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Renewed Fears of Al-Qaeda Return to Anbar

Special Correspondent
For Anbar, 2009 ended with two major explosions targeting the government complex building in the capital, Ramadi. The explosions killed and wounded dozens of people, including the governor, who is now hospitalised…
17.02.2010  |  Anbar

The explosions have renewed fears about Al Qaeda regaining control over the predominantly Sunni governorate. Sadoun Aifan, chairman of the Security Affairs Committee in the Governorate Council, said: "People are afraid of fluctuations in the security situation, especially with the elections approaching".

Security officials have made conflicting statements about who is to blame for the attacks. Brigadier General Mohammad Rashid, commander of the emergency regiment in the governorate, said, "Those involved in the suicide bombings are from Al-Qaeda,” a claim strongly denied by Major General Baha Qaisi, the police chief of Anbar, who said, “Al Qaeda was not involved whatsoever in the latest terrorist explosion.”

Over the past two years, Anbar security officials have become used to repeating: "Anbar has no Al-Qaeda presence." It is now difficult for them to admit the failure of their security plans, hence the conflicting statements.

Ali al-Mashhadani, who works with Salafi groups in the governorate, said: "Al Qaeda, contrary to security statements, is still very much present, and can be found in rural areas, especially hilly areas and areas with caves and in hot areas, like around Fallujah and the Karma and Saqlawiya sub-districts".

“Al-Qaeda has never left Anbar,” says Mashhadani, “Not for a single day. They just remained dormant in sleeper cells after 2007, waiting for the right moment to pounce".

Until mid-2007, Ramadi was considered the most dangerous area in Iraq, because of the violence and the dominance of the Qaeda-linked terrorist organisation, "The Islamic State of Iraq." But then the US-backed "Tribal Awakening Coalition" managed to defeat the group and restore security throughout the governorate.

Some believe, however, that the release of detainees from U.S. prisons has enabled al-Qaeda to return to action in the governorate.

"Newly released prisoners are afraid of retaliation by victims’ families or of further lawsuits,” believes Hikmat Jassim Zeidan, Anbar’s deputy governor for administrative affairs, “So they escape to remote areas and are recruited again by terrorist organisations."

Some officials also believe that tribal involvement in security matters is helping the security situation to deteriorate.

“The security services are very weak due to internal widespread administrative corruption as well as tribal interventions,” said Maj Gen Qaisi. His views were echoed by a member of the Governorate Council who wished to remain anonymous.

“Some tribal leaders,” he said, “Pay bribes to release their sons who are members of al Qaeda. As soon as they are released, they return to terrorism.”

However, Sheikh Ibrahim Marwan Al-Dulaimi, a Ramadi elder believes that the tribes deserve the credit for expelling al-Qaeda and returning security and order to Anbar.

"The problem is not in the tribes, but in the fact that many current security personnel were working for Al Qaeda," he said.

Over the past two months, the Anbar police headquarters expelled 59 recruits due to involvement in "criminal" cases.

Observers fear a return to intensive terrorist attacks, with the escalating tension between forces competing in the elections on 7 March.

Dr. Raafat Al-Rawi, a professor at the University of Anbar, believes that "the intermittent waves of violence in Anbar are likely to escalate in light of the heated competition at the elections".

In Anbar, 306 candidates (from 21 mostly tribal political entities) will compete for 14 seats, Anbar’s parliamentary quota.

Some believe that elections will pass peacefully but Dr. Rawi is apprehensive: “We might witness terrorist operations in the upcoming period, with the goals of political elimination or deterring some parties from participating in the elections."