Monday, July 09, 2007

Perspective: Shifting alliances in police, army leave U.S. soldiers wary of treachery in their midst

Above: U.S. soldiers scan a street during operation 'Arrowhead Ripper' in Baqubah in June.

Khalis, Iraq - As the US military continues to move through Diyala Province to uproot Al Qaeda fighters hidden amid its villages, an emerging foe may be helping to erode many of the successes the Americans are having in the three-week-old operation "Arrowhead Ripper."

According to Iraqi soldiers and US officers, militants linked to Al Qaeda are using tribal and family connections and, in some cases, also providing financial incentives to members of the Iraqi Army to help them remain strong and evade capture.

Al Qaeda's position is also bolstered by a broader internecine sectarian struggle for survival, power, and resources between Sunnis and Shiites that has spilled into the Army itself. This fight within Iraqi security services often pits elements of the Army against the Shiite-dominated police force.

In interviews with Iraqi soldiers from the battalion based in Khalis, about 10 miles northwest of the provincial capital Baquba, some troops allege that Sunni and Shiite officers cooperate, respectively, with Al Qaeda-linked militants and Shiite militias. They say that this ranges from turning a blind eye to illegal checkpoints to actually facilitating the transit of weapons, ammunition, and cash through the checkpoints manned by the Iraqi Army.

A US Army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, goes even further.

"There have been reports of Iraqi Army units transporting weapons for militias and insurgents in military vehicles," he says, adding that some officers even receive money from truckers in return for assurances that the roads on which their convoys travel will be protected.

For example, six Sunni officers in the Iraqi Army battalion in Khalis hail from the prominent Sunni Arab Obeidi tribe. They are accused by Shiite officers in the battalion, and even by some fellow Sunni soldiers, of being on the payroll of fellow Obeidi Khaled Albu-Abali, a former senior officer in Saddam Hussein's army, who is suspected to have links to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor