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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Did bin Laden acknowledge defeat in Iraq? 

That's what Cigars in the Sand thinks. Yesterday, we heard the news that bin Laden was calling on Abu Masab al-Zarqawi to attack targets in American territory. Ryan:
If bin Laden is indeed directing Zarqawi to concentrate on attacks against the US, that's a plain sign that bin Laden has given up the fight in Iraq. Oh, I'm sure al Qaeda will continue to carry out attacks across Iraq, but even bin Laden has recognized by now that Zarqawi's fighters will not prevent the ultimate establishment of a legitimate Iraqi government. By directing Zarqawi to turn his attention elsewhere, bin Laden is effectively writing off al Qaeda operations in Iraq. Indeed, recent events in Iraq (including the capture of additional close Zarqawi associates) suggest the noose may be tightening. I think perhaps bin Laden sees this, and wants Zarqawi to dispatch some operatives to the United States before al Qaeda is thoroughly dismantled in Iraq.

It is not clear the extent to which Zarqawi does bin Laden's bidding, notwithstanding reports that he has subjected himself to al Qaeda's command. Whether bin Laden is ordering or asking Zarqawi to redirect his resources toward American territory, the effect is to weaken the effort to start a civil war in Iraq. Bin Laden would only do this if he thought either victory or defeat were inevitable. Since there is no evidence that his victory is inevitable, the story -- if true -- does signal that al Qaeda's leadership wants to sound a retreat from the Sunni Triangle.

That is obviously good news for Iraq, but it also says something about al Qaeda's weakening strategic position. Much has been made of the idea that the Iraq war has helped al Qaeda recruit operatives. Perhaps this is true, but defeats on the battlefield almost always spur more recruitment. The question is whether al Qaeda is increasing its ability to coerce regional powers and inflict damage on the United States and other Westerners. If it is redirecting resources out of Iraq, its ability to coerce regional powers has almost certainly declined, and that will increase our chances of "motivating" the bubble countries of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (to name two) to fight al Qaeda rather than to support al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda's ability to inflict damage on Westerners is more a function of its capacity to recruit, train and organize "cosmopolitan" Islamists who can move with confidence in Western countries. After all, not just any illiterate, uneducated Arab can make his way to London or New York undetected. The Iraq War may have radicalized some number of Muslims already living in Europe, but has it improved al Qaeda's ability to train them and direct them? Probably not, and we know the war in Afghanistan took away al Qaeda's most productive training facilities. Since untrained jihadis are less likely to be successful and more likely to, er, screw up (does bin Laden use the term FUBAR?), further attacks in the West -- and they will probably come -- will require that al Qaeda deploy training assets into the Muslim communities of Europe. That puts them more at risk of European law enforcement.

I appreciate that I am deriving a lot of good news from a news report that may not be true in the first place. However, Ryan is right: It is tough to see how an order (or request) that Zarqawi focus on America reflects strategic strength.

2 Comments:

By Blogger viking kaj, at Tue Mar 01, 11:46:00 AM:

The latest from our man (my brother) in iraq, sounds like it's not the Paris Hilton...


hello. it's about 2220 over here, and i've been on the computer since about 2000, typing situation reports and cadging supplies. i could tell you a lot, but i'm tired of bitching (i know, you are surprised to hear that!). i'm just plain tired, period.
i know you saw the news today about the bombing of the iraqi police recruits. nothing like that happens around al-numaniyah. we are 15 minutes drive away from al-kut, the same place where the anglo-indian army got beseiged by the turks with german advisors during WWI, known as "the hell of kut." after two weeks here, i can tell you that i understand the reference to hell, and completely agree with it.
do not be alarmed. i am at greater risk at being shot by the recruits to the new
iraqi army than by fedayeen. i am at even greater risk of catching typhus or cholera, because the sanitation at this place resembles that of a refugee camp. (lord, i am bitching.)
i have a room of my own. the bathroom has a hole in the floor, and i have four rolls of toilet paper and 160 baby wipes. it has a shower head, and the trickle of water that comes out of it is lukewarm for three minutes in the morning. i may get a roommate in two weeks, because 25 additional advisors are coming to our unit. we will see. i hope not, but shit happens.
i have been issued a SIG 9 mm, and all of the former police officers promise to take me to the range and teach me how to fire it. i carry it around all the time, more for show than out of need. all of the other advisors are strapped, and they would look at me strangely if i wasn't as well. one even pointed out to me that my magazine was not loaded. this was by intention on my part (i'd rather not have an accidental discharge, especially as the SIG doesn't have a safety) but i thanked the fellow and now i walk around with the magazine in the pistol, although no round is in the chamber.
i get to ride on convoys in an armored HMMWV, with a russian machine gun (it fires 5.56 mm ammunition, although we all wish it was a .50 caliber M-2) in a turret on top. kind of like sergeant sam troy on the rat patrol. strange how you grow up to be doing something you played at when you were six, the good old monkey division. luckily, over here, the bad guys do take their deads.  

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