Iraq: al-Qaeda takes Ramadi?

Rather inconvenient news at a time when Bush is hailing a “clear strategy for victory” (Bloomberg, Dec. 1) and “real progress” (Guardian, Nov. 30) in Iraq.

RAMADI, Iraq, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Iraqi militants attacked a U.S. base and a local government building with mortar rounds and rockets in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Thursday, before holding ground on several central streets, residents said.

Around 400 heavily armed, masked men were patrolling the main thoroughfares of the city, long a focus of guerrilla activity, and had set up checkpoints at major entrance and exit points, residents from across Ramadi told Reuters.

Leaflets were distributed and posted on walls declaring that al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was taking over the city.

“They’ve taken control of all the main streets and other sections of Ramadi,” a reporter there for Reuters said. “I’ve seen about 400 armed men controlling streets, some of which were controlled by Americans before,” he said.

The assault began early on Thursday with a sustained mortar and rocket attack on a U.S. base in the city centre and on a nearby provincial governor’s building. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, a heartland of the insurgency.

“Al Qaeda in Iraq is taking control of Ramadi,” one of the leaflets read. “Its followers will burn the Americans and will drive them back to their homes by force. Iraq will be a graveyard for the Americans and its allies.”

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for information about the situation.

Residents said there was no presence of U.S. forces in the streets. The U.S. military has a fortified garrison in Ramadi, and usually ventures out to conduct patrols and other operations. Iraqi forces also have bases there.

Ramadi has long been a focal point of militant activity in Iraq. After U.S. forces overran Falluja in a massive offensive last November, many insurgents apparently fled west to Ramadi, which is about 60 km (40 miles) beyond Falluja.

See our last post on Iraq.

  1. Plan for Victory?
    On the “Plan for Victory” speech Bush delivered at the Annapolis Naval Academy Nov. 30, from the Toronto Star:

    Bush said Americans were fighting three types of enemies. He called them “rejectionists,” Sunnis who had positions of privilege under Saddam Hussein, “Saddamists,” who harbour dreams of regaining the power they once had, and the “smallest but most lethal” group, terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaeda.

    The number of combat-ready Iraqi battalions has jumped, Bush said, from a handful to more 120 army and police battalions, comprised of between 350 and 800 Iraqi forces each. Two-thirds of those battalions are fighting alongside U.S. troops, he said.

    Bush, however, did not deal with a [Nov. 29] New York Times report that Iraqi troops may have been murdering Sunnis, some of who have been found with acid burns on their skin and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills.

    “Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight. And this will take time and patience,” he said.

    The Times story in question was a follow-up on the discovery of a clandestine prison last month. Here’s a choice quote:

    Some Sunni males have been found dead in ditches and fields, with bullet holes in their temples, acid burns on their skin, and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills. Many have simply vanished.

    Somebody must’ve coached Bush on that distinction between “rejectionists,” “Saddamists” and “terrorists.” This may be a sign that even he is starting to wake up to the complexity of the situation. The “rejectionists” make up the big majority of the insurgents—angry Sunnis, who are basically non-ideological and use intifada-type guerilla tactics rather than the premeditated acts of mass murder perfered by the “terrorists” (more accurately termed jihadis). The jihadis and “Saddamists” (Ba’athists) are seeking to impose their ideology and leadership on the movement—and thus far the former have clearly been more successful. The point is that the ranks of the “rejectionists” are huge—and they provide a limitless source of cannon fodder for the other two groups.

    As for the Iraqi army’s supposed strides, last we heard (in early October) its “combat effective” battalions had dropped from three to one.

  2. Al Queda takes Ramadi
    WOW, 400 Militants take Ramadi, sustained mortar and rocket attacks. I have been here in Ramdi for 5 Months and I have yet to experience a sustained attack. The last time they tried to mount an attack on an area we monitor the death toll was 32 insurgents killed 0 US. We own all of the major streets and if there were 400 armed people running around they would all be killed. People don’t even walk around with cell phones on the streets because we will shoot them let alone weapons. I wish they would come out that bold then we would kill them all and we could go home. We do get rocketed and mortared from time to time but it is only 1-2 rockets or about 5 mortar shells.
    Get the facts this story is so far from the true it stinks worse than than the sewer filled streets of Ramadi.

      1. “Resistance” claims 5 troops killed in Ramadi
        The following is from Uruknet, an italian website sympathetic to insurgents in Iraq:

        Iraqi Resistance Report for events of Monday, 19 December 2005
        Translated and/or compiled by Muhammad Abu Nasr, member, editorial board, the Free Arab Voice. http://www.freearabvoice.org

        Ar-Ramadi.

        Resistance car bomb attack kills five US troops Sunday, Iraqi puppet spokesman tells press.

        In a dispatch posted at 2:45pm Mecca time Monday afternoon, Mafkarat al-Islam reported that a spokesman for the Iraqi puppet army told a press conference in ar-Ramadi on Monday morning that an Iraqi Resistance car bomb attack on US and Iraqi puppet army troops in al-Qa’im on Sunday had killed five US soldiers and four Iraqi puppet army troops and wounded two more Americans.

        The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported Colonel Jasim Jariyu of the 1st Division of the Iraqi puppet army as saying that an Iraqi Resistance fida’i fighter had carried out the attack.

        The Mafkarat al-Islam correspondent in al-Qa’im confirmed the report, saying that there had been reports circulating about such an attack the day before (Sunday) but that the curfew had prevented details from getting out. Uruknet, Dec. 18

        **Can you confirm the following, soldier? Did US troops in Ramadi blow up a college building, and if so, why?

        US forces demolish college building in ar-Ramadi.

        In a dispatch posted at 12:50pm Mecca time Saturday afternoon, Mafkarat al-Islam reported that US forces had razed a building belonging to the College of Sciences of the University in ar-Ramadi in western Iraq.

        The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported local eyewitnesses as saying that the US forces surrounded the college building Saturday morning, mined it with explosives and then backed away and detonated them, completely destroying the building.

        The correspondent reported that the reason for the destruction of the college building was as yet unknown.

        US soldier reported killed in bombing opposite central markets in ar-Ramadi.

        In a dispatch posted at 11am Saturday morning Mecca time, Mafkarat al-Islam reported that an Iraqi Resistance bomb had exploded by a US patrol on the main road in the middle of ar-Ramadi, some 110km west of Baghdad.

        The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported eyewitnesses in ar-Ramadi as saying that a bomb that had been planted by the side of the main road opposite the central markets in the middle of town blew up by an American patrol, disabling a Humvee and killing one US soldier and wounding a three more. Uruknet, Dec. 17

        1. And from the 16th..

          Ar-Ramadi.

          Intermittent fighting rages in western ar-Ramadi.

          In a bulletin posted at 2:40pm Mecca time Friday afternoon, the ar-Ramadi correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported that intermittent clashes were going on at the time of reporting between US occupation troops and Iraqi Resistance fighters in the ad-Dubbat neighborhood in the west of the city.

          The Mafkarat al-Islam correspondent reported that it was impossible to get near the scene of the fighting.

          Resistance ambushes Iraqi puppet army patrol, destroying puppet army tank.

          In a dispatch posted at 11:10am Mecca time Friday morning, Mafkarat al-Islam reported that Iraqi Resistance fighters had attacked a column of the Iraqi puppet army in the al-Mal’ab (playing field) area of ar-Ramadi, some 110km west of Baghdad.

          The Mafkarat al-Islam correspondent reported eyewitnesses as saying that an Iraqi puppet army MB5 Belgian-made tank was destroyed in the attack, when Resistance fighters fired an RPG7 rocket-propelled grenade at it. A Jeep belonging to the Iraqi puppet regime troops was also demolished. The witnesses said that at least six Iraqi puppet soldiers were killed and more than 10 more of them wounded in the attack.

          After the attack, US occupation troops arrived on the scene and, together with the Iraqi puppet army troops surrounded the entire area.

          Resistance bombards US military headquarters in ar-Ramadi.

          Iraqi Resistance forces fired 13 medium-caliber and heavy mortar rounds into the al-Anbar Provincial Government building, which the US occupation forces have taken over and turned into one of their headquarters, in the middle of ar-Ramadi at 2am local time Friday morning.

          The Mafkarat al-Islam correspondent reported eyewitnesses as saying that the shells blasted into the building, sending fire and smoke rising over the rear courtyard of the facility. No details on the nature or extent of casualties were available, but helicopters could be seen hovering over the building and one of them then landed on the roof of the headquarters after the end of the barrage. (Uruknet, Dec. 16)

          1. I dunno, soldier…
            … The NY Times says at least 45 US troops have been killed in the last four months in Ramadi, and that you are “regularly attacked.” That may not be a “sustained attack,” but it sounds worse than your claim that “we do get rocketed and mortared from time to time but it is only 1-2 rockets or about 5 mortar shells.” What good is it if you “own all of the major streets” if the insurgents keep wearing you down in a war of attrition? Do you really think the insurgents can be stopped? You claim “people don’t even walk around with cell phones on the streets because we will shoot them…” You really shoot people for talking on the phone? Harsh.

            Maybe you should think about coming home sooner.

            “Violence has stilled this city, driving life indoors. Every building on the main streets is perforated with bullet holes, and some have been blown apart in months of fighting. American troops, not civilians, are the targets of the insurgents, and the four American military bases and several smaller outposts nearby are pelted with mortars daily, and their patrols are regularly attacked by snipers and concealed bombs. At least 45 American troops have died here in the last four months.”(NYT, Dec. 15)

          2. “Al-Zarqawi v Iraqis: conflict of interest?”
            Aljazeera.net website on 15 December

            by Ahmad Janabi

            Iraqi and US forces have been witnessing increasing signs of citizens tipping-off Al-Qa’idah members within Anbar Governorate, which used to be Al-Qa’idah’s safe heaven for the past 31 months.

            US troops detained a senior Al-Qa’idah operative in Iraq on 9 December with the help of local citizens in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, the marines said.

            Amir Khalaf Fanus, known locally as the Butcher, was handed in by Iraqi civilians at an Iraqi and US military base in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a statement said.

            “He is the highest-ranking member of Al-Qa’idah in Iraq member to be turned over by local citizens,” the US military said.

            The statement did not say how the citizens apprehended Fanus, who according to the marines belonged to Al-Qa’idah in Iraq and was wanted for criminal activities, including murder and hostage-taking.

            Sources from the US army told Aljazeera.net that the Tips Line, which is a phone number in Ramadi where citizens can report criminal activity, has been receiving increasing calls that resulted in information that led to either arrests, discovery of weapons caches and roadside bombs.

            Jihad or resistance?

            The source said calls have increased a little more than 20 per cent for the months of October to November. However, the source said that a lot of calls do not prove to be accurate.

            Analysts believe that there is indeed a clash of interest between Iraqi fighters and Al-Zarqawi group, which mainly consists of non-Iraqi fighters.

            Shafiq Shuqair, a Lebanese researcher specializing in Al-Qa’idah affairs, said the falling out between Al-Qa’idah members and Iraqis had been expected.

            “Al-Qa’idah people who endorse the extreme Salafi thought have nothing to do with the notion of resistance against an occupier. They are interested in one thing – jihad, that is, fighting those who they label as infidels,” he said.

            “When they moved in Iraq and started to fight the US army there, they were fighting infidels, not occupiers, and that led them to justify for themselves the killing of everyone aiding the infidels from their point of view.”

            Extremists have fought “infidel” governments in such Arab and Muslim countries as Algeria, Egypt and Syria.

            “Now the question is, if the Iraqi resistance wins, and a new Iraqi government consists of nationalists and resistance members, but they do not adopt the version of Islam that Al-Zarqawi believes in, which is a Taleban-style government, will Al-Zarqawi stop fighting in Iraq? The answer is no,” Shuqair said.

            Deception

            For his part, Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, cast doubt on the US military’s claim about Al-Qa’idah fighters.

            “Although I am from Anbar Governorate, I have not heard about people there handing over fighters from Al-Qa’idah to the US and Iraqi forces,” he told Aljazeera.net.

            Al-Kubaisi said the situation is very complicated in Iraq and people might be using fake identities for different purposes.

            Some detaineees have been using fake identities to avoid prosecution for criminal activities such as theft and instead are accepting charges of political motives.

            “Many criminals involved in murder, theft and armed robbery claimed they belonged to Al-Zarqawi group or Iraqi resistance when they were arrested to give their cases political aspect and avoid being convicted as criminals,” Al-Kubaisi said.

            Attitude change?

            Likewise, Jordanian political analyst and researcher Hasan Abu Haniya, a specialist in Islamic movements, says he does not believe that there is any change of attitude in Anbar.

            “I really do not know how accurate are the reports which talked about a change of heart in Anbar, but I tend to think it is not accurate,” he told Aljazeera.net.

            “I think the organization (Al-Qa’idah in Iraq) still enjoys support, and promoting such reports is an attempt by the US army to cover its difficult situation in Iraq.”

          3. Iraqi TV: US kills 5 Ramadi civilians
            Al-Sharqiyah TV updates Iraq security 18 December

            Within its 1400 gmt newscast, Al-Sharqiyah reports that “two mortars landed on Al-Ramadi Fire Brigade Centre, the centre of Al-Anbar governorate in western Iraq today. Al-Sharqiyah correspondent in Al-Ramadi said that the incident resulted in wounding one of the centre’s members and causing damage to its building and cars.”

            Moreover, Al-Sharqiyah correspondent explained that “the US forces killed five civilian, three of whom in front of Al-Ramadi Court near the Social and Labour Affairs Department, which the US forces are using as their headquarters”. (via BBC Monitoring, Dec. 19)

        2. Iraqi TV: US blows up Ramadi school building
          Sounds like the way to win hearts and minds:

          US forces demolish education building near military base in western Iraq

          Text of report by Iraqi Al-Sharqiyah TV on 17 December

          US forces today completely demolished the building of the College of Education at Al-Ahliyah University in central Al-Ramadi, in the centre of Al-Anbar Governorate in western Iraq.

          Ahmad Abd-al-Malik, dean of the College of Education, which was established in 1993 and included five academic departments, has told Al-Sharqiyah’s correspondent that US forces demolished the building because it was located in the vicinity of a US military base.

          Abd-al-Malik noted that the US forces have hindered the activities of the college by confiscating all its property and by placing wire barriers in front of the new building. He added that the faculty administration had appealed to the Iraqi government, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, civil society organizations, and the International Association of Universities, to intervene and put an end to the US forces’ actions against colleges in Al-Anbar Governorate.

          Source: Al-Sharqiyah, Baghdad, in Arabic 1417 gmt 17 Dec 05 (via BBC Monitoring)