Sunday, April 30, 2006

More good news from Iraq

Today we have reports that 7 Iraqi insurgent groups are close to reaching a deal with the Iraqi government and the Multinational Forces to lay down their arms and participate in the political process. I have also noted that the daily rate of violence in Iraq is much reduced over the past week relative to the preceding three weeks of the month. It seems Iraq's "slide to civil war" as the press likes to call it has not only managed to stop but reverse itself in only a couple of weeks.

I watched with almost a chuckle as the major media trotted out one person after another who offered the "civil war" scenario. Nevermind that April's casualty rate, though high, was still below that of the last two weeks of March. It was as if the media so dearly wanted there to be civil war that they had to find as many sources as possible to try to validate and reinforce that conclusion. If anyone who is anyone wanted to get some print space in the papers in April, all they had to do was discuss "civil war" in Iraq. Suddenly that talk is nowhere to be seen. As if it never happened.

There was an article published today on Strategy Page that while true, seems to miss a more general point. Each of the items presented in the essay by Harold C. Hutchison are true but there are some overall sweeping issues that I think are more important. In order to understand them, you have to understand a little background first.

Al Qaida wants to radicalize Muslims to bring about the supremacy of a Salafist form of Islam and create a Caliphate. The idea is to provide resources to bring about the overthrow of existing governments and have those nations join a pan-Islamic Caliphate ruled by someone they (al Qaida) approve of. The way they have managed to try this is to inject themselves into countries that are already in a struggle and have a weak central government. Somalia was a good example of this. In Somalia, al Qaida aligned forces eventually resulted in a UN retreat but they have not been victorious in winning the government of that country. The struggle continues there today with the sharia based forces fighting traditional warlords for control of the country. In fact al Qaida has not managed a single victory anywhere on the planet. They have won some battles, but they have not won a single one of the wars they have chosen to fight.

After Somalia came Afghanistan. Afghan forces had succeeded in pushing out the Russians but now there was significant infighting between various warlords and strongmen for control. The central government was weak and Afghanistan was practically in a state of perpetual civil war. Enter al Qaida and the Taliban. The country had all of al Qaida's criteria ... it was a Muslim country, it had a weak central government, it was in chaos. al Qaida had an ally in the religiously extreme "Taliban" who had considerable experience fighting the Russians. It was gambled that the people would be sufficiently tired of the constant fighting that they would accept a religious based government as a compromise. Who could argue with Islam? It wasn't a political philosophy and it promised to restore order and give them some peace from the fighting. The Taliban began to push the other warlords out and made considerable progress. Note that this process was still not complete when 9/11 came around. There were still considerable parts of Afghanistan that were not under Taliban control. Osama made a huge mistake in the timing of 9/11 by not waiting for complete Taliban control of Afghanistan, the consolidation of that control, and the implementation of a Caliphate. Had those steps been completed, al Qaida would have had a success under their belts and an operating Caliphate for groups in other countries to strive to join. Instead, Allied forces working with those fighting the Taliban smashed the regime in a few short weeks. Al Qaida has nothing but a second defeat (after the failure to win Somalia) to toss on it's growing heap of defeats.

Now the US moves on Iraq. After smashing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the country falls into the pattern perfect for al Qaida meddling. There is a weak central government, the country is fractured, the infrastructure is crippled and the place is lousy with infidels. al Qaida just couldn't help but stick its nose into the fight and they did. Again with only grand promises to offer and not a single success to hold up as a model, they begin a brutal campaign of intimidation of the local population under the guise of fighting foreign invaders. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq had not suffered years of civil war and strife between factions. They had a national history and a national identity that was stronger than the more tribal identities in Afghanistan. Iraq has its divisions, to be sure, but there is a stronger Iraqi identity than there was any national identity in Afghanistan. In order to foster the chaos required to gain acceptance as a provider of peace and control, al Qaida in Iraq set out on a cultural arson campaign designed to inflame public opinions of various sectarian groups. Al Qaida would attack Shiites to inflame them against the Sunnis and they would attack Sunnis who didn't agree with al Qaida's vision. Al Qaida seemed to be fighting to the last Saudi college student in its suicide bombing campaign. But there was a major problem. The Iraqis themselves weren't buying into it.

As al Zarqawi killed more and more Iraqis, the people began to pull away from him. Resentment grew of his thugs intimidating the townspeople in villages they controlled. Then there was the military problem. Al Qaida in Iraq was unable to field any kind of effective force against the Allied forces in Iraq. Their window of opportunity began to close as the new Iraqi army, it it's second incarnation began to gain control. Now, increasingly, al Qaida found itself in battles against Iraqis. Again, it seems that al Qaida in Iraq is killing more Iraqis than foreigners. Then comes Fallujah. Zarqawi suffers a crushing defeat and runs away. Not long after that come operations in western Iraq. Again, a string of defeat after defeat. All the while they are unable to disrupt the timetable of Iraq's march to a permanent government. When a united Iraqi population marched to the polls in the last election, the signal was clear that al Qaida had been defeated. The rest was just a matter of time. Defeat number three.

Where to now? Palestine. The financial troubles of Hamas appears to be placing the Palestinian territories in the state that al Qaida needs to begin to meddle. There is a weak central government and factions within the governed area in a struggle for control. The conditions are being set for another al Qaida interference operation in the Palestinian authority. Al Qaida now simply needs to spark civil war so it can come "riding to the rescue" in its mind ... but in reality "riding to defeat" if the past is any indication of the future.

Al Qaida does not have a single overall success to point to. They can point to a large tally of dead, but that is about it. Osama's biggest blunder was in pulling the trigger on 9/11 at least a year too soon. Had he allowed the Taliban to gain total control, had he established his Caliphate, had he allowed his fighters to rest, re-train, be re-equipped, he might have stood a chance in Somalia. Having a real entity to fight and die for is motivating. People tire of fighting for empty promises. Without a 9/11 operation there would have probably been no Iraq operation or at least less urgency about it. Al Qaida would have had time to consolidate both physically and ideologically. The error was in failing to anticipate that the US would intervene in Afghanistan so quickly after 9/11 and eliminate the Taliban while creating a government in Afghanistan that is surprisingly united.

Not only has the US won, but al Qaida is in tatters. It's promises broken, its dreams unrealized. They have failed utterly and completely. And THAT is the message our media should be spreading.


Anonymous C.S. Scott said...

Good analysis. In speaking to your point about how al Qaeda manages to alienate local populaces that they may share a similar cause with, I draw a few quotes from "Holy War Inc." by Peter Bergen, who discussed how hated the Afghan-Arabs (primarily Saudis, Algerians, and Yemeni) were in Soviet occupied Afghanistan, even by other Afghan insurgent groups they shared a similar primary goal with (ie. the withdrawal of Soviet forces).

"There were hundreds of thousands of Afghans all too willing to fight, and the Arabs who did come for jihad were very disruptive...the Afghans thought they were a pain in ass." - Peter Bergen quoting CIA Chief Milt Bearden

"There was no love lost between the Afghans and the Arabs. One Afghan told me, 'whenever we had a problem with one of them we just shot them. They thought they were kings." - Peter Jouvenal

It's also worth noting that the Afghan-Arab jihadist did not have a significant impact on the outcome of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, contrary to the view put forth by some that they did.

"The maximum combined strength of the various Afghan mujahideen factions averaged somewhere between 175,000 and 250,000 in a given year. These numbers demonstrate that the Afghan-Arabs contribution to the war against the Soviets was insignificant from a military point of view. This war was won primarily with the blood of Afghans and secondarily with the treasure of the United States and Saudi Arabia, who between them provided approximately $ 6 billion in support." - Peter Bergen

Good post.

12:13 AM PDT  

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