- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

U.S. military officials suspect the bombings of Yazidi villages in Iraq last week are a sign that al Qaeda is shifting tactics in an effort to create civil unrest among the three prevalent groups in the region.

“This is an act of ethnic cleansing, if you will — almost genocide,” said Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.

Four massive truck bombs took the lives of nearly 500 Yazidi Kurdish villagers in an act that some officials think is part of al Qaeda’s attempt to cleanse the region of non-Muslim groups.

The bombing “may not have only been an act of opportunity but a calculated maneuver by al Qaeda insurgents intent on destroying coalition efforts to stabilize the nation; made up mainly of Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish people,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Col. Garver said the reasons behind the recent attack are still under investigation, but increased violence against Kurdish groups may be a sign that al Qaeda is provoking political and social instability after losing significant strongholds to coalition and Iraqi forces.

“The insurgents may have killed these Kurdish people as a way to frighten other moderate Sunni groups in the region — those who may be looking for a common ground for peace,” Col. Garver told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced an alliance of moderate Shi’ites and Kurds in an effort to save the current government, but Sunni officials refused to join. Mr. al-Maliki said that he would leave the door open for Sunni officials who may want to join the alliance at a later date.

Col. Garver said al Qaeda is facing a backlash from the Iraqi people who are frustrated by the loss of life and instability.

“The insurgents had success in igniting reprisals at the end of March, when they detonated two truck bombs in Tal Afar itself,” Col. Garver added. “Again it’s only hypothetical, but they had one night of success, where chaos took over. It may be that they were expecting a similar response after these most recent bombings.”

Last March, a twin truck bombing killed 152 persons in Tal Afar. The night of the bombings, Shi’ite gunmen stormed a Sunni district in Tal Afar, not far from the Yazidi villages in northern Iraq.

The gunmen — mainly local police officers — killed more than 50 Sunni men in an apparent reprisal for the bombings, even though the Sunni men were not operating with the insurgents, Col. Garver said.

The violence, according to military officials, is expected to escalate as Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker prepare the Sept. 15 progress report.

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