Chapter 21 of the U.S. Army History of the Iraq War is about Ramadi in Anbar province finally being a turning point in the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Tribes in the governorate had been upset with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s ideology and leadership since 2004. In 2006 some sheikhs finally got the backing of the United States leading to the Anbar Awakening.
At the end of 2005 the Anbar People’s Committee was formed by 1920 Revolution Brigades leader Mohammed Mahmoud Latif who had been challenging Zarqawi for months. The Committee attempted to recruit tribesmen into the Anbar police force. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) responded by attacking the Committee’s leadership and its followers. On January 5, 2006 it bombed a police recruiting drive organized by the Committee in Ramadi killing 57. It assassinated half of the sheikhs on the Committee and many of the survivors left the group. AQI then went after the 1920 Revolution Brigades defeating it by the start of February and forcing Latif to flee. This was a major victory for Zarqawi. Latif had been a thorn in the side of AQI and now he was done. It allowed AQI to rebuild throughout Anbar.
Al Qaeda in Iraq embarked on a minds and money campaign in Anbar. First, it tried to win over the public. It offered compensation to families that had lost property to the U.S. for instance and 300 families accepted its offer. It then moved into business to increase its cash flow. It took over the black market in Ramadi earning more than $500,000 a month in fuel sales alone. The money helped AQI replace its lost fighters and expand its operations. AQI was still receiving foreign donations but it became deeply embedded in the Iraqi economy which would eventually become its main source of funding.
Next, Zarqawi wanted to address Anbar’s tribes which had come into increasing conflict with him. Zarqawi and his lieutenants met in Amiriya Fallujah to come up with a tribal policy. They decided to recruit 5-10 members of each tribe to spy on them to see if any were working with the U.S. Al Qaeda central also advised the group to create a Central Tribal Council to build its own group of loyal sheikhs. This was necessary because the Anbar tribes were going to make another attempt to expel the Islamists.
A new U.S. unit arrived in Ramadi just as the latest tribal break with AQI was happening. The 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division took control of the district in June 2006. They decided that the old tactics of raids did not work. Instead they set up forward operating bases throughout the city to gain control of Ramadi neighborhood by neighborhood. They also found an ally in Sheikh Abu Risha who lived outside the city. He agreed to find like minded sheikhs and recruit tribesmen into the police to fight the insurgents. He helped found the Anbar Emergency Council in August which brought in tribesmen along with fighters from the Jaish al-Haq, Numan Brigade, the 1920 Revolution Brigades. By September that became the Anbar Awakening. Abu Risha followed in the footsteps of Mohammed Mahmoud Latif and others who were tired of AQI’s tactics and strategy. The difference was that he found an American unit that was willing to fully partner with him which had not happened before and led to the defeat of previous attempts to counter AQI.
Al Qaeda in Iraq responded with its usual campaign to eliminate its new enemies. In August it assassinated Sheikh Khalid Ali Albu-Jassim head of the Albu Ali Jassim tribe by beheading him and leaving his body in the desert. AQI’s actions backfired and the Albu Diab, Albu Assaf, Alub Ali Jassim, and the Albu Julib tribes all declared war against the insurgents. By September violence had decreased 50% in the Ramadi district. This was a major turning point in the war. The U.S. had found not just one leader but a growing group of tribes who were willing to fight AQI. The 1st Brigade threw their full support behind the Awakening. Eventually this approach would be used across Iraq.
Rayburn, Colonel Joel, Sobchak, Colonel Frank Editors, with Godfroy, Lieutenant Colonel Jeanne, Morton, Colonel Matthew, Powell, Colonel James, Zais, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew, The U.S. Army In The Iraq War: Volume I, Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2003-2006, Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2019