There is evidence that al-Qaeda is being squeezed out of Baghdad by the troop surge and has already been driven out of its traditional stronghold in Anbar province. In response, Al-Qaeda in Iraq has attempted to make Diyala province their new headquarters. Diyala has always been an active area for al-Qaeda, and they have set up training camps in the adjacent Hamrin Mountains and are attempting to turn the province into an Islamic principality under their command. They have forbidden the sale of cigarettes, forced the niqab upon women and closed internet cafes (al-Sabah, April 10). Residents report that al-Qaeda elements have set up false checkpoints to kidnap men and have broken into residential houses at night. One sheikh said, “They take the men to orchards and farms…where they train them on how to fight and how to plant explosives. Those who don’t obey their commands are killed” (al-Hayat, April 4).
According to reports from Diyala’s residents, al-Qaeda is forcing families to marry their daughters to its members and requiring their sons to fight on their behalf. They have raided schools and killed teachers in front of their students (al-Mada, May 15). In fact, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), of which al-Qaeda is a part, has killed and displaced hundreds of civilians who have not cooperated with their demands. They have threatened tribal leaders and tried to prohibit anyone from cooperating with the Iraqi government. These strong-arm tactics have caused a mass exodus of Diyala residents, compounding Iraq’s internal refugee problem. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society reported that, in one week alone, 700 households abandoned their homes in Diyala (al-Sharqiyah TV, May 12).
Nevertheless, some Diyala residents are fighting back. Following the example of the Anbar tribes, Diyala has formed its own salvation council. Despite, and as a result of, its aggressive tactics, al-Qaeda is facing fierce resistance that has resulted in a number of deaths within their ranks (al-Mustaqbal, April 30). The Diyala Salvation Council is a coalition of tribal leaders, prominent members of the community and their followers. No less than nine major tribes have joined—the Shammar, al-Jabbour, al-Zawba, Duleim, Tamim, Bani Assad, Bani Lam, al-Naime and al-Obeid—and many of them encompass both Shiite and Sunni members. The Diyala Salvation Council is supported by a Diyala youth paramilitary group called “Top of Diyala” (al-Mada, May 15). According to reports, even indigenous Sunni insurgents such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army in Iraq are joining Sunni and Shiite tribesmen in Diyala to defeat al-Qaeda (al-Hayat, May 14). Indigenous Sunni insurgent support of the Diyala Salvation Council has remarkably become a vehicle for negotiations with the Iraqi government. The Islamic Army in particular has begun to negotiate and coordinate with Iraqi government forces in a joint effort to root out al-Qaeda (al-Hayat, March 20).
The grassroots Salvation Council has also forced the hand of the Iraqi government. A “Diyala Support Council” has been formed among Sunni and Shiite provincial leaders and members of parliament to help coordinate military operations and support. MP Muayyid al-Obeid explained the role of the support group: “It will coordinate with the ministries of defense and interior and supervise the military operations of the province…The council also formed subcommittees inside the cities, towns and villages in the province which are witnessing security escalation.”
Nevertheless, Diyala residents are not relying on Iraqi government support that has been slow in coming. Judge Wail Abdul Latif, a parliamentarian and former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, has encouraged Diyala’s tribes and urged them to continue fighting al-Qaeda and the ISI instead of waiting for government support. He stated, “The creation of a tribal council in Diyala, similar to the Anbar Salvation Council, would be enough to fix the situation” (al-Mada, May 15). Although a council may not be enough to “fix the situation,” it is a positive start that will hopefully mirror the success of the Anbar Salvation Council.