“Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated,” according to Sheik Omar Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party and a member of the widespread and influential Jabouri Tribe. Speaking through an interpreter at a 31 October meeting at the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters in downtown Baghdad, Sheik Omar said that al Qaeda had been “defeated mentally, and therefore is defeated physically,” referring to how clear it has become that the terrorist group’s tactics have backfired. Operatives who could once disappear back into the crowd after committing an increasingly atrocious attack no longer find safe haven among the Iraqis who live in the southern part of Baghdad. They are being hunted down and killed. Or, if they are lucky, captured by Americans.
Colonel Ricky Gibbs, the American brigade commander with responsibility for the Rashid District in south Baghdad today told me, “So goes South Baghdad goes Baghdad.” General Petraeus had told me similar things about the importance of South Baghdad. In fact, Rashid is quickly developing into what might be one of the final serious battlegrounds of the war.
During the meeting, another member of the Iraqi Islamic Party said that al Qaeda has changed its strategy now that fomenting civil war between Sunni and Shia has backfired. Al Qaeda has shifted targets, now trying to generate friction between tribes. This time, however, the tribes are onto the game early, and they are not playing.
Sheik Omar, who has gained the respect of American combat leaders for his intelligence and organizational skills, said the tough line against al Qaeda is also enforced at the tribal level. According to Sheik Omar, the Jabouri tribe, too, is actively committed to destroying al Qaeda. So much so, that Jabouri tribal leaders have decided they would “kill their own sons” if any aided al Qaeda. To underscore the point, he went on to say that about 70 Jabouri “sons” had been killed by the Jabouri tribe so far.
In addition to brigade commander Colonel Ricky Gibbs, four of his battalion commanders were also present: Lieutenant Colonels James Crider, Patrick Frank, Stephen Michael and Myron Reineke. Sheik Omar expressed deep gratitude for their assistance.
Omar’s influence extends beyond tribal and party levels, to include important channels within the Iraqi government and the US military in Baghdad, as evidenced by the agenda of the hours-long meeting. But for the talk about al Qaeda, the focus was mostly on other topics, such as returning displaced persons to their homes, efficiently delivering basic services and jumpstarting the economy. In fact, more and more meetings in Iraq are turning to day-to-day business, and less time is required on military and security topics like targeting and addressing intelligence-type matters, which until recently monopolized most meetings across Iraq.
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