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.