghdad and militants."The tribes feel abandoned, information sources have dried up, and Iraq's security forces are not strong enough," he said. "Al Qa'eda has taken advantage of that and they might be in a position to regain some control over the province next year."

Nizar Latif, The National

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17 killed in Baghdad prison escape

The suspected mastermind of October's gruesome massacre at a Baghdad church attempted a daring jailbreak Sunday and killed several police officers before he and his accomplices were shot dead.The running battles inside a detention facility on the grounds of the Interior Ministry ended with 11 detainees and six officers dead, according to security commanders.

The predawn violence cast a disturbing light on Iraq's detention centers and security apparatus, which has been buffeted since last summer by a series of escapes and charges of political interference.The prisoners Sunday overpowered guards and killed a senior counter-terrorism general and five others before they were detained or shot dead. It was unclear how many detainees participated in the mayhem that lasted several hours.

Huthaifa Batawi, the chief of an Al Qaeda affiliate in Baghdad blamed for the Baghdad church massacre that resulted in more than 50 deaths, managed to overpower a guard who was escorting him to the bathroom, said Gen. Dhiya Kinani, the head of the Interior Ministry's counter-terrorism branch."The terrorist was able to control the guard and took his weapon. He started to open fire," Kinani said. "When the manager of the department and his officers heard the shooting, they rushed to the scene. The manager of the department was injured and later died."

The prisoners then split off into two gangs: One group tried to flee and reached an outer gate where guards opened fire, killing two of them and wounding three others. Batawi, meanwhile, holed up in a jail corridor with other detainees."They asked them to surrender and raise their hands several times, but they refused," Kinani said. "They continued shooting … [and] the forces were forced to open fire and kill them."Among the dead officers was counter-terrorism official Brig. Gen. Moayad Salah.

Security officials blamed Batawi for both the church attack, and 16 bombings in Baghdad one day in November, along with an assault the previous summer on Iraq's central bank.Maj. Gen. Qasim Atta Mousawi, military spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, said the rampage had been carefully plotted. "There has been a dereliction [of duty] in what has happened," Mousawi said. "The incident was preplanned."

Even as Kinani helped deliver the official version of events, contradictory accounts circulated, including one in which Batawi tried to drive out of the ministry grounds in a police car before being shot.The latest incident had implications for Iraq's feuding coalition government, which has been unable to agree on selecting interior and defense ministers.

Politicians painted the incident as evidence of a breakdown in the command of Iraq's security apparatus, as American military forces are set to complete their withdrawal from the country by year's end."Security forces are politicized and working for the interest of political entities. We see such incidents are always happening on both the Iraqi street and in prisons," said Nabeel Haraboo, a lawmaker with the Iraqiya list, a secular bloc that has competed for power with Maliki.

Hakim Zamili, a lawmaker with Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's movement, said Al Qaeda in Iraq members had access to phones and could plan activities from inside the jail.Last summer, four detainees, including leaders of a militant umbrella group controlled by Al Qaeda in Iraq, escaped the Camp Cropper detention facility in Baghdad's airport compound, apparently with help from the warden. An Iraqi official said the warden had been forced into cooperating.

U.S. and Iraqi officials expressed alarm in November over the management of another major detention facility, Camp Taji, where members of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia had been granted de facto control over some of the wards.An Iraqi official blamed the favoritism on efforts by political blocs to woo the Sadr camp as part of the government formation negotiations.

By Raheem Salman and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times.
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Al Qa'eda 'making a comeback'
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