Michael Yon has his latest report from Iraq, and he suggests keeping a close eye on Nineveh province over the next few months. The remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq have coalesced in the province, but they have discovered that their reputation precedes them. Instead of cowing the locals into obeisance, AQI has provoked them into fighting — in part by murdering a 15-day-old infant on their arrival:
An Iraqi officer near Sinjar told me that recently a group of perhaps twenty “jihadists,” many of them foreign, descended on a Nineveh village. The Iraqi officer said the terrorists killed some adults and two babies. One baby they murdered was 15 days old.
Until recently, such terror attacks inside Iraq could have coerced the village into sheltering Al Qaeda. Yet this time, the “jihadists” got an unexpected reception. Local men grabbed their rifles and poured fire on the demons, slaughtering them. Nineteen terrorists were destroyed. Times have changed for al Qaeda here. Too many Iraqis have decided they are not going to take it anymore. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still fighting, and they are tough and wily, but al Qaeda Central seems to realize there are easier targets elsewhere, perhaps in Europe, where many people demonstrate weakness in the face of terror.
Yon concludes the article with this prediction:
There are no guarantees, but this could be the endgame for major combat operations in Iraq. Combat is likely to heat up in Mosul and western Nineveh by about May. There likely will be some reports of increased US and Iraqi casualties up here, but this does not mean that we are losing ground or that al Qaeda is resurging – though clearly they are trying. If there is an increase in casualties here as we go into the summer of 2008, it is because our people and the Iraqi forces are closing in. We have seen just how deadly al Qaeda can be. This enemy is desperate. They know they are losing. They are not likely to go out easy. The enemy is smart, agile and adaptive. Likely they will land some devastating blows on us, but at this rate, our people and Iraqi forces appear to be driving stakes through al Qaeda hearts faster than al Qaeda is regenerating.
Yon covers a lot of ground in this article, literally and figuratively. He reports on a failure to stop a suicide bomber before he could take out eight American Special Forces soldiers, and the response that the unit gave to this attack. Yon rode with Blackhawk crews and reports on their discovery of a huge cache of ammonium nitrate, the same kind of material used in the Oklahoma City bombing and in many car bombs in Iraq. They detonated it, creating a spectacular explosion in the middle of the desert and not in the middle of Mosul.
Nineveh looks like the place AQI will make its last stand in Iraq. The lack of foreign fighters has made their situation grave and acute. They no longer have any place to go to ground, and their brutality makes it impossible to find enough allies to defend themselves even against Awakening patrols. The Kurds will eat them alive if they try to move north into that region, and Syria looks like their only escape option.
They don’t even have enough enthusiasm left in the ranks for a proper stand. Yon describes the terror that foreign fighters experience on joining AQI. They come to Iraq thinking that they will become infantry fighters, taking up arms against infidel soldiers. Instead, AQI leadership terrorizes the terrorist wannabes and force them to wear the more robust suicide belts. Most of them have no wish to commit suicide and try to surrender when given the option, thoroughly disillusioned with the jihad experience.
AQI has come to the end of the road, and it will come in Mosul. It won’t be an easy victory, but it will likely be the end of major combat for the US in Iraq. After that, the US and Iraq could concentrate on internal and border security, and the establishment of democracy in the heart of Islamic radicalism.
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