"Civil War" & Where's Zarqawi?
Sectatian violence does not a civil war make, and has anyone heard from Zarqawi lately?
As further sectarian violence surfaces in Iraq, the predictions of civil war increase. Over the past few days, scores of bodies have been uncovered in the Baghdad area, many showing signs of torture and execution-styled murders. In an attempt to improve the standing of the Iraqi Police, an agreement has been struck for the Iraqi Army and police forces to conduct joint operations. This is a clear indication the Interior Ministry is under pressure to clean up its police forces, as well as an admission that the Iraqi Army is viewed in a far better light by the Iraqi people than the police forces.
But sectarian violence, while a troubling and a destabilizing development, does not equate to civil war. Many established democracies are rife with sectarian strife, including India, the Philippines and Indonesia. This isn't intended to excuse the killings in Iraq, but it should be understood that there are very real problems throughout the world in established democratic countries. al Qaeda is attempting to stir up sectarian violence and create the conditions for a civil war, but the political process, while frustratingly slow, is moving forward and the Iraqi Army and police forces, while far from perfect, have not cracked.
While the focus is on the sectarian strife in the major population centers, a real civil war is occurring inside Iraq - between al Qaeda and their erstwhile Sunni allies. A representative from the newly created "Anbar Revenge Brigade" claims to have killed "20 foreign fighters and 33 Iraqi sympathizers," including "a number of the Arabs including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis and Jordanians." Unlike prior inflated claims, these numbers should be considered reasonable. Strategy Page reports numerous sensitive al Qaeda documents have been found, including a "death list" and "many of the names on the list are of Sunni tribal and religious leaders who have been less than enthusiastic in their support for al Qaeda. Sadly, a number of those on the list have already been slain." It is these tactics which have spurred the creation of the Anbar Revenge Brigade.
In the atmosphere of open warfare between al Qaeda and the Sunnis, questions are beginning to arise about the whereabouts of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. SITE Institute's Rita Katz notes that since the Mujahideen Shura Council was formed in Iraq last month, Zarqawi has been virtually silent; "A few days after the council was established, Al Qaeda in Iraq ceased to post communiqués. Abu Maysarah temporarily signed the new council's communiqués, but then he, too, stopped. The baffled jihadi community initially believed that Zarqawi headed the new council. But on Jan. 20, the council posted a communiqué crowning its emir: Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi." It appears the Sheikh of Slaughters is no longer a welcome face in Iraq.
Ms. Katz further postulates Zarqawi's departure was spurred on by Zawahri's letter to Zarqawi to "Iraqify" the jihad and continue the plan to expand al Qaeda's operations into the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel). There's one problem with this: al Qaeda believed it was vital to establish a rump Islamist state in Western Iraq as a base of operations, but has failed to do so. Zawahiri was quite clear in his letter to Zarqawi as to the gameplan (which also coincides with al Qaeda operations chief Saif al-Adel's vision of jihad in the Middle East):
The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.
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.
The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.
The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.
It seems al Qaeda has not been greated with flowers and parades, and their plans are in disarray. The fact is al Qaeda has not expelled the Americans from Iraq, and their attempt at creating an "Islamic authority or amirate" was crushed in Anbar province during the summer and fall of 2005. News of al Qaeda's flight from Iraq is nothing new (we discussed this in January); Zarqawi's absence and the creation of the Mujahideen Shura Council provides some supporting evidence. If true, this does indicate the troubles al Qaeda is encountering in Iraq. If al Qaeda is exiting the theater which Zawahiri himself refers to as "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era" prior to achieving its goals, this is a tacit admission of failure. al Qaeda's desire to create chaos and draw Iraqi into civil war should be understood in that context - as an act of desperation.