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(Note: This is part two of a series examining recent and little-known developments within al Qaeda, focusing on "public relations" efforts within the group. The previous entry, examining al-Qaeda's acknowledgement of grave problems as revealed in a letter from the group's leadership to Abu Musab al Zarqawi can be read here. This entry details al-Qaeda's efforts to win back the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and the response they received.
Although the group is not yet defeated, al-Qaeda's problems in Iraq are even more significant than western media and other analysts have revealed.
A Threat of Amnesty
A first publicly-released message from Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri - the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi's replacement as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, made brief headlines in the western media late last month. The AP coverage focused on what seemed his stunning admission of casualty numbers among the "Mujahadeen" in Iraq:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq purportedly said Thursday in an audio message posted online that more than 4,000 foreign militants have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 — the first apparent acknowledgment from the insurgents about their losses.That last bit is true - but incomplete, as we'll soon see. Several paragraphs later the AP adds that
It was unclear why al-Masri would advertise the loss of the group’s foreign fighters, but martyrdom is revered among Islamic fundamentalists, and could be used as a recruiting tool.
In the audio message, al-Masri also offered amnesty to Iraqis who cooperated with their country’s “occupiers,” calling on them to “return to your religion and nation” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which Sunnis began observing in Iraq on Saturday and Shiites on Monday.The two points - the number of deaths suffered by al Qaeda fighters in Iraq and the "amnesty" pledge - reported as distinct issues in western media, are not unrelated, and actually both part of the same desperate appeal to Sunni leaders in al-Anbar Province, a "haven" increasingly less safe for al-Muhajir/Masri and other followers of the Zarqawi/al Qaeda jihad.
The purpose of Muhajir's evocation of the number of "martyrs" is to remind his "target audience" of the dedication and commitment of his fellows to their cause. That reminder serves two purposes - the first an attempt to add a burden of guilt on those who've turned against him: "Do not let us down." Muhajir pleads, "We are at a fork in the road. We need you. We can't promise safety and security, but we can promise jihad for the sake of Allah."
But his second purpose is to establish the deadliness of his purpose, evoked moments later by what some may call an "amnesty" offer, but is truly a threat with a deadline. Muhajir brands his growing (and increasingly bold) Sunni opposition "traitors", demands they make a very public "repentance", and gives them until the end of Ramadan to do so. While the full translation of Muhajir's speech is not currently publicly available, one brief excerpt can be seen here:
"I say to those traitors in this blessed month, the month of pardon and forgiveness," al-Muhajir wrote, "that we are declaring a general pardon for all of them, forgiving them for our blood that was spilled by your hands and your treachery. We welcome you once again. Return to your religion and homeland before we defeat you, and you will have peace and security. We will not touch you but with kindness. You must first declare your sincere repentance in front of your tribes and families and inform us by whatever means, lest we make a mistake [and kill you]. You should put your hands in the hands of your brothers and sons, the mujahideen, for peace and security to return to our homes and expel the invader and to expel the occupier from our midst in this blessed month"But a point of no return may have been passed. As noted here previously, the al Qaeda letter to Zarqawi reveals the group's senior leadership strategy of "keeping quiet, overlooking things, forgiving, and reserving things to a time of an end to weakness and the attainment of complete authority...". Zarqawi never had the opportunity to act on that advice - but Muhajir appears to be doing so. "...it is highly advisable to be polite and to show complete respect, regret, compassion, and mercy and so forth. You must incline yourself to this, and be humble to the believers, and smile in people’s faces, even if you are cursing them in your heart..." Zarqawi was told, and rather than kill them, he was further instructed to confront his Iraqi opposition "by many other means of discourse and fervor of speech, and such, and with a bit of wisdom, patience, and deliberateness" until such time as he can "behave differently in accordance with what is appropriate for that time." - the aforementioned attainment of complete authority.
But Muhajir's intended victims are aware of that approach, and have seen al Qaeda's plan for Iraq in action. Accordingly, his comments have already drawn their response. Iraq's al-Iraqiyah Television interviewed Shaykh Abd al-Sattar Abu-Rishah, chieftain of the Al-Bu-Rishah tribe in al-Anbar the day following the release of Muhajir's message:
Asked about his response to Al-Muhajir's statement about giving a pardon to the chieftains of Iraq, he says: "I do not know what kind of authority he enjoys. Is he a prophet? Did he receive a messenger from God to give us a pardon? Are we criminals like him? Are we killers like him to be given a pardon? Or did we ask him for pardon? On the contrary, he should ask us for pardon, because he killed Iraqis, Sunnis and Shi'is. Who is he? He is only an inferior criminal. We should not grant him a pardon."And a guest on a popular Iraqi al Diyar television talk show was even less gracious: "Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who stole chickens in 1980, is now issuing pardons for chieftains? Who is he to pardon the Chieftains of Iraq?"
Turning the Tide
That's a glimpse of Iraq rarely seen in western media. The rift between al-Anbar's chieftains (who once welcomed al-Qaeda fighters into their towns) and those now-despised foreigners has been growing for some time - and the strength and resolve of the chieftains has increased too, to the point where statements humiliating the once-feared terrorist leadership are now made in person, before the entire nation, in prime-time. They may pay for that show of courage with their lives, but it may be too late to turn the tide back in favor of their would-be assassins.
The U.S. military cited incidents of insurgent infighting in a rare public description of a split:February:
• At least six ranking members of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been assassinated by Sunni insurgents or tribal gunmen in separate incidents since September, Zahner said. The killings are usually in retaliation for al-Qaeda's role in violence, such as the execution of local police officers, he said.
• In Ramadi, in western Iraq, he said, armed clashes have erupted between local Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda operatives in recent months. At least one high-ranking al-Qaeda member, Abu Khatab, was recently run out of Ramadi by insurgents loyal to the local tribe.
• Near the Syrian border, members of the Albu Mahal tribe, which attacked U.S. positions as recently as March, have lately been pointing U.S. troops to al-Qaeda hideouts, Zahner said.
Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, also said there is a rift in the insurgency, calling it a "a major step forward in our fight against terrorism."
Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan, head of the influential Karabila tribe in Sunni Arab-dominated western Iraq, is more politician than traditional sheikh these days. He's given up his dishdasha and Arab headdress for a pinstripe suit with a silk handkerchief in his breast pocket.March:
He's also turned away from supporting Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and other foreign fighters in Iraq. "We realized that these foreign terrorists were hiding behind the veil of the noble Iraqi resistance," says Mr. Jadaan. "They claim to be striking at the US occupation, but the reality is they are killing innocent Iraqis in the markets, in mosques, in churches, and in our schools."
Tribal chiefs in Iraq's western Anbar province and in an area near the northern city of Kirkuk, two regions teeming with insurgents, are vowing to strike back at al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Arab-led group that is waging war against Sunni tribal leaders who are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military.
While all this was ongoing, coalition forces were capturing al-Qaeda members (often on tips from Iraqi citizens) and gaining intel that ultimately led to the June attack that killed Zarqawi.
Lines in the Sand
While obviously this was not the end of al Qaeda in Iraq, it was a significant blow to their cause. Still, many "analysts" declared Zarqawi a hindrance to al Qaeda's goals and predicted the group would restore its image with the local population. Reality did not meet those expectations. By mid-September:
Anbar residents say the towns of Khalidiya and Haditha are effectively controlled by al Qaeda, who run Islamic courts, force women to wear an Afghan-style burqa and regularly dump bodies of those they call "traitors" and "spies" on the streets.But...
But there are also towns like Qaim on the Syrian border where tribesmen have taken matters into their own hands and thrown the al Qaeda militants out. Others want to emulate them.
"We just want to live like everyone else. We're sick of all this bloodshed," said one Ramadi resident, voicing a common sentiment but requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.
"If you criticise al Qaeda, you will find yourself dead the next day. We don't want to live in constant fear," he added.
A young man who calls himself Abu Farouq, a senior al Qaeda figure in northern Ramadi, said his fighters want an Islamic caliphate in Anbar...
"We have the right to kill all infidels, like the police and army and all those who support them," he told Reuters.
"This tribal system is un-Islamic. We are proud to kill tribal leaders who are helping the Americans."
Sheikh Sattar al-Buzayi summoned other tribal chiefs last week for a war council at his fortified home in Ramadi, the teeming, scarred capital of Iraq's Anbar province, desert heartland of the Sunni Arabs.Buzayi's meeting, dubbed the "Anbar Awakening Conference", was attended by 15 of the 18 tribes of the region. The group formed the "al Anbar Salvation Council", and sought help from the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq, as reported by the AP on September 19th:
There was a bountiful feast of beef and rice, and a vow of unrelenting battle against the common enemy -- al Qaeda.
"We have to form police and army forces from among our sons to fight these al Qaeda militants," Buzayi, who says the militants murdered his father and his brother, told Reuters.
"We have now entered a real battle. It's either us or them."
BAGHDAD, Iraq A prominent Sunni tribal leader on Tuesday asked the Iraqi government to legitimize a newly formed tribal council in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces to enable it to fight "terrorists where ever we find them."One week later, (and one day after US and Iraqi forces killed "Al-Qaeda's Amir in Anbar") Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki met with those leaders:
Tribal leaders and clerics in Ramadi, the capital of the violent Anbar province west of Baghdad, met last week and set up a 43-member Anbar Salvation Council with a force of about 20,000 men to fight the virulent insurgency in this western Sunni city.
Baghdad: Sunni tribal leaders who have vowed to drive Al Qaida out of Iraq's most restive province met the Shiite premier on Wednesday, marking what Washington hopes will be a breakthrough alliance against militants.Those developments - as with most in Iraq - attracted scant notice in western media. But Iraqi and Arab media sources had much more. Dubai's al Arabiyah quoted Buzayi after the meeting: "The Prime Minister is concerned with the Iraqi people. He is a good man, and wants everything good for our governate." Other reports would say the Anbar group had pledged to defend the highways, and that the youth of the tribes would be encouraged to join the Iraqi army and police. In return, rebuilding funds were pledged to al Anbar to be used when the security situation had improved.
Sattar Al Buzayi, a Sunni shaikh from Anbar province who has emerged in recent weeks as a leader of a tribal alliance against Osama Bin Laden's followers, said he and about 15 other shaikhs had offered their cooperation to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
"This is admired and respected by all Iraqis. We are fully prepared to back your efforts," said the prime minister.
That meeting occurred on 27 September - and prompted the response from Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, which was issued the following day, and covered extensively in the western media without the connection being made.
In another (largely ignored, and absurdly transparent) public relations ploy the same day, al Qaeda in Iraq announced they were changing the name of their campaign from the "Campaign to Avenge the blood of Zarqawi" to "The Military Evident Victory Battle".
Al Jazeera that day provided a quote in support of the Anbar tribes directly refuting Muhajir from Ahmed Naji Jibarah al Juburi, chief of the Salah-al-Din Provence tribal council: "Iraq is our Iraq. It does not belong to the leader of al Qaeda. He wants to eliminate us and make Iraq a wasteland."
And also the same day:
...a Shiite religious leader in Karbala province called upon the Sunnis who left Karbala to please return to their homes. These Sunnis left after the attack on Askariah Shrine in samara last February. Please return to your homes to help of our national unity and national reconciliation programs started by Iraqi PM Alamliki to succeed.
Mr. Ahmad Alhussieny, a member of the Karbala provincial assembly (thus an elected official) and committee chair talked to Aswat Aliraq (an independent Iraqi news agency). Alhussieny said; 'the return of displaced Sunnis to Karbala province (a heavily Shiite province) and the return their mosque's use, which was vacated after the explosion at the Askariah shrine in Samara, is essential to the success of national reconciliation. This is very important and a way for the people of Karbala to show that we are committed to peace and reconciliation and will not be drawn, by the enemies of Iraq, into sectarian or religious strife. Alhussieny then called on the other provinces to follow Karbalas' lead, by opening their hearts and their doors to their dear Sunni brethren who have been with us through out history'.
On the final day of September the Yemen Times reported:
Iraqi police and tribal leaders in Al-Ramadi said Iraqi sources promised to wage war on Al-Qaeda organization there and managed to arrest five Al-Qaeda affiliates last Friday, including three Yemenis.And on October 3rd, the British paper The Guardian reported that "Al-Qaida in Iraq is being pushed out of its strongholds in Anbar province after three days of fighting with Iraq's fiercely independent tribes." (For the record - it won't be that easy.)
According to police officer Salam Obeed, the five men were arrested without incident below a bridge in Al-Ramadi in Al-Anbar province.
Occupying approximately one-third of Iraq’s total area, Al-Anbar is the stronghold of Sunni Arabs and one of the most dangerous areas for U.S. forces, according to Sattar Al-Baza’I, a sheikh of one of Al-Anbar's tribes.
By the 5th, even the LA Times offered some lukewarm coverage of the developments.
The same al-Arabiyah news item quoting Buzayi above also mentioned that many of the al Qaeda fighters from al Anbar had fled to Diyala Province. Security responsibilities for that region were handed over from the Americans to the 3rd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division, on October 1st.
The day prior,
Iraqi military forces have defeated what they called an attempt to create a breakaway Sunni religious territory in Iraq's eastern Diyala province, an army spokesman said yesterday.The ongoing Iraqi Army operation, dubbed " Swift Response", has now netted over 250 suspected "insurgent" fighters.
"We foiled an attempt to establish an emirate in Diyala," said Brigadier General Shakr Al Kaabi of the Iraqi Army's Fifth Division on the second day of a wide-ranging operation sweeping through the provincial seat of Baquba. He added that according to their intelligence, this "emirate" – a term which can mean an independent state under a religious leader – was to have been announced at the end of Ramadan.
Tough talk is being replaced by action. Can it be sustained? Can the "Salvation Council" endure if key figures in the movement are eliminated, or shift loyalties? The answers are coming - albeit slowly, and they won't likely appear in western news any time soon. Combat on the part of the Anbar tribes against al Qaeda will simply appear as more carnage in the always blood-soaked month of Ramadan, and the deaths of Sunnis killed by al Qaeda can always be blamed on Shiite militias - or "sectarian violence".
The conflict in Iraq goes on - and will for some time. And the al Anbar tribes' opposition to al Qaeda is not comensurate with support for the U.S. - they will be quite happy to see us leave also. But if their battle with the other foreign invader is successful, that day will come too.
Related: a look at al Qaeda's "accomplishments" in Iraq duiring 2005.
Next: we turn our attention to al Qaeda's public relations outreach to the American people...)
Update: From CENTCOM:
TERRORIST LINKED TO AL-QAIDA IN IRAQ LEADER DETAINEDClosing in...
Release Date: 10/5/2006
Release Number: 06-01-05P
Description: BAGHDAD – Coalition forces detained a former driver and personal assistant of Abu Ayyub al-Masri along with 31 others during a series of 11 raids targeting al-Qaida in Iraq activities in the Baghdad area Sept. 28.
This is the second close associate of Abu Ayyub al-Masri captured in September, also believed to have been one of his personal drivers. Intelligence indicates his participation in the 2005 bombings of the Sheraton and the Al Hamra hotels in Baghdad that killed a total of 16 people and injured 65 others.
Three days after this operation, the Iraqi government released a video of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the al-Qaida in Iraq leader, instructing terrorists on how to build vehicle borne improvised explosive devices from the inside of a tanker truck. Intelligence indicates the suspected terrorist captured was working directly for Abu Ayyub al-Masri when the video was created.
Coalition forces identified and detained the suspected terrorist without incident. Testimony from the Abu Ayyub al-Masri associate detained in Baghdad Sept. 12 led to the capture of this suspected terrorist. Coalition forces recovered multiple weapons to include several IED-ready mortar rounds and other munitions during the raids.Operations by Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to contribute to the disorganization and disruption of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Update: The story continues here.
This is such excellent news, even if it simply shows the basic truth that the slog, tough as it is, is making progress. A fact regularly hidden from the WORLD public.
Keep up the great work!Posted by D. Ox at October 5, 2006 03:29 PM
"Sectarian violence" in Iraq. "Increasing violence" in Afghanistan. Funny how the 'casualties' of this violence are predominantly those of our enemies, but that part gets understated, if stated at all.Posted by Major John at October 5, 2006 07:53 PM
and how many of the so-called civilian deaths were actually insurgents?Posted by Douglas V. Gibbs at October 6, 2006 01:40 AM
Could you tell me what happens to the prisoners/al quida that we capture? Do the Iraq's hold them?
Could you tell me what happens to the prisoners/al qaida that we capture? Do the Iraq's hold them?
Thanks for the comprehensive update :-) I just wish that the average Iraqi had more of a cheering section in the American press... wouldn't it be nice if it at least SEEMED like the MSM wanted them to have a better life? Sigh.
Sending encouraging wishes and prayers their way!Posted by Lisa at October 6, 2006 04:08 AM
Good news. No wonder you function as the Mudville Gazette! Your news is more in depth, more factual and certainly includes more insight than anything printed on war by the NY Times, LA Times, or Washington Post.
Maybe the Pulitzer belongs to your and your blogging comrades henceforth.
Good info, son. Press on.
SubsunkPosted by Subsunk at October 6, 2006 10:30 AM
Thanks Grey. Hell of a way to wet your feet in reentry to the blogosphere as well. Damn good reporting, and investigating.Posted by David Earney at October 6, 2006 09:33 PM
Why is the "tribal system un-Islamic"?
Clans of families and their descendants, maybe all with the same occupation, occur in England and Ireland and there are "fiefs" with them all on the same plot of land.
A clan could be a man with a harem of diverse women, all of whom have the same father, but different mothers and any descendants they have. In the medieval structure that they have in the middle east the daughters are bought and sold to other peoples' harems without consent.
A clan war is called a feud. When people leave clans to form a tribe there is some racial and cultural diversity. However, under a Sultanate, one sultan inseminating thousands of women creates inbreeding and racism.
A caliphate imposes on the numbers of individuals so, even though there are no schools, mothers can teach their daughters what to eat and the Arabic language. Woman are not permitted to go to Islamic or Koranic academies.
The Ukraine concept of the "children wandering around that might get raped and pregnant or nto trouble" comes from huge collectives of "children" who grow up and are shoved out into the fields without anyone to show them what to do. After Stalin's purge, there isn't anyone to tell them what to do, and as for instruction they are told to "grab a few stalks of the top of the wheat and chew it slowly if you feel hungry."
They are also taught to "hunt for meat with bows and arrows" including the other humans in an area.
The one ancestor has so many children that there is no one to instruct them that the women may end up eating rats, which is not "nutritious."
The "ethnic Russians" in the Soviet Union consist of "tribes" that are racist collectives where there is inbreeding. Since there are no roads in the Soviet Union and Moscow is the only place there is gas for cars, the racism of the collectives is perpetuated by geographic isolation.
Islam is supposed to be an improvement on this situation, but I don't think "communism," which was for the Russians would be appropriate for people in the Middle East. When there is education, and an informed public, there can be democracy.
How can women be informed if they are not allowed to go to school? They have a "tribal code" where killing women is against the law. Women are slaves and chattels. This reminds me of the medieval concept of "innocent women" but Jesus never said "all women are innocent." There can be women who are guilty of crimes and quite a lot of them....
Each should be considered on its own merits, but when everybody is the same race, the Russians tend to asume that they were all instructed in the same collective and are all guilty of the same crime. Thus arose the "genocide business" which is against interntional law, which we assume is universal.
If there are decendants of Russians who came on the wagon trains to get away from the Czars, the U.S, Army, were taught the "kraft of genocide" by their parents, they should be defeated.Posted by olive the terrorist at October 7, 2006 05:37 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(9) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)