From combined dispatches
BAGHDAD — Insurgent groups in one of Iraq’s most violent provinces claim they have purged the region of three-quarters of al Qaeda’s supporters after forming an alliance to force out the foreign fighters.
If true, it would mark a significant victory in the fight against Abu Musab Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, and could partly explain the considerable drop in suicide bombings in Iraq recently.
“We have killed a number of the Arabs including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis and Jordanians,” London Daily Telegraph quoted an insurgent representative in the western province of Anbar as saying.
Iraq’s Sunni Muslim insurgents had originally welcomed al Qaeda into the country, seeing it as a powerful ally in its fight against the American occupation. But relations became strained when insurgents supported calls for Sunnis to vote in the Dec. 15 election, a move they saw as essential to break the Shi’ite hold on government, but which al Qaeda viewed as a form of collaboration.
It became an outright split when a wave of bombings killed scores of people in Anbar resulting in a spate of tit-for-tat killings.
In reaction, the Sunni tribal leaders formed their own anti-al Qaeda militia, the Anbar Revolutionaries. The group has a core membership of about 100 people, all of whom had relatives killed by al Qaeda. It is led by Ahmed Ftaikhan, a former Saddam-era military intelligence officer, the Telegraph reported.
The group claims to have killed 20 foreign fighters and 33 Iraqi sympathizers. The United States has confirmed that six of Zarqawi’s deputies were killed in the city of Ramadi in the province.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that an Anbar-based group has claimed it killed five top members of al Qaeda and associated groups in Ramadi.
The claim was posted on an Islamist Web site and attributed to the Anbar Revenge Brigade, the AP reported.
It listed the names of four suspected al Qaeda leaders. The fifth man, it said, was from Ansar al-Sunnah, a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda.
Iraq, which has suffered under a brutal insurgency for nearly three years, more recently has been racked by sectarian violence after the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine Feb. 22 in Samarra.
Afterward, Interior Ministry forces were accused of allowing Shi’ite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to conduct revenge attacks against Sunnis.
Yesterday, police found four hanged men dangling from electricity pylons in Baghdad’s Shi’ite Sadr City slum, hours after car bombs and mortars shells ripped through teeming market streets, killing at least 58 persons.
Police said members of Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi’s Army militia had captured the four men on Sunday.
The operations of militias and death squads have drawn criticism from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Yesterday, the Iraqi Defense and Interior ministries said they have reached an agreement requiring them to conduct all raids jointly, in a bid to stop the operations of death squads masquerading as police commandos.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who controls Iraqi police, is a Shi’ite. Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi is a Sunni Muslim.