Friday, June 09, 2006

The selling out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the deal for a unity government 

After putting up a couple of posts this morning, I flew out to San Diego and then had a long dinner, and have only just come back to my hotel room and scrolled through a dozen or so news stories and blog posts of the raids in Iraq against al Qaeda, particularly the strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Of all of this, the passage I found most interesting came from a Stratfor analysis. It speculates that the betrayal of al-Zarqawi and the deal to fill the three remaining open positions in the Iraqi cabinet are connected($) rather precisely:

But the implications for al Qaeda are nothing compared to the implications for Iraq. Al-Zarqawi and the other jihadists have long been the most effective tool of Iraqi's Sunni community. Whenever negotiations among the Americans, the Shia, the Kurds and the Iranians have threatened to reduce the collective Sunni position, the Sunnis have played the al-Zarqawi card and literally blown something or someone up.

It is the only reliable card that they have had to play, and they have played it often and to great effect. The Sunnis have also known that if their position within the new Iraqi government is to be formalized and cemented, they would have to rein in al-Zarqawi and his jihadist allies. If they do not, there was no deal.

It strikes us as far more than a coincidence that within hours of the confirmation of al-Zarqawi's death, the Iraqi Parliament put the finishing touches on the new Iraqi government. Baghdad now sports an internationally acceptable, domestically chosen government that includes participation from all of the major sectarian groups.

Al-Zarqawi was attacked by two F-16s, each of which dropped a 500-pound bomb, not by a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone. Predators are dual intelligence-gathering/assassination tools. Pairs of F-16s are more likely to be used when there is pre-existing intelligence that results in a tasking. U.S. forces selected their weapon very carefully to be low on fragmentation or fire to maximize the chances of the quick recovery of an easily identifiable corpse. Al-Zarqawi was not found, he was sold out. A political deal was made, and the Sunnis have delivered on their end.

The only question remaining is how many other jihadists have 500-pound bombs in their immediate future?

There were 17 essentially simultaneous raids against al Qaeda in Iraq today, uncovering a "treasure trove" of new intelligence material. We may realize, when the dust settles, that today's victory was not the killing of one big terrorist, but the opening of a door, perhaps the door: Iraq's Sunni Arabs may have just come in from the cold.

UPDATE (8:30 a.m.): Stratfor is gaining confidence in the hypothesis that the Sunnis cut a systematic deal to take our Zark. From this morning's "geopolitical diary":
As we have been arguing for the past few weeks, we are now at the break point in Iraq. The Sunnis and Shia have reached a political settlement regarding the new government. The critical question has been whether the political settlement would translate into a shift in military operations. There could be no settlement without the Sunnis dealing with al-Zarqawi. The Shia hated al-Zarqawi with a passion -- he had been focusing on killing Shia more than Americans. Once al-Zarqawi was dealt with, the political settlement could proceed and immediately did.

Immediately after al-Zarqawi's death, the United States carried out 17 additional raids against his network. Clearly, somebody painted that network with exquisite care for the Americans. Whoever it was had to have superb intelligence about a highly compartmentalized operation. It is possible that a single person provided all this, but we find it more likely that it was compiled from a number of sources. To be more precise, our guess would be that the Sunni political leadership orchestrated the intelligence in order to allow the Americans to deal with al-Zarqawi while giving themselves plausible deniability in the Sunni community. There could be another explanation, but all this broke too neatly to be coincidence -- and, moreover, it flowed logically from the political situation. As we have been arguing, something like this ought to happen about now. It has. (emphasis added)

Stratfor has indeed long recommended a deal such as the one that now seems to have occurred, and deserves to take its victory lap. With all the different players, it probably was something of an open secret for some time in Iraq that a "mass betrayal" was on the table. Indeed, perhaps the prospect of that motivated al Qaeda's increasingly desperate measures to start a civil war, their only real protection against the Sunni leaders cutting a deal. Either way, a settlement like this would have taken a long time to negotiate, especially given the passions and histories of the people involved. Now we know what everybody has been doing the last six months.

As I have long argued, the cooperation of non-radical Muslims is the essential ingredient to winning the global counterinsurgency against radical Islamists. In order to secure that cooperation, it is in our interests that the vast majority of Muslims take a side. We must polarize Muslims and shrink the pool of neutrals. Yes, polarization creates more volunteers for the enemy, as "anti-war" activists always claim. But it also creates many more enemies of the enemy, which is a necessary precondition to victory in the wider war.


By Blogger quantum, at Fri Jun 09, 05:11:00 AM:

I've been waiting for someone to connect these odd coincidences. It certainly seems that the price for Sunni participation and the Defense Ministry was Zarqawi's, errr, head. The Sunnis couldn't be trusted to head the Army while Al Queda was running wild. Certainly a starburst of optomism here.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Jun 09, 05:25:00 AM:

There you go, trying to think for yourself again TH... apparently you haven't been listening to the nightly news.

This is no big deal. In fact, if anything this tragic, endless cycle of retribution is really a crushing blow to the coalition - all it will do is enrage the freedom fighters...errr...insurgents.

Al Qaeda is no longer a major force in the WOT and anyway when you kill the leader someone else just takes his place.

But if we don't get bin Laden the entire war will have been fought for nothing.

/and then her head exploded...  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Jun 09, 09:56:00 AM:

I wonder if dealing with al-Zarqawi and those Sunnis aligned with him will not also give the new government 'cred' to go after rogue elements within the Shia community.

Could al-Sadr be next? Gosh, I sure hope so!  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Fri Jun 09, 10:52:00 AM:

I wondered if the Sunnis hadn't decided to seize some legitimate power. I hope your (and Stratfor's) analysis is spot-on and that we'll start to see Sunnis turning from the insurgency to the government. If that happens, then there's hope.  

By Blogger viking kaj, at Fri Jun 09, 11:10:00 AM:

No doubt in my mind that the Zarqawi hit and the announcement of the three cabinet posts were linked. If you look at everyone's public statements, especially those of Rumsfeld and Al-Maliki, it is clear that something was going on here. (Any time someone in power announces these things together and says they are not linked but they are pleased with the happy coincidence should be a red flag for all of us by now.)

But why are Sunni's so motivated to reach this compromise now when they have been using Al-Zarqawi as their private pit bull for the last several years? I would posit that the answer lies in recent developments in the South which have to be disquieting to the Sunni's political aspirations to say the least.

I was listening to the Beeb this morning who indicated that the insurgency in the South had moved from calling on small villages for support and supplies in the evening to moving in and controlling the villages themselves during daylight hours. Apparently this has been in the offing for some time. It should be made clear that insurgency is a relative term in the South. What we are talking about are organized militias that are Shia, extra-governmental and contribute greatly to the control of the local Ayatollahs. These are organized more like the Iranian student gangs that took over the US embassy, rather than the Sunni/Wahabi jihadi-based insurgency around Baghdad that has been gruesomely beheading people. While to the unschooled eye the violence may appear random, it is actually controlled behind the scenes and actions are designed to increase that control. For example, minority Christians in the South have been executed for not waearing the chadoor and drinking in public contrary to the Sharia. But the South is stable and relatively free from carjackings, kidnappings, black marketeering and the political assasinations common in the Sunni dominated-area around Baghdad. And attacks on the British military have been subsiding.

There is a really interesting article by Rory Stewart, a former Brit-appointed governor of two of Iraq's southern provinces on the Prospect Magazine website (www.prospect-magazine.co.uk) which argues that the British have essentially lost control in the South to a popularly elected theocracy that uses these competing miltia gangs to enforce a Shia version of democracy in the South. And it is nothing like liberal democracy as we understand this west of the Levant. As he notes in the article "This new Islamic State is elected, it functions, and is relatively popular. We may not like it, but we can only try to understand it and acknowledge that there is now little that we can do to influence it."

One has to wonder if it is not this increasing consolidation of power in the South leading to a Sharia-dominated demotheocracy that has led the Sunni's to rethink their position. They were not likely to get a better deal and so they struck the deal they could, before it was too late. But this still does not mean that we are heading for anything like a more stable situation in Iraq. The differences between Sunni and Shia are abiding and any national "unity" government is likely to be inherently unstable. It seems we still have another Bosnia on our hands here.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jun 09, 07:44:00 PM:

"It seems we still have another Bosnia on our hands here."

You more or less had me till this... Yugoslavia was a civil war waiting to happen. Aside from the centuries of ethnic enmity and full blown wars, there weren't shared languages, religions, or cultures. In Iraq, the differences are fewer and less severe.  

By Blogger crosspatch, at Sat Jun 10, 10:15:00 PM:

We shall see exactly how much of an agreement we have when any follow-on leader of al Qaeda in Iraq attempts to reconstitute the organization and continue the insurgency.

Should that leader meet the same fate of al Zarqawi, then I would agree. But I suspect a less permanent agreement might have been struck in that it was agreed to give up Zarqawi and his network because the organization was acting at cross purposes to tribal leaders and killing many of them.

A "kinder, gentler" al Qaida in Iraq might not be so unwelcome if it institutes a Sunni version of what is going on in the Shiia South. In other words, if the new organization works mainly with the mullahs and tribal militias.

Also, concerning the theocracy in the South centered around Basra, I have been hearing indications that it isn't really all that popular. It is tolerated because it is keeping something resembling order, unlike what is going on up North and West but should things begin to settle down, look for some of those theocrats to be voted out of office in the future.

Anyone know and English site where one might find out about the provincial election cycles?  

By Blogger M. Simon, at Sun Jun 11, 12:53:00 AM:

Slight correction.

The announcement of the new ministers came minutes after the Iraqi government made the Zman demise announcement.  

By Blogger Indigo Red, at Sun Jun 11, 02:58:00 PM:

As much as I would like to give credit to Task Force 145 for the events that lad up to the kill, I simply cannot. TF 145 worked tirelessly for the past few years trying to get close to Z, but it was never close enough for the kill.

Two months ago, a joint operational unit was assembled of Army Green Beret, British SAS (Tier 1), and Mossad. One month ago, this unit dubbed the "A-TEAM" and a field ops group called "The Untouchables" began tracking anyone who could led to Zarqawi. Rahman was the bad guy whom they eventually followed to Baquba and then to the farmhouse. The team had also been monitoring the cellphones of 17 other al-Qaida in Mesopotamia members who were not as carefull about comm use as Z or OBL. The near simultaneous raids were contigent upon killing Zarqawi.

Armed villagers of Hibhib on night patrol spotted 50-70 men dressed in all black and began firing at the intruders - the Untouables team. Return fire and a grenade killed an old man and a younger man at least. Fearing the jig was up and Z would again escape, F-16's were called in. One plane made it to the target while the other was still refueling.

Blackfive links to a CBS report to talk about the first -aid debate, but what was missed was this qoute at the end: "Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Cavalry said his men showed up at the site about five minutes after the blast and cordoned it off. He said a patrol was in the area already. "

I have included more info here as it became public than is in my original post at Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

The situation is still fluid and much of the details will be exsponged from the record for security, but the existence of a unit that was formed quickly for the singular purpose of killing a single person and getting the job done in only two months is, to my mind, the most significant sub-story to happen. THAT is the movie I want to see.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jun 11, 03:33:00 PM:

All 12 man USA Special Ops direct action teams are called A-Teams. Other support teams are called B-Teams. That's not a nickname, though 'the Untouchables' would be.

Without any direct knowledge, I'd like to throw out that there are other, more sensitive and specialized units in the US Army that I think would be more likely for this kind of work than 'run of the mill' Green Berets, which are really intended for unconventional warfare.  

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