Saturday, May 13, 2006

Defining War: Baghdad Center of Jihad

I explained in "Choosing War", that we are not the only people that choose the battlefield or define it's significance to whole war. For sometime now, people have insisted on separating Iraq from Afghanistan. To many, they are not two battlefields of one war, but two different wars completely. While the US may have had many reasons to go to Iraq that are controversial, the fight for Iraq in the mind of the Islamists has only two reasons, parallel and joint to their one mission, for being in Iraq:

1) To cause a serious defeat to US and US forces militarily and politically in Iraq.

2) To establish Iraq, Baghdad specifically, as the center of the new "kalifate".

I've mentioned before why it is important to them. But, I missed the recent speech by bin Laden that confirms exactly what I have said in the past about their purposes. Bill Roggio at Counter Terrorism Blog pointed it out on April 24.

(bin Laden) The epicentre of these wars is Baghdad, the seat of the khalifate rule. They keep reiterating that success in Baghdad will be success for the US, failure in Iraq the failure of the US.

Once we have engaged in the war, regardless of being a military or economic super power, we don't get to define or choose every battle in the war. If one reads the rest of bin Laden's statements and puts it together with other statements from bin Laden, Zawahiri or even Zarqawi, whatever our original purposes of Iraq, it has certainly become the second front in the war on terror. It exists just as surely as any sectarian struggle that may be occuring in Iraq. It has caused the Islamists to have to focus on what WE do, not just their own plans for attacks or their own choices of battlefields, that, based on past activities and planning documents would be in the US, Europe and other weak nations outside of their own proclaimed "territory". It did force the Islamist organizations to split their efforts and place more significance on the battle for Iraq than they may have wanted. That is the purpose of "offense": to make the enemy fight you on your terms, not theirs; your choice of battlefield, not theirs.

It is clear in Afghanistan that the mujihadeen and taliban are attempting to regroup and press more operations in Afghanistan. Without the battlefield of Iraq, drawing in would be mujihadeen to a second place, Afghanistan, with it's much more complicated geography and established cave complexes, would have attracted many if not all of these fighters to that location. Iraq has forced them to split their material, financial and human resources.

When we attrited their forces and resources, when we forced them to fight for a symbolic and historical center of the "caliphate", we also forced them to re-align their over all plans and re-define their priorities. The fact is, Baghdad is the historical and symbolic center of the caliphate. We did not define it as that, they did. We did not say they wanted this caliphate, they did. As soon as they had established this as a primary goal for themselves, it is our responsibility to plan, to counter, to attack to insure failure of that plan.

While it may be difficult to comprehend, in a very real sense we have forced them to speed up operations. I'm sure they would have preferred to only have Afghanistan as a battlefield and used their other resources to attack in other theaters with a bomb here and a hi-jacking there. Death by a thousand cuts. By forcing them to fight, we haven't just forced them to use their resources in a fashion faster than they might have wanted, but also forced the development and acceptance of their ideology to be experienced and evaluated by other Muslims who might otherwise have been content to sit back and support the movement with little cost to themselves.

The outcome of this effort can be evaluated based on letters and videos from Zawahiri and Bin Laden. Zawahiri requesting money from Zarqawi ($100,000) and bin Laden saying:

It is a duty for the Umma with all its categories, men, women and youths, to give away themselves, their money, experiences and all types of material support, enough to establish jihad in the fields of jihad particularly in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kashmir and Chechnya. Jihad today is an imperative for every Muslim. The Umma will commit sin if it did not provide adequate material support for jihad.

Note the last sentence "The Umma will commit sin if it did not". In otherwords, it is not providing "adequate material support" right now and he is hoping to use the fear of sin and guilt for not supporting the mujihadeen.

This war is not the same as the Afghan/Russo war. As much as many people have tried to compare and use their experience of other wars to try to define Iraq and have been unsuccessful; bin Laden and Zawahiri have made the mistake of trying to use the same definition and paradigm to fight the United States. However, they made the very first mistake. The fight for Afghanistan was considered a "defensive fight". The Russians invaded first. As opposed to the fact that the Islamists attacked the United States first. Even if many in the middle east consider the US to have been complicit in supporting Israel against other Arabs (Palestinians) and having forces in the region, we had previously only had direct war with Saddam after he invaded Kuwait, which many considered an unjust war on Kuwait. That war also included many Arab nations in the coalition.

So, first blood was, by an large, considered to be drawn by the Islamists.

Not every Middle Eastern National or Muslim agrees with that. Some were happy that the United States was hit. But, many rejected it and others were just fearful of what the response would be. Thus, the complete support and the expected influx of thousands of mujihadeen to the Islamist battle flag did not occur. Another issue was that the mujihadeen were damaged and driven out so fast, their usual draw was ameliorated.

The attack on Iraq had an equal cognitive dissonnance in the Arab world. Saddam was not loved among the Arabs. He did generate quite a bit of fear. He was also known to have killed many Arab Muslims. His demise as a leader and war was not wanted, but his demise was not rejected either. While the Arab world spent much time condemning the war, with the quick defeat, the question did not create the amount of angst needed to cause the masses to rise up against US forces. Further, with the sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni becoming prominent, a further dissonance arose.

In the Arab world, while there are mujihadeen who want to go on jihad against the Americans, they must understand now, and by Zarqawi's own words, that it is also war against their fellow Muslims. The daily killings of civilians has helped to discredit the movement more than any act the US could have done. It hasn't totally destroyed the appeal to young men searching for a "cause" or trying to fulfill expected jihad for Islam. But, the reality of this war has even infiltrated the Muslim world and it has turned in our favor; if nothing else, at least to slow down their ability to recruit and collect money.

But, most of all, the concepts of Islamic Caliiphate as espoused by the Islamists does not have anymore draw or ability than the once signal movement of Pan Arabists.

In the end, however, the battle for Iraq and Baghdad is not just about our expectations of taking out a criminal regime, stopping the proliferation of WMD, stopping the colusion and support with terrorists from Palestine to Afghanistan, or even his continued defiance of UN sanctions. It is not solely our battle to define. It is now the battle for the center of the caliphate, for the capitol.

Bin Laden said so. Zawahiri said so. Zarqawi said so.

Of all things that we must do now, however much we want to choose the battlefield and the definition of the war, at this stage we now fight on their terms, against their definition. Mainly because, when it is that important to them, we understand that it is not just our defeat in Iraq that will have far reaching impact, but their defeat, the defeat physically and ideologically, that will impact the speed and length of the war.

As I've said before, don't take my word for it, take theirs:

Zarqawi Letter 2004

As you know, God favored the [Islamic] nation with jihad on His behalf in the land of Mesopotamia. It is known to you that the arena here is not like the rest. It has positive elements not found in others, and it also has negative elements not found in others. Among the greatest positive elements of this arena is that it is jihad in the Arab heartland. It is a stone’s throw from the lands of the two Holy Precincts and the al-Aqsa [Mosque]. We know from God’s religion that the true, decisive battle between infidelity and Islam is in this land, i.e., in [Greater] Syria and its surroundings. [snip]

All that we hope is that we will be the spearhead, the enabling vanguard, and the bridge on which the [Islamic] nation crosses over to the victory that is promised and the tomorrow to which we aspire. This is our vision, and we have explained it. This is our path, and we have made it clear.

Zawahiri Letter to Zarqawi:

If our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate[snip]

Second Stage: Establish and Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of caliphate- over as much territory as you can spread it's power in Iraq[snip]

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,[snip]

If we look at the two short-term goals, which are removing the Americans and establishing an Islamic amirate in Iraq, or a caliphate if possible[snip]

If we are in agreement that the victory of Islam and the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet

bin Laden pointed it out on April 24:

The epicentre of these wars is Baghdad, the seat of the khalifate rule

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