Fed up with being part of a group that cuts off a person’s face with piano wire to teach others a lesson, dozens of low-level members of Al Qaeda in Iraq are daring to become informants for the U.S. military in a hostile Baghdad neighborhood.
The ground-breaking move in Doura is part of a wider trend that has started in other Al Qaeda hotspots across the country and in which Sunni insurgent groups and tribal sheikhs have stood together with the coalition against the extremist movement.
“They are turning. We are talking to people who we believe have worked for Al Qaeda in Iraq and want to reconcile and have peace,” said Col. Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which oversees the area.
The sewage-filled streets of Doura, a Sunni Arab enclave in south Baghdad, provide an ugly setting for what U.S. commanders say is Al Qaeda’s last stronghold in the city. The secretive group, however, appears to be losing its grip as a “surge” of U.S. troops in the neighborhood — part of the latest effort by President Bush to end the chaos in Iraq — has resulted in scores of fighters being killed, captured or forced to flee.
“Al Qaeda’s days are numbered and right now he is scrambling,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Michael, who commands a battalion of 700 troops in Doura.
A key factor is that local people and members of Al Qaeda itself have become sickened by the violence and are starting to rebel, Lt. Col. Michael said. “The people have got to deny them sanctuary and that is exactly what is happening.”