You may have missed the news, but the terrorists in Iraq are suffering from a serious case of partisan politics. In guerilla warfare, this kind of split spells defeat.
We have a tendency to analyze only the successes and failures of our own forces. Read a paper, watch network or cable news and even search the Internet that is largely what we see. What we don’t see often enough and equally important to gauging victory or defeat are the successes and, more often than reported, failures of the enemy forces. Some of these failures have been very spectacular in their complete ineptness and for-sight. In the last report, “Iraq’s Public Relations Disaster”, I noted the “insurgents’” repeated failures at public relations. For a guerilla force to be effective, it must have the support of the populace. To reach its goals and defeat their enemy, particularly a large, better equipped, trained and financed force, it must be able to maintain or grow this base of support.
One way to gain support is to have an opposing political platform that offers the public the ability to improve their situation. Political platforms must offer more than a set of laws and a vague concept of government that has no form and leaves the make up of councils and leadership to some future date when it will all be figured out once the “enemy” is defeated. Political platforms must include these concepts as well as policies for economic and physical security. If there is more than one central guerilla movement, even if they cooperate for military activities, there must be a viable and secure agreement for power sharing should these forces actually meet their primary goal and defeat their opposition.
Without planned power sharing, neither group will find the other trust worthy, both groups will plan on turning on the other should they reach their mutual goal and, instead of a stable state under one government, it is more likely that civil war will spread through a wider part of the population causing one or more of these entities to be defeated. Or, each group will find they are separated, marginalized and their operational ability continually fluctuating as one group then the other gains political, geographical or operational superiority. In either scenario, it means failure.
Just ask the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were never fully capable of controlling all of Afghanistan. The civil war that ensued in the post Russia/Afghan war devastated the entire country. Even afterwards, an opposing force remained viable in the north and was used with great effect against them. They had no economic plan, but watched as their country spiraled into an economic black hole that left their people hungry, suffering from a drought and increasingly unhappy with their governance. Not to mention the kind of security imposed by these forces alienated large portions of the public. In the end, it spelled defeat. Zawahari reminded Zarqawi of this problem in his last letter. More than that, in a section of the letter that received much less attention than the comments on the Shia, the media and Zawahiri’s general condition in Pakistan, he actually points out the same partisan problems within the insurgency and, more directly, the Islamist forces.
Within Iraq, there are three main opposition forces to the Coalition: Islamists, former regime forces and groups that are generally opposed to the presence of western forces for various reasons. While these forces may cooperate operationally, they cannot compete with the US led plan politically. The “general opposition” simply does not want the US involved in any aspect of the Iraq’s political life. Sort of “thank you very much, we could have done it on our own, now, get out”. This group is the least politically viable and operationally capable force. They have no platform to speak of accept that they don’t want a government formed through any auspices of the US. This group is being largely marginalized through political dialogue and co-opting into existing parties. While they may supply men or materials to other forces, they do not want government based on these platforms any more than they want a US led creation. This makes them an unreliable ally to the other terrorist organizations. Useful tools that the other groups believe could be forced out or eliminated if they gain any power.
The second group, former regime forces, have already showed the rest of the population what their political platform is and it’s not acceptable to the general public. The most they can hope for is that their base stays with them long enough to give them political leverage. This leverage is being used today in a variety of ways including government positions, money and guarantees of safety from prosecution for past acts. Even though the government has announced general amnesties for past regime members, it always adds the caveat that those with blood on their hands will be prosecuted. Unfortunately, there are many people who have blood on their hands either as members of the past regime or due to current activities. These people resemble the last of the Nazi holdouts that fought to the death because they knew what they would receive at the hands of their opponents.
They have another opponent on the field as well. In 2003, bin Laden issued a statement that prompted jihadists to join these regime elements in their fight against the “infidels” with a codicil: bin Laden expected, when it was said and done, that the Ba’athists would be gone, no matter what. They were “socialist infidels” who had defied God and trampled on the Iraqi people. A later statement by Zarqawi in September 2003 makes the same comment. Finally, Zawahiri’s letter of October 2005 makes several references to his feelings about Arab nationalists and socialist infidels:
“It is strange that the Arab nationalists also have, despite their avoidance of Islamic practice, come to comprehend the great importance of this province.”
They are fighting for the same thing, but for a different outcome.
“He has, in addition to that, granted you superiority over the idolatrous infidels, traitorous apostates, and those turncoat deviants.”
Here, Zawahiri is not just referring to Zarqawi’s attacks against the coalition and Iraqi forces, but is congratulating him for being the strongest among all of the insurgent groups.
“God also blessed you not only with the splendor of the spearhead of Jihad, but with the splendor as well of the doctrines of monotheism, the rejection of polytheism, and avoidance of the tenets of the secularists and detractors and inferiors, the call to the pure way of the Prophet, and the sublime goal that the Prophet @ left to his companions.”
Regardless of any operational cooperation, Zarqawi has consistently rejected the ideas of the “secularists”, “detractors” and “inferiors” which include the members of the other two terrorist organizations in Iraq. Then he instructs Zarqawi to be ready to edge out his competition, not just the legitimate Iraqi forces, when “the Americans leave”:
“The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.”
Then he predicts the probable civil war because they do not plan to share power once they achieve their goals in Iraq (if they ever do):
“There is no doubt that this amirate will enter into a fierce struggle with the foreign infidel forces, and those supporting them among the local forces, to put it in a state of constant preoccupation with defending itself, to make it impossible for it to establish a stable state which could proclaim a caliphate, and to keep the Jihadist groups in a constant state of war, until these forces find a chance to annihilate them.”
Should Iraq fall into a state of total civil war upon a Coalition pull out, the “infidel forces” would include Syrian, Turkish and Iranian forces that would feel compelled to intercede and try to obtain power through proxies or to calm the region so as not to bleed into their countries. He understands very well that the Islamist forces may be capable and committed, but are relatively small compared to other forces in Iraq and interested states vying for power. Not to mention that two of these states, Syria and Iran, are allies of convenience that could put a serious hurt on Al Qaida’s operational abilities around the Middle East.
Finally, he admonishes Zarqawi to keep the zeal for Islamism high among the mujihadeen because these forces may decide that their duty of fighting in Iraq is over when the Americans leave and they “will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway” over them. In code, secularists are the Ba’athists and the traitors are the Shia. He adds, “If the matter is thus, we must contemplate our affairs carefully, so that we are not robbed of the spoils, and our brothers did not die, so that others can reap the fruits of their labor.”
In other words, news flash to the current Ba’athist and “other” allies, the Islamists plan to edge them out or kill them when the first opportunity arises. No wonder Zarqawi was so quick to denounce the letter as false (along with the other problems the letter exposed). It’s like Hitler and Stalin signing a non-aggression pact only to have Hitler turn around and announce his intentions to invade Russia; a bad decision that led to Hitler’s eventual defeat in a two front war.
The Islamist terrorists have their own partisan issues within the group. In May 2005, when Zarqawi was injured, a statement appeared indicating someone else would be taking over the operations. In short order, this statement was withdrawn with an opposing statement saying no change had occurred, Zarqawi was still the leader. Behind Zarqawi, there were nine potential “heirs to the emirate”. Of those nine, three were subsequently killed or captured by Coalition forces after receiving direct human intelligence on their location. This includes Abu Azzam, Suleiman Khalid Darwish, and Abu Talha. Abu Azzam headed the Baghdad division and Abu Talha managed Mosul. In both cases, not only were these men possible candidates for Zarqawi’s position, but two letters were captured regarding their poor leadership skills. The writer of the letter regarding Talha, Abu Zayd, was killed on September 11, a few weeks after the letter was sent. Two weeks later, the Coalition received information on Abu Azzam. Azzam was discovered within a few short weeks of the letter complaining about his leadership.
It may be a coincidence of hard work by the Coalition forces that brought about their demise, but it may also point to serious dissent within the ranks.
Finally, Zawahiri let’s us in on another problem within the Islamist ranks in a part of his letter that received so little attention. Zarqawi and Zawahiri adhere to the Salafist brand of Islam. There are at least three other “schools of thought” within the Sunni doctrine. Compared to Zarqawi, Zawahiri is a political pragmatist regarding alliances with other Sunni components. Zarqawi, on the other hand, believes that, not only will the new Caliphate be without secularists and Shia, but it will be distinctly Salafi. Apparently he has angered some potential allies who have complained to Zawahiri directly:
“(3) Striving for the ulema: From the standpoint of not highlighting the doctrinal differences which the masses do not understand, such as this one is Matridi or this one is Ashari or this one is Salafi, and from the standpoint of doing justice to the people, for there may be in the world a heresy or an inadequacy in a side which may have something to give to jihad, fighting, and sacrifice for God. [snip}
The ulema among the general public are, as well, the symbol of Islam and its emblem. Their disparagement may lead to the general public deeming religion and its adherents as being unimportant. This is a greater injury than the benefit of criticizing a theologian on a heresy or an issue.”
The Matridi and the Ashari are two sects of Sunni Islam that disagree on the methods used to arrive at proper Islamic law (among other things). While other schools of Sunni Islamic thought believe that Muslims can choose the sect of Islam they wish to follow. Salafists believe that there is only one way and the rest are heretics. However, they are willing to proselytize to their fellows to turn them to the right path. It seems that Zarqawi has been busy telling all of these potential allies that they “must” follow the Salafist doctrine. An issue that, as Zawahiri says, might lead these groups to turn away from the Islamist cause believing that their ideas and beliefs are not respected and that they may lose their ability to practice their religion as they see fit if the Salafists hold all the power.
Zawahiri then goes through a long list of Islamists that contributed to the Caliphate that were not Salafists and urges Zarqawi to reconsider his method of announcing everyone as a heretic or apostate if they don’t follow his ideas exactly.
The “ulema” are the learned clerical leaders who often issue rulings on Islamic law. This “ulema” are most likely Sunni clerics in Iraq who have issued the call to jihad among their masses, but find themselves edged out or disparaged by Zarqawi’s insistence on Salafism. The “ulema” are very powerful within their communities. Zarqawi may render an entire area hostile if he disparages their clerics.
Just in time, Al Qaida in Iraq Fights Other Terrorist Groups:
RAMADI, Iraq -- Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has broken with local Sunni insurgent groups in central Iraq, in some cases resulting in gun battles on the street.
On Sunday, fighting between insurgent groups started at a central intersection in war-torn Ramadi -- the capital of the Sunni heartland province of Anbar. As many as two dozen men fired automatic weapons and blasted away with shoulder-mounted rockets as Al Qaeda in Iraq ambushed members of three local groups.
It’s likely that these groups cooperated with the US in pinpointing Al Qaida and foreigners or, at least, AQ believes it. Some may have wanted to participate in the last elections. The US Marines and Iraqi Security Forces have been hitting this area for two weeks now.
Zarqawi compounds his mistakes by ordering attacks in Jordan that appears to have made the locals very angry. The most likely reason for these attacks is that the French Riots have pushed the Iraq war to the back pages. In their current condition, the inattention of the press gave the impression that Operation Iron Current was actually taking out the remnants of the insurgency. If there is one thing that Zawahiri and Zarqawi can’t stand, that’s to be off the front pages.
All things considered, it’s no wonder that Zawahiri has been questioning Zarqawi like the VP of Ops who doesn’t believe the smoke Zarqawi’s been blowing up his disdash about his branch’s performance:
4-I want to keep corresponding with you about the details of what is going on in dear Iraq, especially since we do not know the full truth as you know it. Therefore, I want you to explain to me your situation in a little detail, especially in regards to the political angle. I want you to express to me what is on your mind in regards to what is on my mind in the way of questions and inquiries.
F-Likewise I would like you to inform us about the Iraqi situation in general and the situation of the mujahedeen in particular in detail without exposing the security of the mujahedeen and the Muslims to danger. At the least, we should know as much as the enemy knows. And allow us to burden you with this trouble, for we are most eager to learn your news.
And, threatening to come down and see the situation for himself (twice):
G-I have a definite desire to travel to you but I do not know whether that is possible from the standpoint of traveling and getting settled, so please let me know. And God is the guarantor of every good thing.
Some have speculated that Zawahiri simply wanted to come down and join the efforts in Iraq, but, from this perspective, it had all the hallmarks of a long distance manager wanting to take a tour of the facility because the numbers just don’t jive with the glowing reports. Zarqawi, for his part, already declined, indicating this letter was a forgery.
Too bad for him, he didn’t take Zawahiri’s advice, because partisan politics is spelling defeat for Al Qaida.
Mudville Reports: Insurgents Attacking One Another
Public Relations Disaster