- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

BAGHDAD — He looks every inch the face of the Iraqi resistance: a tribal leader from the Sunni badlands, west of Baghdad, who once served in Saddam Hussein’s feared intelligence apparatus.

But Sheik Osama Jadaan’s dislike of foreign occupation is nothing compared with his contempt for Iraq’s other intruders: the foreign jihadists who have killed thousands of his countrymen indiscriminately. Now, in what coalition commanders hope will mark a turning of the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq, he has become the first of the Sunni tribal leaders to declare war on the terrorists to whom, until now, they have given safe haven.

He is well-placed to do so. His al-Karabla tribe lives in the desert city of Qaim near the Syrian border in Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.

Sheik Jadaan’s armed followers said they have arrested and killed 300 would-be jihadis entering from Syria, many bound for service as suicide bombers with Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

“I am doing this job because the foreign terrorists kill the civilians,” said Sheik Jadaan, 52, at his heavily guarded villa. “None of them ever attack the Americans except occasionally; they just attack the innocents. This is to restore the reputation of jihad.”

Coalition commanders were unable to verify the sheik’s claims, but there seems to be little doubt that he is a bitter enemy of Zarqawi’s forces.

Since he started his campaign last year — angry at a suicide bombing that killed 70 Sunnis in Ramadi — two attempts have been made on his life, first with a roadside bomb and then with a machine gun.

The attacks forced him to swap his tribal home for a more easily defended villa in a Baghdad suburb, backed by his formidable security entourage. When his armor-plated Chevrolet four-wheel-drive leaves the gates of his compound, monitored by closed-circuit television, so do 13 escort vehicles packed with armed bodyguards.

On his side against al Qaeda are thousands of his fellow tribesfolk, whose bond of blood takes precedence over loyalty to any other cause.

Sheik Jadaan fled Iraq in 1998 after falling out with Saddam’s regime. In November, he accused U.S. and Iraqi forces of heavy-handedness, calling for the “American occupiers to get out of Iraq and leave Iraq to the Iraqis.” However, he is convinced that the presence of foreign terrorists such as Zarqawi risks leading Iraq into permanent chaos, potentially prolonging the occupation.

Many secular Sunni insurgents also have ended their marriage of convenience with al Qaeda to protest its brutal methods.

The split is understood to have received tacit encouragement from the U.S. military.

The military, however, is reluctant to encourage private militias, which it says operate on no agreed military guidelines and could be pursuing private feuds.