By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2007 – Circumstantial evidence indicates al Qaeda in Iraq is weakening and popular support is swinging toward the coalition in Iraq's Diyala province, the commander of U.S. military forces there said yesterday. In a call with online journalists, Army Lt. Col. Morris Goins, commander of 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, Multinational Division North, said the fact al Qaeda is increasingly turning to kidnapping for ransom as a means of financing implies support for the organization is waning among the area's Sunni population.
Al Qaeda "has to use the Sunni population to gain money to finance their operation," Goins said. "In addition to that, they either torture them until they join the ranks, or they in some cases kill them."
Its abuse of local citizens has cost the organization ideological support, Goins said. Increasingly, the shift has benefited coalition forces trying to secure the area.
"Al Qaeda, I think, is fighting to hold onto itself," the colonel said. "I mean, obviously, if it's attacking Sunnis and kidnapping them, that's not a good thing in Iraq. So that's a plus in (our favor)."
One way the public has expressed its frustration is by providing intelligence to U.S. and Iraqi security forces, Goins explained. Tribal sheikhs in the region are encouraging enlistment in the Iraqi police and army, he said.
"The sheikhs understand the hard concepts," Goins noted. "They understand that there's a few rogue people out there. ... The coalition forces are here to help secure Iraq, and we do that by cooperating with them."
At the moment, Goins said, there seems to be a limited increase in al Qaeda activity in the area as a result of the Baghdad security plan; Diyala borders Baghdad province to the north and east.
"We do seem to see a little bit more movement of al Qaeda inside of our battlespace," he noted. "That's why we're trying to leverage the sheikhs to come to the table and trying to get the local people to step up and join the Iraqi police department."
That kind of outreach, paired with reconstruction projects, bears the potential to tip the Diyala security situation in favor of the Iraqis and the coalition, Goins said.
"Show me the first school or first hospital or anything decent that al Qaeda ... has done for the Iraqi people. And I can show a laundry list of projects, water, schools that the coalition forces have done, to include the Iraqi security forces," he said. "So we use that as a tool."
The effect is clear, Goins observed. "People are coming to the table realizing that it's better to be at the table and chat."
(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)
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