Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why Al Qaida Is Fighting For Iraq

For most people who support the war, there is an idea that Al Qaida is fighting in Iraq for simplistic reasons like, "we are there, so Al Qaida is fighting us where we are." This is actually a true statement, however, there is more to it then that. The left actually buys into this argument as well, but from their perspective, the converse is also true. The converse being, "if we weren't there, al Qaida would not be there." This is actually a false statement. I will explain shortly. On to the second reasoning from the right: "Al Qaida wishes to defeat the US and other Western powers to force them to retreat from the Middle East, humiliate us in battle and make it harder or less desirable to attack in the future." This is also true on it's face value.

Now I will explain why the right is not entirely correct and the left is entirely wrong. First, I will post two pictures that represent the modern Middle East, South East Asia and Africa. On these maps you will see red dots that I have placed, largely based on memory, that indicate places where Islamist organizations are either active or have perpetrated attacks (click on pictures for a larger view):

These areas can be verified at any time from the State Department's website that has an interactive map and pdf showing all of these terrorist attacks and organizations around the globe.

Here is a map of the Ottoman Empire, the Caliphate, at the hight of it's power during the Timurid and Safavid dynasties. The olive green outline denotes the boundaries of the empire. Please note the blue dot that is Baghdad:

Not only was Baghdad the near physical heart of the medieval caliphate, it was, during several dynastic rules, the literal heart of the caliphate being the seat of numerous Caliphas, or rulers, after the demise of Mohammed. Later Ottoman rulers made their seat of rule in Constantinople, but, Baghdad has long been considered the jewel of the empire.

Aside from Saddam being a rather nasty dictator that murdered hundreds of thousans, possessed and used WMD, had direct connection with terrorist organizations and flirted with others, violated the first Gulf War cease fire agreement on numerous occassions and was definitely violating every tenet of the sanctions, Iraq is strategically positioned among all of the worst offenders that support terrorism or export extremist ideologies. Those things alone do not necessitate the holding of Iraq. What is even more significant, in a world where the US has declared it's policy to include "pre-emptive" war, is the historical and symoblic significance of Baghdad, Iraq.

In Islamic history, he who holds Baghdad, holds the caliphate.

An Najaf is a city to the east of Baghdad. In this city is the shrine of Ali, the son in law of Mohammed and the person that the Shi'ite believe should have been the next rightful ruler of the Muslim empire. On his way to Baghdad to consolidate and validate his rule, he was chased into An Najaf with his entire family and his remaining loyal army. There they were starved and denied water until the opposing forces of Bakr killed Ali, his son, most of his men and then, finally, enslaved his family. Bakr being the second "rightly guided caliphate" recognized by the Sunni.

That was just the first of many battles for Baghdad. Nearly 900 years later, as Sal ah Din pushed more and more into the west and was attempting to take Vienna, a Shia uprising that threatened Baghdad and attempted to place their own Calipha on the throne, caused Sal ah Din to turn back and put the rebellion down, which kept Sal ah Din and his successors from attempting to conquer the west then and, basically, forever. One of the reasons that Zarqawi despises the Shia and believes that their current cooperation with the US in Iraq is just one more of many such betrayals. In his own words, they are dogs (unclean) and thus extremely worthy of death at the hands of the "true believers" and new warriors of God intent on establishing the caliphate.

Thus, when your enemy's number one goal is to "return you to the path of Islam" and worshipping Allah and his second stated goal (in his declaration of war 1998) is to re-establish the caliphate, you do not abandon the heart of the empire to the enemy. You hold it, put your boot on it and remake it into a condition that is inhospitable and untenable to the enemy. Namely, creating a free and democratic state that will, hopefully, not be interested in joining the caliphate, will protect Baghdad as it's capitol and will forever deny him the strategic and symbolic seat of a primary objective. Like sowing salt in the fields of Carthage.

There are many, even on the right, who believe that, after no WMD was found, the administration "changed" their reasoning for Iraq to be "spreading Democracy". This is simply not true. The president had said during many speeches after September 11 that the way to combat this archaic, repressive and violent ideology was with freedom. Most people think of this in a strictly ideological concept. In reality, it has a physical manifestation: free and democratic Iraq that will never again be the seat of the Caliphate.

There will be some that believe that it was not necessary to take out Saddam to insure that Baghdad was forever denied to the jihadists. However, that would necessitate ignorning Saddam's increasing appearances as "Sal ah Din", increasing attendance at mosque for a man who ruled via a secular party and modeled himself after Stalin, the supreme atheist, who gave money to families of suicide bombers, used money from the broken sanctions to filter to questionable charities and business fronts for terrorist organizations, harbored terrorists and made multiple attempts to ally himself with bin Laden. Add to that the weakened state post Gulf War I and sanctions and you have a cherry ready to be picked.

Irregardless, when your enemy's number two strategic goal is to re-establish the caliphate AND his number one complaint about the west is it's cultural infiltration, it's immoral "freedom" and turning away the young from "true Islam", if you know what will do the most physical and symoblic damage to his cause, you don't sit around and do nothing about it. You stick a dagger in the heart of his strategic goals, twist it good and seat it deep, making sure that he can never pull it out without bleeding to death.

And, right now, that is what OBL and Zarqawi are trying to do: pull the dagger out of the heart of the caliphate. Just as we cannot give up this strategic and symbollically valuable piece of realestate to the terrorists and other civil insurrection, they cannot but come there and fight for it because, if they withdraw, they will have conceded the fight and seriously damaged any future where they can meet their strategic goals (if not destroy their movement for many years to come).

Afghanistan destroyed their base and denied them territory to operate from. Setting up democracy there was the first stab at their ideology. Yes, Iraq will spread democracy; yes, if we leave it will leave Iraq to the terrorists and former regime; yes, Iraq has significant value in denying resources and territory to the enemy; yes, it is in the middle of every terrorist supporting nation of the ME; yes, al Qaida is there because we are there; yes, the more they send the more we kill; and, yes, we have spilled much blood there which makes the battle even that much more valuable, but we must stay in Baghdad and Iraq until democracy and security is established for the most important reason: because it will kill the caliphate.

For the record, I never expect the administration to own up to the strategy considering actually specifically saying so would quite possibly precipitate the larger war with "Islam" that we are trying to avoid. Some may say that it was a mistake or that the administration was not smart enough to figure this out, but that would mean that all of the strategists and military advisers were stupid, too and I just don't see that happening.

In short, this is the allies marching through the Champ d'Elyss in Paris after beating back the Nazis. This is the flag raising on Iwo Jima; Sherman's march to the sea; the burning of Atlanta; the taking of Tripoli the sacking of Rome; the salting of Carthage; and every other significant symoblic and strategic act meant to suck the heart out of the enemy's resistance.

That's why al Qaida fights us there and that is why we must stay.


John of Argghhh! said...

Nice work, Kat. Food for thought.

Gadfly said...

impeccable analysis, Kat. But then again, that's what I've come to expect when I read your stuff. I would be surprised to find it otherwise.

I only have one detraction, and I'm only pointing it out because its my pet peeve. Irregardless isn't a word. Yes, it's in the dictionary nowadays, but it's still a jumble of the words irrespective and regardless. /soapbox

Now where did I leave my OCD pills?

Kat said...

Thanks John, been thinking this since shortly after the war and really getting into reading the jihadists' materials and statements. Seems really obvious. I thought the visual presentation would be helpful for those that might be confused or geographically challenged.

I keep thinking, if I can read history, look at maps and come to this conclusion, then wouldn't a better trained and educated person with strategic background do the same?

Gadfly, I think my brother has some OCD pills he can give up. LOL

I'll remember that about that word. Should have just said "regardless". My excuse was that it was very early this morning when I was writing it. ;)

Kat said...

Also, rounding out the analysis, generally you do take or attack locations based on three concepts:

1) Attacking the enemy in place
2) Strategic Value
3) Symbolic Value

Best case scenarios incorporate all three.

Looking at the map of the ME and taking into account the enemy's stated goals, four cities hold the the best of all three, but also present their own problems. In no particular order:

1) Mecca
2) Jerusalem
3) Damascus
4) Tehran

In any case, Mecca would control the ideologic center of the enemy's ideology, but would also precipitate the wider idea that it's a war against islam and bring in players that might otherwise stay dormant. Also, might interrupt major resource flow that would effect world economy and bring in other global players like China. So, I would say it has major detractors, but is not off the list, just lower.

Jerusalem is, for all intents and purposes, already in our camp being held by Israel. No need to put a foot there. We get the benefit without any effort. Jerusalem being also the symbolic place where Mohammed ascended into heaven and one of the most contentious places during the crusades and other struggles within expansionist Islam.

3) Damascus. Damascus would, of course, help take the pressure off of Israel, but Syria has no ports, little infrastructure of importance, is largely landlocked and is still a bit of the client state of the re-engineered USSR. Also, it would necessitate direct conflict with Hezbollah, a client organization of Iran and a fighter in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Direct conflict with them would probably result in the Islamic world having a fit saying it was a zionist plot and then we would really have a fight on our hands. Damascus, anyway, is largely symbolic since it was to be the capitol of the new Arab nation under Fiesel except for the Sykes-Piko agreement. It's only strategic value would be cutting off a terrorist haven and road into other areas. Important, but can be largely accomplished through other means.

4) Tehran. This would cut off support for certain terrorist organizations and possibly cut off the western road out of Afghanistan for the terrorists. Maybe even force OBL out of hiding (because I firmly believe he is there and that is why he is unaccessible and basically out of the physical fight except for statements and general directions). Of course, this would necessitate a really large scale attack against a state that is not as weak as Iraq was, has some physical features that are difficult to manuever and would bring the Shi'ites, the natural enemies of the Wahhabists, into the fight.

That left Iraq. It's smack in the middle, it has a port, we knew the lay of the land and it's military abilities, it had the most amenable population, nobody in the Arab world really cared for Saddam and felt that he was threatening, they didn't care about the people because they never did anything for them or about Saddam and it was largely Shia. Of course, it was the heart of the old caliphate, too. and, Terrorists and terrorist organizations were there and receiving support.

All in all, it meets the best of all necessary tests.

Afghanistan had no significant strategic value beyond booting AQ out of their main base. karachi is held by a "friendly" government, Cairo is too far on the edge and basically held by a "friendly" secular government, the african nations are too far on the edge of the caliphate and direct war would be messy, possibly screwing up trade routes in the mediteranean (plus, I think we can leave them to the Europeans who still have some influence there), I can't think of any other strategic, symbolic places where the enemy is off the top of my head.

anyway, include saddam as an idiot and you get the best place to attack and get your second "quick" victory, attrit their forces and dagger in the heart of the movement, physically and metaphorically.

Donal said...

Excellent analysis Kat. I just read a series of articles on Slate about Iraq in general by Bing West a former marine and former assistant secretary of defense under Reagen which everyone should read. I mention this because West came to the same conclusion you did, he wrote "In Fallujah, Ramadi, and elsewhere, the leadership of the Iraqi insurgency has passed into the hands of the global jihadists implacable in their hatred. They are not agrarian reformers. Their goal is a fundamentalist, fascist caliphate extending across dozens of countries, achieved by murdering all who oppose them, regardless of borders. This is a global war. Pull precipitously out of Iraq and the savagery of the terror bombings elsewhere will increase."

Mixed Humor said...

Interesting read. Good job marshalling the facts and adding in your own analysis. I don't think there is any question that part of the Iraq strategy is to put up a dike in the middle of a corrupt ideology that seeks to return the Caliphate. Even Senator Kerry recognized this when he stated that Saddam Hussein was "acting in a unifying manner" and "trying to become the modern day Nebachadnezzer."

The idea that the Hussein regime was secular and therefore at odds with Islamists is a product of 1980s conventional wisdom and it is dead wrong. In the days leading up to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Islamists flocked to Baghdad and even declared a jihad if the U.S. led coalition attacked.

Here are a few quotes I took directly from Steven F. Hayes' book, "The Connection."

"It's one thing to acknowledge that Hussein and Bin Laden were not natural allies; it's quite another to conclude that the two would never work together." - Chapter 3

"To counter the criticism, Saddam made some modest adjustments to his rhetoric, inserting religious praise and otherwise invoking Allah as he battled his neighbors." - Chapter 3

"Amatzia Baram, currently a scholor at the U.S. Institute for Peace, if perhaps the world's greatest authority on Saddam Hussein. He has detailed Saddam's transformation in dozens or articles and books, including analysis published in the December 2000 issue of the Middle East Review of International Affairs."

"President Saddam Husayn led the Ba'th party in introducing some Islamic principles into the Iraqi legal system. This started a short while before the invasion of Kuwait in 1990."

"One day before the Allied bombing began the fighting in January 1991, Saddam Husayn added the slogan, "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) to the Iraqi national flag. During the war, Saddam's rhetorc was fully Islamized in a way uparalleled by any other Arab secular leader.'

Baram notes that Saddam undertook a wide-ranging public relations campaign to cast himself as an Islamic Holy Warrior. He frequenty invoked past Islamic battles and rallied Muslims for his cause by claiming that he would return the Islamic world to glory by taking the battle to the western infidels. - Chapter 3

"Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son in law, complained of these efforts when he defected in August 1995. "The government of Iraq is instegating fundementalism in the country," he told Rolf Ekeus, the head of the UN weapons inspection program. Kamel added, "It is against Europe and the U.S. Now, Ba'th party members have to pass a religious exam...they even stopped party meetings for prayers." - Chapter 3

"Saddam did make a serious attempt to make in-roads with the extremists." - Dr. Stanley Bedlington, CIA (1986-1994) - Chapter 3

"Beginning in June 1990, Saddam inaugruated a series of "Popular Islamic Conferences" in Baghdad. One such conference ended on 13 January, four days before the Gulf War. The conference ended with clerics calling for a "Holy war" should the coalition attack. Six days later the general secretariat of the conference issued a statement calling jihad the duty of all Muslims." - Chapter 3

"Saddam enjoys wide support among fundementalists in the Arab world who percieve the Western presence in the region as a threat to their society and culture." - Salah Nasrawi, A.P. reporter in Baghdad" - Chapter 3

In early 1993, Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, one of Saddam's top aides, addressed a session of the Popular Islamic Conference at Baghdad's National Theater. Reporter Mark Fineman from the Los Angeles Times was at the gathering and filed a story about it on January 26, 1993. "There are delegates from the most committed Islamic organizations on Earth," he wrote, "Afghan Muhajadeen (holy warriors), Palestinian militants, Sudanese fundementalists, the Islamic Brotherhood and Pakistan's party of Islam." In keeping with the spirit of the occassion, al Douri spoke in lanmguage his guests would appreciate. "We are blessed in this country for having the Islamic holy warrior Saddam Hussein as a leader, who is guiding the country in a religious holy war against the infedels and non-believers." "Newsweek's Christopher Dickey, who covered the conference in 1993, described it in a column nearly a decade later, on September 9, 2002. "Islamic radicals from all over the middle east, Africa and Asia converged on Baghdad to show their solidarity with Iraq in the face of American aggression," he recalled." - Chapter 4

"Everytime I hear diplomats and politicians, whether in Washington or the capitals of Europe, declare that Saddam Hussein is a 'secular Baathist ideologue' who has nothing to do with Islamists or terrorist calls to jihad, I think of that afternoon." - Newsweek's Christopher Dickey - Chapter 4

"Real evil is hard to imagine. Reasonable people do not want to recognize it, even when it stares them in the face; easier to listen to those who tell us that Saddam couldn't possibly see eye to eye with Islamic fundementalists and couldn't possibly be so foolish as to entrust them with weapons of mass destruction." - Newsweek's Christopher Dickey - Chapter 4

It's amazing that people wrap their views about Saddam's support of terrorism around the idea that he was secular and therefore was an enemy of the Islamists. There was a time when he was, but those days had long since passed.

What Saddam represented was a leader trying to unify Arab nationalism with Islamism, and that posed a grave threat to the west. We avoided a disaster by removing this regime from power.

Barb said...

Kat - Very interesting, and I appreciate you laying it out for those of us who don't read the source materials. There are many facets to the strategic value of Iraq - based on the Fertile Crescent and the Garden of Eden.

Excellent post -- Thanks for enlightening me!

Nervous Rodent said...

Great post. You're dead on the money. Dang it, another blog to bookmark.