Wednesday, June 21, 2006

From The Department Of: Careful What You Wish For

The elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should be greeted as an unmitigated success for US/Iraqi forces, but, consistent with the uniquely frustrating features of our Iraq involvement, even this victory might be tempered by a touch of the pyrrhic. As Spencer Ackerman noted, there are indications that Zarqawi's replacement might be "just as barbaric as Zarqawi, but not as stupid." It's the "not as stupid part" that is a cause for concern.

Ackerman is referring to the fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq - through the umbrella organization known as the Mujahideen Shura Council - has taken credit for the brutal deaths (including signs of severe torture) of the two US soldiers recently abducted at a checkpoint in the town of Yusufiya, located in the volatile Sunni Triangle region. From this, Ackerman speculates that this event could signify a shift in al-Qaeda in Iraq's tactics, goals and general strategy. A recalibration that will redound to their benefit, at our expense by focusing more on the targeting of US forces, and less on Iraqi civilians.

...if indeed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) murdered Menchaca and Caldwell, it further suggests that the organization has learned from the mistakes of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi--that is, the seemingly indiscriminate slaughter of Muslim civilians (particularly Shia, whom Zarqawi considered infidels), which even Ayman Al Zawahiri considered counterproductive to the cause of radicalizing the Islamic world [...].

In other words, under the new leadership of Abu Ayyub Al Masri (or, if you prefer, Abu Hamza Al Muhajir), AQI is presenting itself as more in line with bin Laden's leadership than Zarqawi's--combating the enemies that unite radicalized Muslims, in Iraq and beyond, rather than those that divide them.

This possible re-alignment to a footing more consistent with the broader goals and tactics espoused by senior al-Qaeda leaders lie Zawahiri and Bin Laden would certainly fit within al-Masri's profile, partially explored here. According to the bio on al-Masri set forth in that article, he is an Egyptian with close ties to Ayman al-Zawahri, ties that date back to al-Masri's beginnings as a terrorist in 1982 as part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was led by none other than Ayman al-Zawahri.

Zarqawi, on the other hand, was rumored to have been a bit of a loose cannon, a rogue element that al-Qaeda's senior leadership accepted in a marriage of convenience despite frequent rhetorical skirmishes over Zarqawi's inflammatory tactics and failed attempts to rein him in.

If indeed al-Masri improves on Zarqawi's performance by creating a more widely accepted and less despised al-Qaeda in Iraq by focusing on the vastly more popular tactic of targeting US troops rather than other Iraqis, this will be one more example of what I meant when I said that in Iraq, even when we win, we lose. Or as Spencer Ackerman put it, much more succinctly, "Shit."

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