View Full Version : 'Enemy on enemy' fire signals split among insurgents in Iraq

06-21-05, 07:13 PM
'Enemy on enemy' fire signals split among insurgents in Iraq
By Sabrina Tavernise The New York Times

KARABILA, Iraq U.S. marines watching the skyline from their second-story perch in an abandoned house here saw a curious thing: In the distance, mortar rounds and gunfire popped, but the volleys did not seem to be aimed at them.

In the dark, one marine spoke in hushed code words on a radio, and after a minute found the answer. "Red on red," he said late Sunday night, using a military term for enemy-on-enemy fire.

Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange trend in the complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting one another in this constellation of towns along the Euphrates, from Husayba to Qaim. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.

A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said by telephone that there had been a split for some time.

"There is a rift," said the official, who requested anonymity. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the jihadists' grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians."

The nationalist insurgent groups "are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans," while the jihadists have a purely ideological agenda, he added.

The insurgency is largely hidden, making such trends difficult to discern. But marines in this western outpost have noticed a change.

For Matthew Orth, a Marine sniper, the difference came this spring, when his unit was conducting an operation in Husayba. Mortar shells flew over the unit, hitting a different target.

"The thought was, 'They're coming for us.' But then we saw they were fighting each other," he said during a break in operations Monday. "We were kind of wondering what happened. We were getting mortared twice a day, and then all of a sudden it stopped."

Access for the foreign fighters is easy through the porous border with Syria, where the main crossing, Husayba, has been closed for seven months to stem their flow.

"They will come from wherever we are not," Colonel Stephen Davis, the commander here, said. "Clearly there are foreign fighters here, and quite clearly they are coming in from Syria."

Marines have conducted a number of offensives in villages along the Euphrates, including one over the past few days in Karabila, to disrupt the fighters' networks. During raids on mostly empty houses here, marines found nine foreign passports, and of the approximately 40 insurgents killed, at least three were foreign, marines said.

Captain Chris Ieva said he could tell whether an area was controlled by foreign insurgents or locals based on whether families had cellphones or guns. Foreign fighters do not allow local residents to have cellphones for fear they will spy on them. Marines cited other tactics of foreigners. Sophisticated body armor, for example, is one sign, as well as land mines that are a cut above average, remote-controlled local mines and well-chosen sniper positions.

When marines were fighting in an operation in the area in early May, five were killed after their tank rolled over a mine that had been set for vehicles with large distances between the treads.

In Karabila, marines picked their way through empty houses over the past four days, looking into the lives of insurgents and finding medical supplies and jihadist literature, including a guide that attempted to justify beheading by using Islamic scripture.

As the operation ended about 6 p.m. on Monday, marines lined the roof of the last house they took against the backdrop of plumes of smoke.

"Will some come back? Yes," said Ieva, the captain. "But the bigger fruit is disrupting them. We've made them uncomfortable in their own system."

10 killed north of Baghdad

Ten people were killed Tuesday in attacks north of Baghdad while about 70 insurgents were arrested in raids around Iraq, hospital and security officials said, according to an Agence France-Presse report from Samarra, Iraq. But the level of violence eased on the eve of an international conference on Iraq in Brussels, following two days of conflict that left at least 77 people dead. The Iraqi government also announced the recent arrest of Hussein Khalil Ibrahim, also known as Abu Ali, a suspected member of Al Qaeda's network in Iraq.