A diary and another document seized during U.S. raids show some Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders fear the terror group is crumbling, with many fighters defecting to American-backed neighborhood groups, the U.S. military said Sunday.
The military revealed two documents discovered by American troops in November: a 39-page memo written by a mid- to high-level Al Qaeda official with knowledge of the group's operations in Iraq's western Anbar province, and a 16-page diary written by another group leader north of Baghdad.
In the Anbar document, the author describes an Al Qaeda in crisis, with citizens growing weary of militants' presence and foreign fighters too eager to participate in suicide missions rather than continuing to fight, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman.
"We lost cities and afterward, villages... We find ourselves in a wasteland desert," Smith quoted the document as saying.
The memo — believed to have been written in summer 2007 — cites militants' increasing difficulty in moving around and transporting weapons and suicide belts because of better equipped Iraqi police and more watchful citizens, Smith said.
The diary, seized by U.S. troops south of Balad, was written in autumn 2007 by Abu Tariq, who refers to himself as sector leader for al-Qaida in Iraq, Smith said. Tariq wrote that he was once in charge of 600 fighters, but only 20 were left "after the tribes changed course" — a reference to how many Sunni tribesmen have switched sides to fight alongside the Americans, Smith said.
The Sunni tribes' yearlong alliance with U.S. forces is credited with helping reduce violence across the country.
The new organizations, called awakening councils or neighborhood watch groups, were key to helping push Al Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar province, once one of the country's most violent. The terror network's top leaders are now based somewhere in northern Iraq, Smith said, having moved out of Anbar and into Diyala province last year.
"The diary shows that Al Qaeda regards these volunteer citizen groups as a grave threat, and that terrorists are targeting them," Smith told reporters.
In recent months, attacks on the Sunni volunteers have spiked while overall violence has steadily declined, he said.
Underscoring continued violence between militants and U.S.-allied fighters, clashes erupted Sunday when insurgents stormed two villages in northwestern Iraq, local officials said. Sunni volunteers and Iraqi security forces repelled the attack, but at least 22 people were killed, according to a Sunni lawmaker who heads an anti-Al Qaeda group as well as an Iraqi Army officer.
The U.S. military described both of the insurgent documents Sunday, but allowed reporters to see just four pages of Tariq's diary, citing security reasons.
The documents tell "narrow but compelling stories of the challenges Al Qaeda in Iraq is facing," Smith told reporters in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone. He stressed that the documents revealed the terror group's weakened operations and morale in only two areas, and that it did not mean Al Qaeda had been defeated.
"This does not signal the end of Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it is a contemporary account of the challenges posed to terrorists from the people of Iraq," Smith said.
He said the documents are believed to be authentic, Smith said, because they contain details that only Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders could know about battlefield movements and tactics.
Smith said the biggest blow to Al Qaeda, according to the documents, has been former Sunni fighters' new alliance with the Americans. At least 77,500 volunteers have partnered with U.S. and Iraqi troops countrywide, he said.
Some 15,000 of those are in Baghdad, and the most recent growth has been in awakening councils in Diyala province and the rest of northern Iraq, Smith added.
In Baghdad, one of the neighborhoods most improved with help from Sunni volunteers was Amariyah, on the city's west side. On Sunday, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in the predominantly Sunni area, protesting the recent arrests of 17 residents.
Shops were shuttered as the crowd pushed through Amariyah, chanting pro-Sunni and anti-American slogans. At one point, demonstrators unfurled a large Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi flag over the crowd.
Iraq's flag was altered recently, to eliminate three green stars thought to symbolize Saddam's ousted Baath Party.