Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Assassination of Prominent Sheikh May Highlight Ba’athist Infighting

Sheikh Ghazi al-Hanesh (Arab Sunni), 66, paramount sheikh of the Ta’i tribal confederacy, was assassinated by unknown assailants in Mosul today as he was leaving Friday prayers at a mosque in the Wihdeh neighborhood near his home.

Al-Hanesh had arranged the surrender of his kinsmen Sultan Hashim al-Ta’i, Saddam’s former Defense Minister, in September 2003 to General David Petraeus, then based in Mosul, on condition that al-Ta’i would be removed from the 55 Most Wanted List and not be held liable for prosecution. The lead prosecutor for the Anfal Genocide trial currently underway in Iraq had asked for the death penalty for al-Tai a just few days ago for his role as the commander of an Iraqi Army corps conducting Anfal Operations against civilian Kurds in the late 1980s.

Al-Hanesh was arrested by U.S. forces in Baghdad during December 2003 along with three of his sons over allegations that he was harboring Saddam’s Vice-President, Izzet al-Douri, but was later released.

The Ta’i tribe is considered one of the major tribal groups in Iraq and is spread out all over Iraq and it encompasses Sunnis as well as Shi’as. However, there were always rumblings from Ta’i tribesmen that al-Hanesh was too mediocre of a tribal leader who was more interested in his business ventures than in managing the day to day affairs of such a major tribe.

There are two contradictory explanations being given to me by those who follow the Ba’ath Party closely as to why this high-level assassination took place:

-Al-Hanesh was killed by Izzet al-Douri’s men over money: Allegedly al-Douri had entrusted funds with al-Hanesh, who moonlights as a businessman and is independently wealthy, and that al-Hanesh refused to hand over the money when asked recently. Negotiations had been ongoing for the past two months between the two sides in Syria to reach a settlement over the money, but were cut off a couple of weeks ago by al-Douri’s side.

-Al-Hanesh was killed by Muhammad Younis al-Ahmed’s men for siding with al-Douri: Muhammad Younis al-Ahmad was the head of the Ba’ath Party’s Military Command, and became one of the top insurgent leaders after the fall of the regime. In the past few months, al-Ahmad, who commands a wide following among Ba’athists in the Mosul area, has sought the patronage of the Syrian Ba’ath Party and split from the Ba’athist faction commanded by al-Douri. Mosul is considered al-Younis’ turf and he could have killed off al-Hanesh as a possible al-Douri sympathizer.

I’m also speculating that al-Hanesh was killed by Sultan Hashim’s relatives for failing to keep his promise of amnesty. There is always the possibility that Al-Qaeda killed al-Hanesh, but my sources are discounting this scenario.

Either ways, the Ba’athists seem to be descending further and further into disarray and have become a marginal force in the insurgency.