Jonathan Steele in Damascus
The Guardian
Monday December 3, 2007
Iraq’s main Sunni-led resistance groups have scaled back their attacks
on US forces in Baghdad and parts of Anbar province in a deliberate
strategy aimed at regrouping, retraining, and waiting out George Bush’s
“surge”, a key insurgent leader has told the Guardian.
US officials recently reported a 55% drop in attacks across Iraq. One
explanation they give is the presence of 30,000 extra US troops
deployed this summer. The other is the decision by dozens of Sunni
tribal leaders to accept money and weapons from the Americans in
return for confronting al-Qaida militants who attack civilians. They
call their movement al-Sahwa (the Awakening).
The resistance groups are another factor in the complex equation
in Iraq’s Sunni areas. “We oppose al-Qaida as well as al-Sahwa,”
the director of the political department of the 1920 Revolution
Brigades told the Guardian in Damascus in a rare interview with a
western reporter.
Using the nom de guerre Dr Abdallah Suleiman Omary, he went on:
“Al-Sahwa has made a deal with the US to take charge of their local
areas and not hit US troops, while the resistance’s purpose is to
drive the occupiers out of Iraq.
We are waiting in al-Sahwa areas. We disagree with them but do not
fight them.
We have shifted our operations to other areas”.
Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, has seen some of the heaviest
fighting since the 2003 invasion but has become conspicuously calmer
in recent months.
“There is no resistance at the moment in Ramadi,” Omary said. He
described the tribal Awakening movement as “good for pushing al-Qaida
out but negative for the resistance”. “There are no armed clashes
between us and them but they prevent us working in their areas,”
he added.
Omary’s group is named after a Sunni uprising against British
occupation forces in 1920. The group recently joined seven other
Sunni-led armed resistance organisations to form the Front for
Struggle and Transformation, a political committee aimed at drawing
up a programme for national unity and hastening a US withdrawal.
Besides Ramadi, the Awakening movement was also operating in
Sunni-majority districts of Baghdad, such as Ameriya, Adhamiya,
and parts of Ghazaliya and Jihad, Omary said. He predicted it was
unlikely to last for more than a few months. It was a “temporary deal”
with the US and would split apart as people realised the Americans’
true intentions.
He cited last week’s announcement that the Bush administration plans
to work with the Shia-led government of Nuri al-Maliki on arrangements
for long-term US military bases and an open-ended occupation in Iraq.
Operating in small cells, Sunni resistance groups have been responsible
for most of the roadside bomb attacks on US vehicles in western
Iraq. While they are starting to unite at the political level, their
suspicion of Iraq’s Shia militias shows no sign of abating. “We helped
[Shia cleric] Moqtada al-Sadr in 2004 when the Americans attacked
Najaf, but see no point in dialogue with him now,” Omary said.
Although Sadr presented himself as a nationalist and was unusual among
Shia politicians in calling for an early end to the US occupation,
Omary added: “He’s still supporting this sectarian government in
Baghdad. When his militias attack the United States they do it for
their own political reasons and not to liberate Iraq”.
Sadr’s militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi, had killed too many innocent
Sunni civilians, he went on.
Sadr’s supporters often claim he is not in control of most of the
militants who have abducted and murdered Sunni civilians in the spate
of tit-for-tat sectarian violence provoked by the bombing of the
golden-domed shrine in Samarra last year. The shrine is particularly
sacred to Shias.
“He never says they are not under his control, so we have to assume
they are, said Omary. “He should denounce them. Every Sunni family in
Baghdad has had someone killed by Jaish al-Mahdi. They have destroyed
around 300 mosques in Baghdad. If you want us to negotiate with
al-Sadr, you have to ask us to negotiate with al-Qaida. We consider
al-Qaida is closer to us than Jaish al-Mahdi.”