(by Sharon Behn, WashingtonTimes.com) BAGHDAD – Al Qaeda in Iraq is increasing its attacks against its traditional Sunni supporters as tribes of the minority religious group turn their backs on extremists to cooperate with the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.
The three suicide-bomb vehicles loaded with chlorine gas that poisoned hundreds Friday were detonated in a part of Anbar province west of Baghdad ruled by a Sunni tribal leader who works with the government.
Spectacular attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq in Diyala province also are proving to be the biggest threat to the Iraqi and U.S. forces trying to secure the province, officials said.
“The tribal members are fighting al Qaeda and, in response, we are seeing an increase in spectacular attacks, audible attacks,” said Col. David W. Sutherland, who is leading U.S. operations in Diyala.
Col. Sutherland said U.S. and Iraqi forces were trying to talk with 17 of the province’s paramount sheiks and integrate them into Iraq’s security and political process.
Diyala has 19 major tribes and several subtribes. Although not as powerful as they once were, tribes in Iraq still are influential.
Although Sunni tribes in western Iraq have given tacit support to the extremist al Qaeda group to counter the shift of political power to the nation’s Shi’ite majority, their resulting isolation has driven them to turn away from the foreign terrorist group.
“The Sunnis are fed up that they can no longer drive around Baghdad. They can’t do business; they can’t get medical care,” said Ahmed, an Iraqi with relatives in the western Sunni-dominated provinces.
Although based in the west, many Sunni tribe members owned successful businesses in Baghdad and regularly traveled to the capital.
“The fight is between Sunnis and Sunnis,” said Ahmed, speaking on the condition that his full name not be used.
The problem, he said, is that al Qaeda also has infiltrated those tribes that are working with the government.
Friday’s attack in Anbar province appeared to target Sheik Khamis Hasnawi al-Eifan of Albu Issa, a Sunni tribe that had moved to expel al Qaeda from its territory and work with the government. Many tribe members had joined the police force.
“It was a message from al Qaeda that they will attack anyone who works with the government or supports the government,” said Moayad Mshawa, a sheik from the Sunni al-Jumeili tribe contacted by telephone from Baghdad.
Col. Sutherland said that al Qaeda in Iraq which is now calling itself the “Islamic State of Iraq” was one of several terrorist organizations battling security forces, ranging from Sunni extremists to Shi’ite extremists.
Iraqis in Baghdad say security has improved since the start of the year, when bodies bearing signs of torture were being found all over the capital, but that roadside bombs and sectarian hatred are still daily threats.
Seven more U.S. soldiers died over the weekend, including four killed in western Baghdad by a roadside bomb while carrying out a citywide security operation, the Associated Press reported. All of the victims were killed on Saturday, the military said.
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. Why is al Qaeda increasing its attacks against its traditional Sunni supporters? (NOTE: Osama bin Laden is a Sunni)
2. a) How did al Qaeda murder hundreds of Sunni muslims Friday?
b) Why was Sheik Khamis Hasnawi al-Eifan’s tribe believed to be the target for this particular attack?
3. a) Who is Col. Sutherland?
b) What does Col. Sutherland believe to be the reason for an increase in “spectacular, audible” attacks?
4. What are U.S. and Iraqi forces working to do with Sunnis in Diyala province?
5. a) What has caused Sunnis who have been supporting al Qaeda to turn away from them?
b) Do you view this as good news or bad news? Why?
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A MUSLIMS
-Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
-The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
-Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief.
-Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
-However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
-Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, wile 18-20% percent are Kurds.
-Kurds are not Arabs, but a different ethnicity. Under Saddam Hussein, some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed. At least 50,000 Kurds died – many were tortured and murdered by order of Saddam Hussein.
-Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule.
(For a detailed article on Sunnis and Shi’ites, go to patriotpost.us.)
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