Al-Qaeda Responsible for Fadhel Fighting (Updated)
This is what the Washington Post has on its front-page today: “Al-Qaeda Branch Claims Algeria Blasts”.
This is what the New York Times has on its front-page today: “Two Suicide Bombings by Unit of Al Qaeda Kill at Least 23 in Algeria”.
But when it comes to Iraq, there’s a different standard: both the New York Times and the Washington Post failed to mention that Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the fighting in the Fadhel neighborhood of central Baghdad, which both papers covered extensively on their front-pages yesterday.
The ISI’s claims of responsibility was widely circulated many, many hours before either paper went to print on Tuesday night. The ISI claims in its press release to have shot down three helicopters.
There’s one standard for writing up terrorism stories from Iraq, and another standard when terrorism happens anywhere else.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the parliament attack today that I know of up to the time of this posting. IraqSlogger think they saw one at muslm.net but I don’t see it there. I spoke to a member of parliament who says he left the cafeteria minutes before the explosion, and he says that the place was uncharacteristically empty this afternoon, which helped in keeping the number of casualties down.
Plus, I found this ISI “progress report” on their activities from March 16-31 very telling (…it’s in Arabic, and I can’t be bothered to translate it): the vast majority of their terrorist activity occurs within Baghdad province, rather than in the other Sunni provinces.
Clearly Al-Qaeda believes that the bulk of its terrorist output happens in Baghdad, which would make the success of the Baghdad Security Plan all that more important.
Drawing on his fresh take on what’s happening in Iraq, Fouad Ajami’s Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday was masterful as always, and here are my favorite excerpts (full text in the comments section):
The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad's Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.
Whole mixed districts in the city--Rasafa, Karkh--have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.
No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today's Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city's population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq.
A cultured member of the (Sunni) Association of Muslim Scholars in Baghdad, a younger man of deep moderation, likened the dilemma of his community to that of the Palestinian Arabs since 1948. "They waited for deliverance that never came," he said. "Like them, we placed our hopes in Arab leaders who have their own concerns. We fell for those Arab satellite channels, we believed that Arab brigades would turn up in Anbar and Baghdad. We made room for al Qaeda only to have them turn on us in Anbar." There had once been a Sunni maxim in Iraq, "for us ruling and power, for you self-flagellation," that branded the Shia as a people of sorrow and quietism. Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.
The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad. This Shia underclass had been hurled into the city from its ancestral lands in the Marshes and the Middle Euphrates. In a cruel twist of irony, Baathist terror had driven these people into the slums of Baghdad. The Baathist tyranny had cut down the palm trees in the south, burned the reed beds of the Marshes. Then the campaign of terror that Sunni society sheltered and abetted in the aftermath of the despot's fall gave the Mahdi Army its cause and its power.
"The Mahdi Army protected us and our lands, our homes, and our honor," said a tribal Shia notable in a meeting in Baghdad, acknowledging that it was perhaps time for the boys of Moqtada al-Sadr to step aside in favor of the government forces. He laid bare, as he spoke, the terrible complications of this country; six of his sisters, he said, were married to Sunnis, countless nephews of his were Sunni. Violence had hacked away at this pluralism; no one could be certain when, and if, the place could mend.
UPDATE (Thursday evening):
Now both the Ansar al-Sunnah and Hamas-Iraq (a faction that broke from the 1920 Revolt Brigade) are claiming responsibility for the fighting in Fadhel. Their press releases come a full two days after the fighting began, whereas the ISI’s was released on the same day.
Hamas-Iraq is firming up its account of allegedly shooting down an Apache helicopter in Fadhel (...U.S. military that the aircraft sustained fire but was not shot down) by releasing footage of “11 maps of Baghdad, 10 different IDs, and an American passport” they allege were recovered from the wreckage, but that they could only get the footage out today.
This sounds a lot like what happened when the Blackwater helicopter was shot down in the same neighborhood back in January (scroll down), when Ansar al-Sunnah, 1920 Revolt Brigades, and the Islamic Army of Iraq all claimed responsibility.
I think that what is happening in this particular neighborhood is that the criminal gang that controls Fadhel, the Zanabirah (from the Jubur tribe, Sunnis, they used to be employed in gathering re-usable building materials from old collapsing homes), have essentially opened-up a side business in terrorism and organized crime, and would conduct such operations and then sell the information or some captured paraphernalia to the groups mentioned above for bragging rights. However, it is very likely that the ISI/Al-Qaeda has its own independent cell operating in Fadhel outside of the control of the Zanabirah; there are plenty of Sudanese and Egyptian laborers who live there, and foreign non-Iraqi Arab fighters can easily blend in among them.
There is still no claim of responsibility for the parliament attack.
UPDATE (Saturday, April 14, 2007):
Just for the record: Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq took credit for the parliament attack.