Friday, September 22, 2006

Interesting developments in Iraq..

From the Fourth Rail: "A Zarqawi Letter and a Potential Merger with Ansar al-Sunnah Divisions in al-Qaeda, moderation and a potential merger" The Iraqi government has released a letter that highlights the differences inside al-Qaeda. The letter was seized at the site of the death of former al-Qaeda in Iraq commander, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and was written by Attyia al-Jaza’ri. Al-Jaza’ri is described as "an Algerian high-ranking figure of al-Qaida," by the Stars and Stripes. Al-Jaza’ri means 'the Algerian', and he is a member of al-Qaeda's Mujahideen Shura, according to an American intelligence source. Al-Zarqawi is criticized for making military political decisions without asking higher leaders of al-Qaida outside of Iraq. Indeed, the letter writer criticizes al-Zarqawi and reminds him that he is viewed only as an operational commander, not as a political or religious leader. The letter says that senior al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan are “unhappy with methods in Iraq,” particularly attacks targeting civilians and possibly turning Iraqis against the group.Al-Jaza’ri purportedly asks al-Zarqawi to step down as al-Qaida in Iraq leader in favor of other, better-qualified men. Letters of this nature have been intercepted in the past,and have shown the internal divisions within al-Qaeda in Iraq and between al-Qaeda High Command and al-Qaeda in Iraq. In November of 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri attempted to push Zarqawi away from a strategy that openly divided Sunnis and Shiites and alienated fellow travelers in the Jihadi world. During the formation of the Mujahideen Shura in February of 2006, there were serious questions in jihadi forums about the status of Zarqawi and his denial of a leadership position. In May of 2006, just prior to Zarqawi's death, there was a slew of information about the internal problems in al-Qaeda. Seized documents showed al-Qaeda had serious concerns about its strategy (or lack thereof) and prospects in Anbar province and Baghdad. Al-Qaeda's assassination program in Anbar highlights the fears that al-Qaeda was losing the support of religious and tribal leaders in the region. Attyia al-Jaza’ri's letter to Zarqawi makes sense in light of these other reports. While Zarqawi was popular in the rank and file, as well as with wealthy jihadi donors for his ability to fight and kill Westerners and the hated Shia, there were divides between him and senior al-Qaeda leaders inside and outside of Iraq. And one thing the communications make clear is there is contact with al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda High Command in "Afghanistan and Pakistan." This also reinforces the fact that al-Qaeda is still a centralized organization exerting influence in the theaters of war. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri certainly aren't operating from caves and constantly on the run. The death of Zarqawi has provided an opening for al-Qaeda in Iraq to 'moderate' its message (all in relative terms of course.) Gone are the days of Zarqawi beheading videos and screeds against Shiites. While al-Qaeda still desires a Shiite-Sunni civil war, this isn't being called for in jihadi press releases and statements. The targets are now 'collaborators.'This moderation has allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to reach out to Ansar al-Sunnah, one of the most powerful jihadi organization operating in Iraq. Evan Kohlmann reports that the chatter in jihadi Internet forums indicates "a major effort is now underway to bring the notorious Ansar al-Sunnah Army in Iraq officially under the umbrella of Al-Qaida's Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC)." As Evan notes, Ansar al-Sunnah is a pro-bin Laden / al-Qaeda organization. "Active since at least mid-2003, Ansar al-Sunnah is one of the few Iraqi insurgent groups other than Zarqawi's Al-Qaida to openly advocate a pro-Bin Laden platform, to carry out suicide bombing attacks, and to distribute beheading videos on the Internet." An American military intelligence source indicates disagreements over Zarqawi's leadership style and methods have prevented a merger in the past. Ansar al-Sunnah's union with the Mujahideen Shura would be a coup for al-Qaeda, as previously only small, insignificant jihadi groups have incorporated. This merger would help legitimize al-Qaeda's standing in the Sunni community, and could mitigate some of the repercussions of the potentially damaging organization of the Anbar tribes against al-Qaeda and the national reconciliation program.

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