The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


April 17, 2007

Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 4/17/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url:

The intra-Sunni fighting in Al-Anbar province is continuing, and the violence is rising. I'll try my hand at laying out some of the recent events, and explain a little bit of how the various elements you may hear about in the news are related. I've distilled a fair bit of material from Bill Roggio, other sources, and personal knowledge. I don't have a lot of time, so this will probably be sloppy and fairly unedited.

Since the start of the year, Al-Qaeda In Iraq has attempted 11 chlorine VBIEDs, nine in Al-Anbar, one in Tadji, and one in Baghdad. Of those, nine have detonated with varying degrees of success, and two were found and disabled in Ramadi. The most recent attacks were this morning, in downtown Falluja, outside the government center. Iraqi troops engaged two trucks just after 0630, causing both to explode just short of the base.

Taken together, the string of chlorine bombings have killed 32 Iraqis and wounded over 600, most of them civilians. One U.S. soldier was wounded in an attack on an Iraqi Police checkpoint, as well as possibly more today in Falluja. These attacks have overwhelmingly been targeted towards Iraqi forces, and the leaders and people of the tribes who have begun to oppose Al-Qaeda In Iraq.

There are thirty-one major tribes in the Al-Anbar province. Of those thirty-one, twenty-five support the Anbar Awakening effort of the Anbar Salvation Council -- the social and political gathering of sheiks and former insurgents who oppose terroism in Al-Anbar. Of the six remaining tribes, the Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and the Anbar Salvation Council are attempting to split two off from the Al-Qaeda umbrella organization, Islamic State of Iraq. Those two tribes are the Al-bu Issa and the Al-Zuba'a. Both have started to fight against Al-Qaeda, and are beginning to pay for it dearly. One chlorine bomb detonated in the Al-bu Issa region of Falluja, as I wrote before, injuring 250 civilians.

Thahir al-Dari is the sheik of the Al-Zuba'a tribe. His son, Harith Dhaher al-Dari was a military leader in the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades. The 1920 Revolutionary Brigades is a nationalist Sunni insurgent group that was formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Earlier this year, the group began to split -- one splinter wanted to remain with Al-Qaeda, and the other wanted a break because of disagreements over methods and goals (including issues such as Al-Qaeda's frequent targeting of civilians). Since the rift began, members of the 1920's Brigades have been working with the Anbar Salvation Council (including fighting Al-Qaeda in defense of one of the council leaders), and reportedly engaging in talks with the government and coalition forces. Harith al-Dari was killed by Al-Qaeda fighters near Abu Ghraib yesterday, along with a bodyguard.

His father, the sheik, narrowly escaped. Salam al-Zuba'a is one of the deputy prime ministers of Iraq, from the Al-Zuba'a tribe. He narrowly escaped being assassinated in a car bomb attack on his mosque on March 23rd. The chief suspect in the bombing is one of his bodyguards -- accused of being a member of an insurgent group friendly to Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Anbar Salvation Council.

Two years ago, Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan tried to gather other tribes together to stand against Al-Qaeda. He was swiftly killed, and the leadership of the other tribes was dismantled. Al-Qaeda then filled the vacuum, and the insurgency became stronger. Al-Qaeda has tried at least four times to kill senior leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council with bombs or all-out assault, and has killed several leaders of insurgent groups that show signs of willingness to work with the Anbar Salvation Council or the Iraqi government. This time around, though, the situation is far more favorable to the sheiks than it was two years ago. First, the U.S. military has finally begun to work with the tribes in a realistic fashion, paving the way for tribal militias to supplement the Iraqi Forces. Secondly, the Iraqi Forces themselves are far more numerous and better equipped than they were two years ago.

I'll go out on a little bit of a limb and say that the insurgency is quickly approaching a tipping point. If things continue as they are right now, our military won't need a surge to chase the terrorists out of Anbar -- the citizens will do it for us, which is as it should be. It's beginning to show already: more local tips, more police recruits (far more than anticipated) -- and sadly, in bigger and more desperate Al-Qaeda attacks.

At this point, a reconciled insurgent is better than a captured one, and a captured one is better than a dead one. That is a hard fact for the military to accept. We are quickly approaching the point at which more and more soldiers and Marines will be asked to support men who fought with and sometimes killed their brothers-in-arms. That is not an easy thing to do, even in the aftermath of a conventional war, and it is far more difficult when fighting an insurgency. However, it is absolutely necessary. We will be asked to fight the strategy of our enemy rather than his fleeting fighters. We will have to defeat Al-Qaeda's attempts to disrupt and derail the efforts of the population to end the violence. We will have to spend more time away from our big, safe bases, and more time getting to know the local leaders -- the leaders that can tell their men to join the Iraqi forces and forsake the insurgency. We will spend more time with their people -- the people that have known the insurgents since they were children. The people that form an intelligence net far more effective than ours will ever be, if they trust us enough to share it.

It's a big job, but I think we may have finally learned enough forgotten lessons from places like East Timor, Vietnam, Ireland, Malaysia, and others that it just might work this time.

Color me hopeful.

That's all I have for now. Keep reading, watch the news, and keep your eyes to the sky. I'll try to keep writing about the winds here in Al-Anbar. They are changing.


I just want to thank you all who post your entries to help us understand what you are facing in Iraq and Afganistan. How can we ever make any decisions here if we don't know what is going on over there and have at least an idea of your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for sharing with us and thank you for protecting us.

Good analysis, Don. THIS is just the sort of thing that could work. I dearly hope it does as there has been too much death already. It will take two generations for some of these splits to heal (a bit at least), but a general civility is needed for the country to take care of itself and use the amazing potential of its people. Keep writing your assesments; they are very informative.

Thanks for the updates on how things really are going over there. Having spent a quarter of my deployment in Ramadi I'm always looking for current information from the troops as to what is really going on over there. Working with the media as I do, I know how they decide what to report and why.

Your blog does sound hopeful, and I am hopeful you're right about things starting to get better. It's just too bad too many lessons have had to be relearned. But hey, as long as things still have a chance of turning out for the better that's what matters, right?

Keep safe, and thanx again for the postings.

Thankyou so much for keeping us informed. Look forward to your next post.
Keep safe!

I hope your post will get to the Congress and Senate that have a Presidential election in this country more on their mind than the confusion they want to see in Iraq, always easier to assume that hopeless won't hurt you if you ignore it until it goes away. Hang in there, I wish I could help -- will talk it up and pray, take care out there.

GOD BLESS YOU! Where the hell are all the damn journalists??? All we ever hear is useless "250 dead in a bombing" from the naysayers, or "we're winning" from the cheerleaders. No one ever reports on WHY! THIS is the kind of reporting that we should expect from all those august news bodies and self-inflated pundits!

Keep up the excellent work!!!

GOD BLESS YOU! Where the hell are all the damn journalists??? All we ever hear is useless "250 dead in a bombing" from the naysayers, or "we're winning" from the cheerleaders. No one ever reports on WHY! THIS is the kind of reporting that we should expect from all those august news bodies and self-inflated pundits!

Keep up the excellent work!!!

This is the most cogent, in depth and hopeful account I have read anywhere about the current situation in Iraq. Color me grateful!!!

Please accept the thanks of a grateful Canadian. Your sacrifces, and those of your family, are appreciated by many. Keep writing and know that this person is listening. Here's to your, and your Unit's,return to the welcome that all Warriors deserve. Chin up, eh.

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