In Iraq-datelined news, both Times and Post lead their daily roundups with an attack on a police chief’s home in the principal city in Diyala Province that devastated the man’s family but spared the chief.
The most interesting read comes in the Post, where Joshua Partlow reveals more information about the controversial US efforts to partner with Iraqi insurgent groups who are fighting against al-Qa'ida.
Stateside, the Iraq war saw another political casualty, in Washington, where the administration indicated that it would not reappoint Gen. Peter Pace to the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the US Army seems to have agreed to reconsider bids on the largest security contract in Iraq, after a controversy involving bidders who said they were unfairly excluded.
A Ba'quba police chief, Col. Ali Dilayan al-Jorani, was staying away from home when a large group of attackers stormed his house, killing his wife, son and at least 12 guards who were members of al-Jorani’s family. Jorani is chief of the Balda district in Ba'quba. John Burns reports in the Times that three others were kidnapped and taken out of the house, and reports conflicted on their identities. A local police official said that the kidnapped were guards, two of whom were found dead, while a “Western news agency” reported that Col. Jorani said the kidnapped included three of his own children -- two boys and a girl. Jorani, a Sunni, was an officer in the former regime’s army before being recruited to command police operations in the Ba'quba district. Elsewhere, two explosions killed at least 34, one targeting a Shi'a mosque and nearby police station in Daquq, outside of Kirkuk, and another in Qurna, north of Basra. The Daquq attack involved two suicide bombers and a car bomb, killing at least 19. The mosque was attended by supporters of the Sadrist current, Burns writes. An IED killed another police commander in Diyala province. Burns turns to Baghdad’s political scene, reporting that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki lashed out at unnamed political figures, saying, “They can’t be partners in the political process with one hand, and hold a knife in the other . . . . We will have to distinguish between those who are true partners in the search for national reconciliation and those who want to maneuver outside the political process.” Burns suggest that Maliki’s outburst was directed against ex-PM Iyad Allawi and VP Tariq al-Hashemi, both opposed to Maliki’s policies, and who have apparently stepped up their efforts to coordinate their opposition.
John Ward Anderson rounds up the days violent events in the Post, with a different take on the Qurna explosions. While the Times reports the blasts near a transit hub as bombing attacks, Anderson writes that a local police official said that a minivan packed with explosives bound for Baghdad exploded in the summer heat after sitting in the terminal’s garage. The blast of the minivan exploded a second car, also loaded with munitions, the official said.
Recent fighting in Baghdad’s Amiriya district “revolutionized” US Baghdad commanders’ approach to the Iraqi insurgency groups, Joshua Partlow writes in the Post. After the conflict between pro-and anti-Qa'ida groups, US forces in Amiriya have now allied themselves with Sunni Arab militiamen in the district, who operate under the name “Baghdad Patriots.” “The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles,” Partlow writes. The alliance has apparently made gains against the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization, heartening American troops coming off a string of bad weeks. The area’s US commander, Col Dale Kuehl, is even working to fashion the militia into a police force, since Iraqi police will not enter the area. Others however, are wary of the long-term implications: “Aligning Americans with fighters whose long-term agenda remains unclear -- with regard to either Americans or the Shiite-led government -- is also a strategy born of desperation. It contradicts repeated declarations by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that no groups besides the Iraqi and American security forces are allowed to bear arms. And some American soldiers worry that standing up a Sunni militia could have dire consequences if the group turns on its U.S. partners,” Partlow writes. As the fighting unfolded last week, terms for collaboration were struck: “Kuehl agreed to help if the militiamen did not torture their captives or kill people who were not affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The militiamen agreed to hold prisoners for no more than 24 hours before releasing them or handing them over to the Americans. They in turn wanted the Americans not to interfere and to provide weapons,” he writes.
The Post apparently interviewed a man identified as the leader of the militia: “The militiamen, who call themselves freedom fighters, are led by a 35-year-old former Iraqi army captain and used-car salesman who goes by Saif or Abu Abed. In an interview, he said he had devoted the past five months to collecting intelligence on al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Amiriyah, whose ranks have grown as they have fled to Baghdad and away from the new tribal policemen in Anbar province,” Partlow writes. The fighters are believed to be related to the Islamic Army, though that group says it has reached a truce with al-Qa'ida. Many also appear to have been military men in the former regime. The collaboration has continued as the US continues to provide firepower and logistics support. But some remain skeptical: "Pretty soon they run out of al-Qaeda, and then they're going to turn on us," says one US tank driver. Partlow’s account deserves a full read.
Weapons SearchAn Iraqi army soldier from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division, takes cover during a reconnaissance operation to recover a possible insurgent rocket launcher in the Al Dora area of Baghdad. The operation is being conducted with U.S. Army soldiers. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bronco
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Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
U.S. soldiers hand food to Iraqi resistance fighter in Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.
BAGHDAD – Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl called in his company commanders and explained to them why after losing more than a dozen men in the Amiriyah neighborhood in a month, they were now expected to work with the enemy.
“Yes some of them are probably former insurgents; some of them probably have American blood on their hands,” he told the captains gathered around him in the plywood-paneled battalion headquarters. “But keep in mind our mission is to bring peace and stability to the people of Iraq,” he said.
If none of the soldiers and young officers at the meeting this week quite believed that peace and stability would come to Iraq they all understood they needed to try to reduce violence in Baghdad so they could go home.
“As Amiriyah goes, so goes Baghdad and right now it’s not guaranteed which way it’s going to go,” Kuehl told about half a dozen commanders, many of them in their mid 20s.
Al-Qaeda and its allies are believed to be fighting for the Sunni enclave of Amiriyah to be able to maintain a corridor further down into other parts of Baghdad. They have declared it a capital of their self-declared Islamic State, one of the reasons that more mainstream Sunni insurgents are making a stand here.
Kuehl, 41, and the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, is from Alabama. There are lots of rules about what you can’t do but no template for how to try to defeat al-Qaeda using Sunni insurgents in the middle of Baghdad.
Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
Lt Colonel Dale Kuehl takes call from Iraqi Army brigade commander asking for ammunition and evacuation for wounded resistance fighters last week after fighting flared with al-Qaeda in Amiriyah.
So far the cooperation seems to have worked. This week, the resistance fighters captured five suspected al-Qaeda members in one night without firing a single shot. “We were never able to do that,” Kuehl told his men, reminding them that “the best counter-insurgent is the one who looks like an insurgent.”
The group turned two of them over to the Americans and let three others go in what Kuehl said was their own version of amnesty. Kuehl told the men that the U.S. would consider its own amnesty for some of the fighters now working with them.
It’s the amnesty part that most troubles some of the soldiers. But most seem to have decided that al-Qaeda, believed responsible for the most lethal attacks against coalition forces, is a greater enemy than the former insurgents they’re now being asked to support – insurgents who may have attacked Americans in the past.
“This is the fight we’re in and I think people need to realize that,” Kuehl said later.
“The immediate response when your buddy gets killed is anger. Guys want to lash out and there were guys who just wanted to level Amiriyah and I see that as the anger over losing their friends. Over time they’ve come to accept it.” He said he was holding the meeting because some of the commanders didn’t understand why they were reaching out to people who they previously might have tried to capture or kill.
“If it’s important for commanders to understand, it its important for soldiers to understand: ‘Why are these guys running around with AK-47s in civilian clothes and I’m not shooting at them.’”
Although the U.S. forces dubbed them the Baghdad Patriots and then Freedom Fighters, the group calls itself the “Amiriyah Revolutionaries,” several of its members told me. They said they have about 30 fighters, many of them Saddam-era Army officers, armed with AK-47s – and now U.S. Army support.
“Excellent work, very good,” 1sst Lieutenant Argyle Nelson told the tactical leader of the group this week in a mosque courtyard that has been their temporary headquarters. “We wanted one of those guys for a long time and you brought him in.”
Nelson’s platoon was delivering food to the fighters – boxes containing canned peas, bags of rice and lentils – and a promise of fuel to be able to cook them.
The leader, looking exhausted and wearing a pistol, explained to Nelson through an Army interpreter where he believed there were more al-Qaeda leaders.
“This is their neighborhood,” said the Iraqi fighter, who asked not to be identified. “There are (foreign) Arabs with explosives – suicide vests,” he said, gesturing ripping open an explosive vest.
Nelson told them they would support them with tanks for the raids planned that night.
“If we hear heavy gunfire, the tank will move into that location,” Nelson told him.
“What do you need for this mission?” Nelson asked? He replied they needed equipment to break down doors.
Although they welcome the help, some of the fighters are equally uncomfortable working with the Americans.
“After we defeat al-Qaeda and we have gasoline and electricity what do we need the Americans for?” said one of the fighters, a former Army officer who said his name was Ta’ie.
In a relationship less than two weeks old, everyone is still figuring out where they stand.
Like many command posts here, the inside of the 1-5 battalion headquarters looks like a tree-house, hastily constructed of plywood and equipped with the best air-conditioning money can buy. Nothing can keep out the fine sand and dust that settles on the bare tables and on the telephones.
A week ago Thursday I was about to go out with a patrol into Amiriyah with one of the companies when Kuehl got a call from the Iraqi Army brigade commander. Local residents had begun fighting al-Qaeda he said, asking for ammunition and help in evacuating the wounded resistance fighters. One of them had been wounded by U.S. forces.
“One of your patrols has shot one of the patriots and cut his leg off,” said Colonel Ghassan, as the two commanders and their interpreters gathered around speakerphones in their separate headquarters. They later figured out a way to try to identify resistance fighters, now allowed to carry guns in the street, from insurgents who can be shot if they’re seen armed.
Kuehl’s soldiers quickly found themselves in the unusual position of being invited inside a mosque, to care for wounded former insurgents and help coordinate the battle.
Kuehl has been trying to find a way to legally get limited amounts of weapons to the fighters. He envisages them as the nucleus of a local police force which would eventually maintain security in the Sunni enclave. The current largely Shiite local police have taken heavy losses in fights with al-Qaeda and are entrenched in safe houses, too afraid to patrol the neighborhood, he said.
The Iraqi Army and Iraqi government, also largely Shiite, are wary of allowing the Sunni group to become too strong, in case the fighters turn on them.
“In some ways I just need passive support to allow us to work with the local to defeat al-Qaeda,” Kuehl said.
Lt General Martin Dempsey, who has spent 1-1/2 years building up the traditional police and Army in Iraq, said the resistance group could be an interim step in Amariyah but it would be a tough sell to the Iraqi government, which would eventually have to equip them and fund them.
“These local initiatives are probably the way to get us over the immediate crisis in security in neighborhoods,” he said. “There will have to be some salesmanship required here because it’s not the instinct of the central government to seal a local initiative which at some point could threaten the central government. So we’ve got a bit of challenge on our hands.”
Kuehl sees this as a decisive battle in the war – a possible turning point in Baghdad. It’s personal as well. Fifteen of the battalion’s soldiers have been killed in Amiriyah since May, including six who died along with their interpreter when a huge, buried, IED flipped over their bradlee. Kuehl survived an assassination attempt when a bomb went off at a meeting he was about to attend.
As well as explaining to his captains why they had changed tactics, he imparted some instructions for their men.
“Tell them to watch out how they act around the mosque,” he said. “We are there to coordinate, not to occupy.”
He told them to keep an eye on the resistance fighters as they captured al-Qaeda members. The fighters have agreed to turn over suspects to the Americans within 24 hours.
“My expectation is no beatings, no torture, and no executions and I want you to keep a watch out for that,” he said.