Reported death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader?
The reported death of Abu Ayyud al-Masri is still unconfirmed, but the firefight in which he was allegedly killed illustrates a change in Iraq that has been little noticed until recently: the deepening antipathy of the Sunni tribes of al-Anbar province toward the foreigners of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
There were reports of red-on-red” battles in the Sunni triangle as early as 2005, but the real shift began in the summer and fall of 2006 when a substantial majority of Sunni sheikhs in al-Anbar began to defect from their previous alliance with AQI. Bing and Owen West described the sheikhs’ defection in The Atlantic recently and even the New York Times reported the security improvements in al-Anbar resulting from the change in attitude and behavior by the Sunni sheikhs.
This is a positive development. Intelligence tips from the Sunni concerning AQI operatives and operations have been on the increase for some time and this event suggests that this trend will continue. The number of policemen has increased exponentially from a year ago. The Bush “surge” deserves some credit but AQI has brought most of this on itself by the barbarity of its attacks on Sunni civilians.
But as positive a development as it is, we need to realize that the fact the sheikhs have abandoned their alliance with AQI and are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the Americans doesn’t necessarily adumbrate a permanent situation. The long-term attachment of the Sunni of al-Anbar to the Iraqi government depends a great deal on the actions of the latter.