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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 11:35 GMT
Iraq tribes 'taking on al-Qaeda'
An Iraqi soldier on patrol in Falluja in Anbar province
Pacifying Anbar is a tough challenge for the US and Iraqi forces
A group of Sunni tribal chiefs in Iraq say they have caught more than 100 al-Qaeda members in recent months.

The tribal chiefs in the Iraqi province of Anbar joined forces in September in an attempt to defeat al-Qaeda.

They set up the Salvation Council for Anbar and claim to have reduced the numbers of weapons and foreign fighters coming into the area.

The restive Sunni dominated area has been a centre of activity for foreign jihadis linked to al-Qaeda.

We are fighting the terrorists because they have caused the violent chaos in the country... they are killing innocent Iraqis
Sheikh Faisal al-Goud

The head of the council, Sheikh Faisal al-Goud, told the BBC, however, that there were still thousands of al-Qaeda fighters operating in al Anbar province alone.

"We are fighting the terrorists because they have caused the violent chaos in the country, the instability. They are killing innocent Iraqis and killing anyone who wants freedom and peace in Iraq," he explained.

He said that he believed the organisation was responsible for about 30% to 40% of the insurgency in Iraq.

The sheikh said some of the al-Qaeda fighters and weapons came from neighbouring Arab countries, Syria and Saudi Arabia mainly, but some were from more distant Arab countries and from Afghanistan.

Disunity

The big, lawless, largely Sunni province of Anbar, in western Iraq, is one of the key battlegrounds in the insurgency - and pacifying it is one of the toughest challenges facing the American military, BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says.

Among the many armed groups active there - who include former Baathists and criminal gangs - is the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda.

The group's claims to have killed or captured al-Qaeda fighters are hard to verify, our correspondent says.

Last month they said they had killed 55 fighters in a raid on their stronghold.

Driving a wedge between local Sunnis and the extreme jihadists of al-Qaeda has long been an aim shared by the Americans and the Iraqi government.

But in a sign of how disunited the Sunnis are, a prominent Sunni figure considered close to the insurgency - Sheikh Harith al-Dari of the Muslim Scholars' Association - has criticised the tribesmen as bandits fighting what he called the resistance.


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