Oct 31 2007
Been saying it almost all year: as goes Diyala so goes Iraq. The reason being Diyala is a melting pot of the major Iraqi religous sects. It was one of the last areas to feel the effects of The Surge, so it will trail by months the progress seen in Anbar Province, and it may take longer and not get as far as Anbar due to its greater diversity. But it is progressing, make no mistake about it:
Police chief Ghanem al-Qureshy bristles at rumors that his officers are in cahoots with the sectarian Mahdi Army. And he says he is certainly not hiring fighters from Al Qaeda in Iraq as neighborhood watchmen in Diyala province.
It is al-Qureshy’s lot that he serves Diyala, a place that is home to all of Iraq’s sects, ethnic groups and economic interests — and all their suspicions.
After a year of bitter fighting by U.S. and Iraqi forces, violence is down, and people like al-Qureshy are talking about reconciliation. But fear and mistrust have not retreated from this key province northeast of Baghdad, and the continuing threat was reflected Monday in a suicide bombing that exploded in a crowd of al-Qureshy’s police recruits in Baqouba, killing 29.
Since the war began more than four years ago, 216 U.S. troops have died in Diyala. American forces killed Iraq’s most notorious terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, here in June 2006. And when many members of al-Zarqawi’s group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, were forced out of Anbar province in western Iraq a year ago, they relocated to Diyala.
Still, Iraqi authorities and U.S. forces say a yearlong offensive against Al Qaeda in Iraq has put the group on the run in Diyala. In the past year, overall violence in the province has fallen from 1,100 incidents a month to 400, according to the U.S. military.
I predict Diyala will be the last large Province to be tamed in Iraq. As noted those terrorist forces which fled Anbar sought haven in Diyala. They did not find it. The US shifted forces in the middle of the Surge to include Diyala as one of its focus areas, and so it represented the last hope of al-Qaeda and hope is fading fast for Bin Laden’s thugs. If Diyala rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of the war, it will be a clear signal Iraq will succeed. So far so good. Let’s all hope things continue to improve over the next few months.