Thursday, December 06, 2007

Iraqis in Mousil see rise in violence

I feel bad for Iraqis in Mousil, where violence is actually rising.  Notice the photo of insurgents provided by Al Jazeera.  How do Al Jazeera correspondents get so close to them?
Al-Qaeda moving to Iraq's north
Published:Dec 06, 2007

BAGHDAD - US military officials claimed today that Al-Qaeda fighters have been migrating to northern areas of Iraq after being chased out of safe havens in Baghdad and other volatile regions.

As more and more Sunni Arabs from Iraq's west and from Baghdad align with US forces to fight the group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq militants have been moving to provinces such as Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salaheddin, they said.

General David Petraeus, the head of US-led coalition forces in Iraq, said today that troops were chasing Al-Qaeda fighters to where they were headed.

"Rest assured we try to make the adjustments necessary to pursue them," he told reporters in Baghdad, referring to the group's increased movements in these provinces.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who made a surprise one-night visit to Iraq, said yesterday that Al-Qaeda fighters were moving to the north after being pushed "out from the west and south."

In the first years after the fall of the former regime, Iraq's western province of Anbar was the main stronghold of Al-Qaeda led Sunni insurgents fighting US forces.

But since September 2006, Sunni tribes there have aligned with US forces and turned against the group following its excessive brutality in which many Sunnis were also slaughtered.

The alliance of these Sunnis and US soldiers has dramatically changed the situation in Anbar, while in Baghdad and the southern belts outside it a series of military crackdowns have massively dented the group's networks.

Major General Rick Lynch, who heads the US forces in central Iraq, last month told reporters that Al-Qaeda in Iraq was "losing support from local people" as more and more Sunnis turned against it.

In Baghdad itself they have lost ground in their former strongholds such as Adhamiyah, Ghazaliyah, Ameriyah and Jihad.

The group's increased movements in the north is confirmed by the fact that as violence in Baghad and Anbar fell, there has been a steady rise in bloodshed in the northern provinces.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Egyptian-born Abu Ayyub al-Masri, himself visited Nineveh province twice recently.

Gates specifically mentioned that Mosul was witnessing increased militant activities.

In fact, he jetted into Mosul from Kabul to get a first hand briefing from the ground commanders in and around Nineveh.

The militant group has, however, managed to maintain its threat in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, where despite military assaults suicide attacks are still a regular occurrence.

Diyala has been a stronghold of Al-Qaeda for many years now. The former head of the group, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was slain in a US air strike in the province last year.

To counter them the US military began last month Operation Iron Hammer which encompasses not just Diyala, but also Salaheddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces.

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