Iraqi Insurgents Chastise Al-Qaeda

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Members of the Islamic Army of Iraq

Al-Qaeda has overstayed its welcome among a powerful group of Iraqi insurgents. One of the most influential nationalist insurgent groups in Iraq has asked Osama bin Laden to remember his religious duty to his fellow Muslims and "bring in line" his organization in Iraq. An open letter from the Islamic Army in Iraq posted on its affiliated website, Al Badil, has demanded that the new al-Qaeda-led alliance reform its ways and stop its attacks on Sunni Muslims and rival jihadi groups.

The letter comes at a time of upheaval inside insurgent circles in Iraq. In the fall, al- Qaeda created a new jihadi super-group called the Islamic State of Iraq to unite the disparate cells fighting the U.S. and Shi'ite militias in the country. Al-Qaeda demanded all insurgent groups swear loyalty to the new organization, but some of the most active Iraqi nationalist groups refused. These included the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and the Mujahideen Army, all of which include many well-trained military officers of the former regime. These groups tend to shun sectarian warfare and are more focused on attacking the U.S. and the current Iraqi government with the objective of ending the occupation and restoring a Sunni-led regime.

Over the past several months, al-Qaeda has retaliated by targeting the leaders of these independent groups and killing their members. Al-Qaeda "went too far," says the letter, "by killing 30 mujahideen brothers." In doing so, al-Qaeda is beginning to spark a wildfire of tribal vendettas that will be difficult to put out. Two weeks ago, the assassination of Harith Thahir al-Dari, the son of the sheik of the Zoba tribe, turned the powerful clan against al-Qaeda. Al-Dari is also the nephew of the leader of the Islamic Scholars Association, Harith al-Dari, and was a commander of the nationalist insurgent group the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution. Clashes, the letter says, are still going on between al-Qaeda and the nationalist Brigades of the 1920 Revolution in the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad.

The letter from the Islamic Army of Iraq goes on to criticize the manner in which al-Qaeda has operated in Anbar, extorting money from the wealthy, killing civilians, demanding women cover their faces and calling anyone who opposes them "infidels." After listing all the ways al-Qaeda has been mistreating the citizens of Anbar and its comrades in arms, justifying each point with a verse from the Koran, the Islamic Army of Iraq appeals directly to Osama bin Laden, telling him he can no longer distance himself from the actions of his own organization, that he has duty to defend his honor and his faith, and he must "bring in line" his followers in Iraq.

This development comes at a time when al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is already feeling pressure in the restive Anbar province, a longtime stronghold for the organization west of Baghdad. A U.S.-backed consortium of tribal sheiks, known as the Anbar Salvation Council, fed up with al-Qaeda's indifference to civilian deaths and hard-line enforcement of sharia law in their hamlets, has been given a free hand to push the network out of Anbar. On Friday the council announced it had killed four al-Qaeda operatives and found a large cache of documents in a safe house that contains letters between al-Qaeda cell members and their leaders as well as detailed files on various targeted residents of Ramadi, imams of mosques and university students. "Our work," read the statement from the sheik heading up the council, "continues until we finish them all."