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Archive for the ‘AQI’ Category

West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has published its fifth “Harmony Report” on the inner workings of al-Qaeda, this time its Iraqi variant, AQI. Based on the Sinjar Records and written in clear and concise language, it’s an extremely important paper everyone interested in Islamic terrorism should read. Some key findings:

There is a strong risk of blowback from Iraq. Relatively small numbers of Jihadis will ‘bleedout’ to fight elsewhere, but they will likely be very dangerous individuals.
The Iraq war has increased Jihadi radicalization in the Muslim world and the number of al‐Qa`ida recruits. Foreign fighters in Iraq have also acquired a number of useful skills that can be used in future terrorist  operations, including massive use of suicide tactics, organizational skills, propaganda, covert communication, and innovative improvised explosive device (IED) tactics.

AQI has produced fewer, but far more skilled, fighters than the  ‘Arab‐Afghans’ did in the 1980s.
The foreign fighters in Iraq share important similarities—such as country of origin and ideology—with the so‐called  ‘Afghan  Arabs’ that traveled to Afghanistan to fight Soviet and Afghan‐communist forces in the 1980s. But there are important differences as well. Foreign fighters in Iraq have seen more combat than their predecessors in Afghanistan. In addition,  they have shown greater ability to innovate critical tactical skills, such as IED development and suicide bombings.

The report also notes that although AQI is “a wounded organization”, American withdrawal from Iraq “may not end the flow of foreign fighters” as long as parts of the country remain ungoverned and opportunities for humiliating the U.S. abound.

This was the point I was trying to make rather crudely last week in my post about Iraq being a country-sized training ground for foreign jihadis. On the other hand, the report quite spectacularly disproves my theory that Iraq is a “sideshow” for AQ Central.

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For some weeks there have been reports that foreign jihadis are departing Iraq in increasing numbers to join their fellow believers in Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri himself has recently relocated. With security improving in Iraq, Americans with neocon leanings have predictably announced that “victory” is at hand.

This is the same as if Roosevelt would’ve declared the Pacific War won when the last Japanese was killed on Guadalcanal.

Just as President George W. Bush himself has always spoken of his “global war on terror” as a multi-front struggle, Iraq for al-Qaeda has been but one battlefield among many. For bin Laden, it has never been the central front, but rather a useful sideshow, an unexpected opportunity to bleed the stumbling superpower even more. And it has been a spectacular success: thousands of Americans have died, Iraqi deaths probably number at least 100,000, billions of dollars have been wasted, resources have had to be diverted from Afghanistan, and America’s image as a beacon of democracy has suffered irreparable damage.

Only fools believe al-Qaeda’s local affiliates really sought to establish a Salafi state in Iraq. The jihadis knew that once the U.S. realised what it was up against and harnessed its military might to fight a counterinsurgency, it would all be over. Iraq was nothing more than a country-sized training ground for terrorist tactics, and the surge provided the trainees with their last live targets before the real deal — Afghanistan.

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Glad to see I’m not the only one pissed off about the “al-Qaeda-Iraq” meme. Bob Baer, who should know what he’s talking about, writes in Time:

A friend of mine at the White House complained to me the other day that the Bush administration and the Pentagon until this day believe we are fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. They ‘stand up’ al-Qaeda as the enemy in Iraq, he said, even behind closed doors. In the teeth of the facts, they ignore that the enemy we’re fighting in Iraq is a half a dozen homegrown insurgencies, an incipient civil war, and criminal gangs. They ignore the fact that although a handful of Osama bin Laden’s followers showed up in Iraq after the invasion, in a futile attempt to hijack the Sunni resistance, al-Qaeda is not the main enemy in that country.

I join Baer in his desperate plea: “Can no one drive a stake into a lie that suckered us into a war we didn’t need?”

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In the comments section of another post I promised to look into the perplexingly sudden semantic change, both in U.S. military jargon and mainstream media coverage of Iraq, from ‘Sunni insurgents’ to ‘al-Qaeda’.

Reading David Ucko’s new article on the SoI phenomenon in SWJ I found the answer. It’s simple. The Petraeus command needed the change in terminology just as it needed to stop referring to Shia fighters as the Mahdi Army and instead call them ‘special groups’. The Americans didn’t want to alienate their new Sunni partners by labeling them insurgents, so they started calling all the other Sunnis still fighting the coalition ‘al-Qaeda’ — a name that not only has no overt sectarian meaning but which also sounds conveniently foreign.

Of course, none of this is an excuse for journalists to tamely go along, but it does give you yet another glimpse of the brilliance of Petraeus’s media strategy.

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Last July, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt wrote in a column titled “Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner”:

While a president running out of time and policy options may want to talk about a single enemy that Americans hate and fear in the hope of uniting the country behind him, journalists have the obligation to ask tough questions about the accuracy of his statements.

Hoyt was concerned that in reporting on the violence in Iraq, his newspaper was increasingly using the administration’s politically motivated shorthand. The Times, Hoyt wrote, “has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq — and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.”

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

The Times has since reformed. But others haven’t.

One of the worst offenders, incredibly, is the Baghdad bureau of Reuters, probably the most trusted news organisation in the world.

In today’s story about Mosul, for example, Al-Qaeda is mentioned nine times.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, leading an offensive against al Qaeda in the north, offered cash and freedom from prosecution on Friday to fighters who give up their weapons within 10 days.

Maliki made the amnesty offer in the northern city of Mosul, where he has been supervising a U.S.-backed campaign aimed at delivering a fatal blow to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in the city and surrounding Nineveh province.

Many al Qaeda gunmen have regrouped in Nineveh after being pushed out of Baghdad and other areas. The U.S. military says Mosul is al Qaeda’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

And so on.

In reality, of course, no one knows who the gunmen are. They probably include foreign jihadists, local Baathists, Sunni nationalists, as well as gangsters and disaffected refugees. AQI is but one of dozens of insurgent groups, and probably no longer even the most dangerous. In West Mosul, for example, you can pay a guy 10 bucks and he’ll throw an IED in a plastic bag in the middle of the road. Does that make him al-Qaeda?

I’m sure the Reuters crew, excellent journalists all, is well aware of this. So why the sloppy jargon? I wish I knew. But the next time the Baghdad press corps gathers in the CPIC parking garage for an MNF-I news conference, I hope it goes more like this:

Spokesperson: We have information that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack.
Reporter: You mean Al-Qaeda as in ‘Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda’?
Spokesperson: I mean Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Reporter: How do you know it was Al-Qaeda in Iraq?
Spokesperson: Well, it has all the hallmarks of…
Reporter: How do you know it wasn’t IAI?
Spokesperson: I…
Reporter: Mujahidin Army?
Spokesperson: But…
Reporter: Ansar al-Sunna? Shield of Islam Brigade?

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Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq killed in 2006 and again in 2007 and then arrested last week (NOT!), is apparently now held in such low esteem by the U.S. military that it has slashed the reward posted for his death or capture from $5 million to a mere $100 000. According to a military official interviewed by U.S. News and World Report, “the overarching reason is his blatant ineffectiveness as a leader of AQI”. So the Egyptian has screwed up so badly that he’s not worth the bucks anymore? The jury’s definitely out on that one…

Al-Masri’s “capture” last week (asleep!) elicited headlines that left me once again wondering what the hell happened to the Western media’s famous scepticism:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq Leader Arrested In Mosul – Freeman and Sabah, Washington Post
Al-Qaeda in Iraq Leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri Captured
– James Hider, London Times
Al Qaeda’s Leader in Iraq ArrestedReuters
Al-Qaeda Iraq Leader ‘Arrested’
BBC News
Abu Ayyub al-Masri Arrested
– James Joyner, Outside the Beltway
Al-Masri the Egyptian Falls
– Richard Fernandez, The Belmont Club
Favorable Indicators
– Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement

(Thanks to SWJ Blog)

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