Anbar Revenge Brigade Makes Progress in the Fight Against al-Qaeda

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 12

The Anbar Revenge Brigade, an armed group of Sunni tribal elements, announced earlier this month that it had killed five of al-Qaeda’s top members operating in Iraq. In an internet statement posted on an Islamic website, the group stated, “Your brothers, heroes of the Revenge Brigade, carried out the killing of five important elements of al-Qaeda group, avenging the death of the sons of our Ramadi city” (Asharq al-Awsat, March 13).

Four of the individuals killed by the Anbar Revenge Brigade were leaders of al-Qaeda and the fifth was from Ansar al-Sunnah, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda and part of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Mujahideen Shura Council. Little information has been released as to the names of those killed. The Anbar Revenge Brigade has a record of previous engagement against al-Qaeda. In January, al-Hayat reported that the group arrested 270 al-Qaeda and foreign terrorists in al-Anbar Province.

Much attention has been devoted to the cooperation between indigenous Iraqi insurgents and foreign al-Qaeda fighters. There is a growing trend, however, of Iraqi resistance forces turning against al-Qaeda in their effort to end the coalition military occupation. Groups like Anbar Revenge Brigade have come to the conclusion that the best way to reduce the coalition troop presence in their home regions is to flush out al-Qaeda elements in their cities. Iraqi Sunni tribal and religious leaders have been victims of al-Qaeda attacks, further turning key tribes in al-Anbar against al-Qaeda elements.

The Anbar Revenge Brigade was formed with Iraqi government and coalition military backing and support through a “security committee” initiative that attempts to place security responsibility in the hands of local residents. The Anbar Revenge Brigade and groups like it are not a formal part of Iraq’s security structure. Instead, they are armed groups made up of tribal members that assist securing al-Anbar in conjunction with Iraqi security services (Assyrian News Agency, January 30). It is estimated that the Brigade consists of around 100 members.

The creation of the Anbar Revenge Brigade stemmed from meetings between provincial leaders, Iraqi security officials and coalition representatives in November 2005. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss creative solutions to step up U.S. withdrawal and to secure the cooperation of tribal elements in improving the security situation in the restive province (Arab Times, March 16).

The formation of the group, however, had less to do with its desire to cooperate with state security officials and more with taking revenge against al-Qaeda—hence its name. Although the coalition military and the Iraqi government have attempted to secure tribal support for some time with limited success, it was not until the assassination of senior tribal members by al-Qaeda that tribal leaders were prompted to act (al-Hayat, January 27).

Internet postings by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for the assassination of the deputy governor of al-Anbar, as well as senior tribal leaders from the Arif Mukhaybar al-Alwani, and leaders of the al-Bu Alwan tribe (Iraqi Resistance Report, February 16). Al-Hayat also reported that senior leaders of the al-Karabla tribe were targeted by al-Qaeda foreign fighters and have begun serious cooperation with Iraqi and coalition security services.

The Anbar Revenge Brigade is one of six groups that have promised to stop all forms of cooperation with al-Qaeda and form what they term “The People’s Cells” to oversee security. They have direct communication capabilities with coalition and Iraqi military forces (al-Hayat, January 27). Tribal leaders, however, do not envision the indefinite existence of the organization; they only see it lasting until they are satisfied that al-Qaeda fighters have been removed from their areas of control and until the coalition military has reduced its visibility in the province.