Photo by AP
Abu Omar cleans his machine gun with an old checkered Arab headdress that he also uses to conceal his identity when he’s fighting on the streets. But this insurgent hasn’t fought the Americans in two weeks. The growing influence of al-Qaeda in the Sunni city of Ramadi has alarmed his Baathist group, which is losing influence to a new generation of Iraqi Talibans.
Abu Omar leads a cell of 30 fighters from his neighborhood in the southern outskirts of Ramadi. They belong to the 20th Revolution Brigade, a group of former Baathists and army officers who are believed to be commanded by Harith Al-Dhari, a prominent Sunni cleric and critic of growing Shia influence who leads a Sunni clerics’ group from exile in Egypt. Abu Omar says their commanders urge them not to fight other insurgents, but he says Dhari is losing influence over his organization as they stand up to al-Qaeda’s domination in Iraq’s desert-filled rebel province of Anbar.
Al-Qaeda militants have long killed policemen and Iraqi soldiers working for local authorities and often drag out so-called “spies” or “traitors” from their homes to execute them in broad daylight, beheading victims with a kitchen knife and dumping their bodies on main roads to instill fear in the hearts of residents. Al-Qaeda militants, who have huge amounts of funding according to several sources in insurgent groups, try to implement their own social laws from banning smoking to killing ice sellers, sweet sellers, and barbers under the pretext that it’s forbidden for people to do anything that wasn’t done 1,400 years ago under the Prophet Mohammed’s state. Abu Omar says al-Qaeda has a double standard. “Why do they use explosives and guns and drive cars? They should go back to horses and fight with swords,” he said.
Another member of the 20th Revolution Brigade says his group only allied with al-Qaeda because of their shared vision of a Sunni-dominated Iraq but admits that things have changed: “Now, we’ve lived with them and their ridiculous ways, we know we would rather be ruled by Bush or even the Kuwaitis.” The group says al-Qaeda’s unlimited supply of money is very suspicious. The other member, who wished only to be named as Ahmed, said al-Qaeda is funded by foreign intelligence agencies that seek to further destabilize Iraq for their own interests—a vision shared by the United States and parts of the Iraq government.
Abu Omar says his men have killed eight al-Qaeda fighters in targeted killings in Ramadi during the past week alone. “We are still inferior in terms of strength, but we can pick off their fighters through our intelligence when they are unsuspecting.”
Most of Anbar’s tribes have openly declared war on al-Qaeda and the government has pledged its support and funding to arm the tribes and aid them in clearing the western towns of al-Qaeda’s presence.
Ali Omar, a sympathizer with al-Qaeda believes the group should fight everyone who doesn’t agree with its cause, “We have to purify the people and guide them to the way of Wahhabism [a strict Sunni sect that despises Shia]. If someone stands against this, then we must execute them, including other members of the resistance,” he said.
The fight between insurgents is a boost to the government which wants to see al-Qaeda and other extremist groups driven out of Iraq by the country’s Sunni population who have so far given them sanctuary.
But 20th Revolution Brigade commander Abu Omar believes the fight will be long. “They have unlimited funding but we have unlimited determination. In the end, one will cancel out the other. Let’s hope will beats wealth.”