Al Qaeda and its role in the Iraq insurgency


An al Qaeda operations map. Click to view.

The attempts to minimize the role played by al Qaeda in Iraq in the larger Sunni insurgency took a significant step over the past week. Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the New York Times, claimed that the media had become complicit in the government's attempts to paint the entire Sunni insurgency with an al Qaeda brush. Also this week, Malcolm Nance published an article at the Small Wars Journal claiming al Qaeda is being given too much credit for the violence in Iraq. In the article, titled "Al Qaeda in Iraq--Heroes, Boogeymen or Puppets?," Nance claims al Qaeda is but a bit player in the Iraqi insurgency and is largely controlled by the Baathist remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. To Nance, al Qaeda is both a U.S. Boogeyman and Baathist Puppet.

If taken seriously, these theories are likely to have a significant impact on the political battle over the war in Iraq as it is played out back here in the States. I took a look at the major points advanced by Nance and found his argument to be unpersuasive. Nance makes several factual errors and contradicts himself on several important points. And he fails to recognize the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq, the continually evolving nature of the Sunni insurgency and our understanding of it.

His theory that the insurgency is dominated by Baathist Former Regime Leaders (FRLs) was popular circa 2003-2004, and has long since been discredited. While Baathists and Former Regime Elements certainly play a role in the insurgency, their influence has diminished over time as al Qaeda and its puppet Islamic State of Iraq have coopted significant elements of the Sunni Insurgency.

Claim: Nance states that for the past four years, the Bush administration and military leaders have touted al Qaeda in Iraq as the only enemy in Iraq:

A better question is whom are we fighting? The response heard most often is that we are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. In May 2007 the President declared 'Al Qaeda is public enemy number one in Iraq.' The consensus opinion, from the Pentagon to the PFC, is that America is waging a desperate fight against Al Qaeda both in and out of Iraq and it will directly determine the national security on the streets of Europe and America. Additionally, for four years Abu Musab Zarqawi, AQI's first leader, was portrayed as the commander of the insurgency. It was an easily consumable media narrative so effective that even the Iraqis believed it until his death.

Fact: While President Bush did indeed say "Al Qaeda is public enemy number one in Iraq," he is doing little more than seconding the assessment of General David Petraeus, the Commander of Multinational Forces Iraq. General Petreaus stated on April 26, 2007:

"So this [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is a--you know, it is a very significant enemy. I think it is probably public enemy number one. It is the enemy whose actions sparked the enormous increase in sectarian violence that did so much damage to Iraq in 2006, the bombing of the Al Askaria mosque in Samarra, the gold-domed mosque there, the third holiest Shi'a shrine. And it is the organization that continues to try to reignite not just sectarian violence but ethnic violence, as well, going after Iraqi Kurds in Nineveh province and Kirkuk and areas such as that, as well. So again, I think a very, very significant enemy in that regard."

Note that General Petraeus did not single out al Qaeda in Iraq at the exclusion of other Sunni and insurgent groups. He merely identified al Qaeda as the primary threat. As the commander of MNF-I, General Petraeus's view of the insurgency is informed by the view of U.S. intelligence agencies. Is Nance arguing that politicization is occurring at the senior level of the U.S. military, or that General Petraeus is deliberately misleading the public at the president's behest? No. As Nance states, "The consensus opinion, from the Pentagon to the PFC [Private First Class], is that America is waging a desperate fight against Al Qaeda both in and out of Iraq," and that consensus opinion is based on intelligence gathering and the direct experience of those serving in the theater.

Nance also implies that because the al Qaeda and the insurgency continued the fight after Zarqawi's death, the idea that he was the "commander of the insurgency" must be little more than "an easily consumable media narrative." But that the group has done so is merely evidence of how robust the organization is. In fact, for the first year of the insurgency, Multinational Forces Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pointed the finger at Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party as the source of the insurgency. We were repeatedly told about how dead-enders, Baathist holdouts, and criminals were at the core of the movement. In 2004, the common narrative was that Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council under Saddam's regime, was leading the insurgency. This was the "easily consumable media narrative" on the nature of the insurgency.

But it should be noted that Nance later points to a statement by the president in November 2005, which he describes as as an accurate assessment of the role of al Qaeda. The president then said al Qaeda was "'the smallest, but the most lethal' insurgent force." So which is it? Was the administration hyping the role of AQI or was the president accurately describing it?

Claim: Nance states that the entire military establishment believes al Qaeda is the prime enemy in Iraq.

When I completed my most recent book The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency many of my warfighting peers, both in and out of Iraq, insisted AQI was commanding the insurgency. When asked what gave them this impression they insisted that AQI was by far the smartest, most capable of the insurgent groups due to their car bomb (SVBIED) attacks. They argued that AQI had fostered a virulent, militant form of Islam among the formerly secular Sunni Iraqis. Some also point out that the formation of the Islamic State (Emirate) of Iraq and attempts to enforce Islamic law (Shari'a) on the population was the strategic error that pushed the Iraqi tribes of Anbar province into the arms of the coalition."

Fact: Nance clearly admits his view on the insurgency is the minority position. Combine this with his statement that even Iraqis themselves believed Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq are the prime threat and you can see that two of the largest groups most likely to be in the know (the Iraqi people and Multinational Forces Iraq) disagree wholeheartedly with Nance's assessment. Part of the majority argument is that al Qaeda in Iraq has successfully radicalized large numbers of Iraqi Sunnis, a fact which is evident by the actions and propaganda of various insurgent groups. Nance sidesteps the issue of radicalization in the Sunni community, and their gravitation to al Qaeda, which Iraqi insurgents admit in intercepted letters and even in propaganda is a dominant force in Iraq.

Claim: Mr. Nance argues the administration is using al Qaeda as a "smokescreen" and ignores the flip side of the political argument.

"On the other hand, many advocates of immediate withdrawal, weary of the bloodletting, bank on the hope that the other groups of the insurgency will dispose of AQI as soon as the US forces withdraw and leave the battlefield. AQI is often described by administration opponents as a convenient smokescreen and boogeyman for the White House to use to keep American troops in Iraq. Knowing the particulars of AQI's strategy, who wants to take a chance on the insurgents doing our job once we leave."

Fact: There should be no doubt that the administration wants to highlight al Qaeda in Iraq's role in the insurgency to support its case. This does not mean the stated case that al Qaeda in Iraq is the prime enemy is false. Nance refuses to look at the flip side of this argument. Advocates of withdrawal downplay, minimize or discount al Qaeda's role in the insurgency, as it is political suicide to surrender to al Qaeda. If Nance wants to offer one degree of politicization in the debate about the administration's eagerness to play up the al Qaeda angle, he should be willing to look at the political calculations on the other side of the coin. Opponents of the war are more than willing to ignore the elephant in the room.

Claim: Mr. Nance breaks the insurgency into three categories: nationalist Former Regime Loyalists (FRLs) and their former military elements (FREs), nationalist Iraqi Religious Extremists (IREs), and "the foreign fighters of the Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella group the Islamic Emirate of Iraq." He estimates the number of FRLs/FREs at 29,000, IREs at 5,000, and "foreign fighters" of al Qaeda at 1,500. Mr. Nance's view is the FRLs/FREs are a coherent group operating under a singular command.

Fact: Coalition and Iraqi forces have removed the vast majority of the Former Regime Loyalists, which was a term to used to describe Hizb al-Awda and the circa 2003 bid to restore Saddam Hussein to power. While there is still a real Ba'ath Party in Salahadin and Ninewa, they have basically collapsed as a major force within the insurgency as Iraqi Sunni identity has been informed less by Saddam Hussein and more by sectarian allegiances since February 2006 ( i.e. post-Samarra). To the extent that FRLs still exist, they do so in places like Syria, Yemen, and Mauritania where other branches of the Ba'ath Party are active and can support them.

A unified Ba'athist command structure for the insurgency does not exist. While there are still some FRLs overseas, there is infighting between the groups. The FREs (essentially the rank and file of the FRLs) seeded themselves among the various insurgent groups which sprung up locally after Saddam's Army was disbanded.

Jaysh al-Mujahideen was never an FRL organization, as its name emphasizes the group is an indigenous Sunni insurgent force that is trying to carve out a post-Saddam Hussein identity for religious Iraqi Sunni Arabs. This is extremely clear from their literature and propaganda. The Islamic Army in Iraq is a somewhat cynical and opportunist insurgent group and has cooperated with al Qaeda in Iraq at times and opposed the organization at others. The Islamic Army in Iraq has also rebroadcast al Qaeda propaganda via its television station Al Zawraa.

U.S. soldiers capture flag of al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq in village in Diyala. Click image to view.

The designation of Ansar al-Sunna and Islamic Army of Iraq (AS and IAI) as "bit players" in the insurgency serves to even further highlight the shortcomings in Nance's view that the insurgency is largely a Ba'athist entity. Those are the second and third largest groups in the entire insurgency behind al Qaeda in Iraq and its Islamic State.

Al Qaeda's power within the Sunni insurgency can be seen by the recent formation of the Reform and Jihad Front, an alliance between the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, and Ansar al-Sunna. These groups opposed al Qaeda's establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq for ideological reasons. Al Qaeda in Iraq targeted the leaders of the Reform and Jihad Front, killing many of them. Since then, Ansar al-Sunna and large elements of the ranks of the Islamic Army in Iraq have been absorbed into al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq, and the Reform and Alliance Front has withered on the vine.

Nance builds a firewall between the indigenous insurgent groups, the domestic Islamist groups, and al Qaeda in Iraq. His argument completely ignores the growth of the al Qaeda manufactured Islamic State of Iraq and its absorption of large elements of the Sunni insurgency. Along with Ansar al Sunna, the Islamic State of Iraq includes the Jihadist Brigades of Iraq, Just Recompense [Punishment] Brigades, Shield of Islam, and Jaysh al-Rashidin. Large elements of groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq have joined the Islamic State after their leadership was decapitated (in some cases literally).

Finally, the numbers. Nance claims al Qaeda in Iraq has only 1,500 members. While this may be true for the number of foreign fighters inside Iraq, al Qaeda has successfully "Iraqified," as was demanded by al Qaeda's senior leadership. Last fall Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the minister of defense in the Islamic State or Iraq, claimed to have over 12,000 fighters, with another 10,000 in training. He also admitted to taking over 6,000 casualties over the course of 2006. Even if we accept al Masri is spewing propaganda and inflating numbers, (though intelligence officials I spoke with take al Masri's numbers seriously) al Qaeda in Iraq's numbers are far greater than 1,500. Nance focuses on the foreign fighters at the exclusion of Iraqi members.

Claim: Nance credits Ba'athist elements with the "lion share" of U.S. deaths, and claims al Qaeda has but a small percentage of fighters in the insurgency.

"For over four years the FRLs (especially the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard) almost exclusively carries out IED, indirect fire (IDF), sniping, aircraft shoot downs and ambush attacks with conventional weapons with alarming regularity which account for the lion share of the US forces' 3,500 KIAs. The smaller IREs did the same type of attacks but occasionally peppered their missions with Suicide bombings. AQI almost exclusively perform carries out suicide car bombings and suicide vest bombings (SVBIED/SPBIED). They occasionally perform IED, rocket, MANPAD and even a few impressive massed infantry attacks on Iraqi Police and government buildings (such as the symbolic assault on Abu Ghraieb prison in 2005)."

Fact: Al Qaeda in Iraq has executed numerous massed infantry assaults since the insurgency began. The attack on Abu Ghraib was but one. Sophisticated assaults have been launched against U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces in Al Qaim, Tarmiyah, Mahmudiyah, Baghdad, Amiriyah, Fallujah and elsewhere. Al Qaeda combined car bomb attacks designed to breach the walls of outposts, along with mortar, rocket, and ground assaults. These type of assaults cannot be improvised on the fly, but indicate that al Qaeda boasts an experienced cadre of fighters with access to significant stockpiles of material.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has also formed its own anti aircraft teams, mortar teams, logistics teams, and other support elements. Al Qaeda was behind the recent spate of helicopter shoot downs in the regions around Baghdad this winter and early spring. Coalition and Iraqi forces have dismantled many of the anti aircraft teams and found evidence proving al Qaeda's involvement. For its part, al Qaeda in Iraq has released videos of showing successful attacks on U.S. aircraft. Many of these attacks are carried out under the guise of the Islamic State of Iraq, which is merely an al Qaeda front group.

Al Qaeda in Iraq also takes advantage of what numerous military commanders have told me is their greatest asset: cash. Al Qaeda pays unemployed youth or affiliated insurgent groups to conduct IED attacks against U.S. forces. Al Qaeda also has formed its own IED cells, which U.S. and Iraqi forces take out with regularity.

Claim: "AQI itself has been subject to a significant degradation since January 2005."

Fact: This completely ignores the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq, and al Qaeda's growth and absorption of like minded insurgent groups or groups it co-opted via a campaign of intimidation. The number of suicide car bomb (SVBIED) attacks has increased since the onset of the Baghdad Security Plan, demonstrating al Qaeda has the capacity to conduct these attacks. Nance attributes the SVBIED attacks to the Ba'athists, but this flies in the face of all intelligence coming from Iraq. Upwards of 85 percent of suicide bombers are foreign, which Nance ignores.

This theory also completely ignores what happened in Anbar province in 2006 and 2007. Insurgent groups and the tribes there didn't band together and cooperate with the U.S. and Iraqi forces in the region to fight al Qaeda because they were strong, they did it because al Qaeda was strong. Al Qaeda in Iraq then proceeded to conduct massive infantry assaults on police and Army units, struck at mosques which favored the anti-al Qaeda coalition called the Anbar Salvation Council, and targeted leaders of the Awakening movement.

In the Ameriyah neighborhood in Baghdad, Sunni insurgents fought al Qaeda in open street battles, and went to U.S. and Iraqi forces for help. In Diyala, the 1920s Revolution Brigade teamed up with U.S. forces to battle al Qaeda in Iraq. This has occurred in Babil, Salahadin, Niwena, and other provinces. Al Qaeda in Iraq established "emirates" in Mosul, Tal Afar, Qaim, Hadithah, Ramadi, Fallujah and Baqubah and had to be forcefully ejected by U.S. forces. The press reporting on al Qaeda's methods in these Islamic emirates is legion. The Iraqi insurgents and tribes have been and still are too weak to dislodge al Qaeda in Iraq on their own.

Claim: Mr. Nance said al Qaeda is using suicide attacks almost exclusively on Shia. "The AQI SVBIED is used almost exclusively as the basis of Zarqawi's' anti-Shiite sectarian war strategy (to punish the Shiite community and encourage the Sunnis to fight together) and kills relatively few coalition soldiers compared to other weapons."

Fact: The Shia are a major target of al Qaeda suicide attacks, as this tactic is crucial in stirring up sectarian violence, however, al Qaeda uses suicide attacks on other targets as well. Al Qaeda has targeted U.S. forces, Iraqi security Forces, the Iraqi Government, Iraqi civilians, other insurgent groups, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, the Jordanian embassies and the media in suicide attacks. The claim that al Qaeda "almost exclusively targets Shia civilians to incite sectarian violence" is a distortion of the facts on the ground.

He then claims "most Sunnis know who the real insurgents are in their neighborhood." Earlier in the article he stated "the Iraqis believed" Zarqawi and al Qaeda led the insurgency. The Iraqis repeatedly identify al Qaeda as having infiltrated their neighborhoods, yet Nance chooses to ignore them and contradicts himself in the process.

Claim: The "aggressive information operation" to label all insurgents as al Qaeda is causing U.S. troops to lump all insurgent groups together. "This rhetoric has already had a negative operational effect by making our own soldiers believe that all of the Sunni insurgents and community supporters are Al Qaeda. This may have led to several instances of battlefield murder, torture and abuses of prisoners."

Fact: There is no evidence to support this wild charge. U.S. troops on the ground have an understanding of the difference between al Qaeda, local insurgents, criminals and the plight of the villages and cities in the grip of al Qaeda. His assertion contradicts the cooperation of U.S. forces with groups like the Anbar Salvation Council or the 1920s Revolution Brigades in Diyala. U.S. officers and enlisted soldiers are repeatedly quoted as saying they understand that the solution to ending the insurgency is to ally themselves with insurgents who tried to kill them just months ago. Nance is underestimating the intelligence and tactical awareness of our troops on the ground. During my three embeds in Iraq, I have never heard a soldier or Marine conflate al Qaeda with other Sunni insurgent groups. In fact, during briefings, commanders have been clear to differentiate between the Sunni insurgent groups in their area of operations.

Nance passes on a dubious theory that the attempts to label the entire insurgency as al Qaeda is part of a military information operation. "If this is part of an aggressive information operation, as some have suggested, to turn the Iraqi people against the Iraqi Insurgents by giving them all a bad name (AQI), then it's a desperate gambit ...," Mr. Nance stated. Those who promote this theory are charging General Petraeus and his staff of intentionally lying to the American public about the nature of the insurgency. This is a serious charge, and the facts do not support it.

Finally, Nance's entire argument is predicated on the belief that the military is focusing on al Qaeda at the exclusion of other insurgent groups. Anyone that closely pays attention to the news from Iraq would know this is not the case. MNF-I briefings and operations have focused on Shia insurgent groups such as the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed "Special Groups" or "Secret Cells." MNF-I and Iraqi forces have devoted significant resources to these groups, which have been identified as long term threats to Iraq's security.

This was clear yesterday morning's conference call with Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq.

Charlie Quidnunc, from the Wizbang blog, asked Bergner how he would respond to claims in the press that there was some sort of "Pentagon conspiracy to link all this violence to al Qaeda."

BERGNER: ...When you live this and you see it up close, it's absolutely evident, it's very real...at no time in my press conference and at no time in our discussion have we said that all this violence is attributed to al Qaeda, we have said that al Qaeda is the principle threat to Iraq in the near-term. And, specifically, they are fueling sectarian violence and these spectacular attacks, which are so destabilizing. That doesn't suggest that there isn't a range of other actors out there. We talked last week in great detail about the Lebanese Hezbollah as being used as surrogates by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force operatives here, specifically to train, equip, organize, and then guide sometimes the employment of these special groups....I would go back to that to say that we've actually been very forthright in explaining the role that those groups are having and they are an increasing problem--one that's having an increasingly destabilizing effect on both the government of Iraq and creating more problems for us to deal with. So no one would suggest that it's a monolithic threat, but there is no question that al Qaeda is the principle fueler of violence and sectarian attacks, and you can tell by their own propaganda that it is central to them.

The World Wide Standard: Do you view al Qaeda as "the center of the insurgency," and if so, "do you view al Qaeda in Iraq as essentially the same as al Qaeda otherwise...what's the level of command and control with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan?"

BERGNER: I don't think there's any question that the al Qaeda senior leadership is exercising influence over the al Qaeda in Iraq efforts, in fact, al Qaeda in Iraq has continued to be run, administered, overseen by foreigners in large measure. So there is a strong linkage between al Qaeda senior leadership and what they are trying to generate in terms of jihadist activity much like I described the Zawihiri video earlier...there's no question that these organizations in Iraq use a cellular structure--they use it to insulate themselves, they use it to make themselves less vulnerable, and they frequently will decide their targeting, their local actions, on a local cellular basis. Sometimes that will also be responsive to the guidance or direction of the regional leader, of a regional emir, or a citywide emir, who is directing certain priorities or certain kinds of attacks to take place. We shouldn't confuse the fact that the cellular nature of these networks doesn't necessarily make them independent, it means that they are using that to reduce their vulnerability and it doesn't dispute their freedom of action, but it also doesn't say that they are independent of al Qaeda, that they are influenced by al Qaeda. In fact, what we see from the Zawahiri video is frustration on the part of the al Qaeda senior leadership. He talks about his frustration about disunity, about conspiracy, about discord, they are trying to undermine, trying to generate more unity, and trying to counter the effect that we're seeing with these Awakening councils and support councils. I think that's the best way I can describe it. No one is suggesting this is a monolithic threat--it's not. But there is no question, if you look at U.S. intelligence agencies, if you look at how the government of Iraq looks at the security problems, and then you see how al Qaeda itself describes itself and its vision for Iraq, there's quite a bit of congruence there in terms of the reality al Qaeda has in Iraq.

The claims that al Qaeda in Iraq is a bit player in the Iraqi insurgency do not match the facts on the ground. Everyone from military commanders to intelligence specialists to the troops on the ground understand the nature of the insurgency and al Qaeda's role in it. Attempts to sideline al Qaeda's role in the insurgency are both misguide, and dangerous.



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Qaeda and its role in the Iraq insurgency"

Posted by Tony at July 13, 2007 6:39 PM ET:

An excellent article Bill, some of your finest work yet.

I would like to address one collateral point.

I think it can be reasonably questioned how much operational control Zawahiri has over al Qaeda operations in Iraq.

There is a widespread belief that because an alleged letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi was purportedly found a few years back, that this demonstrates active communication links between AQ headquarters in Pakistan and AQ in Iraq. But the facts behind that letter raise serious questions about its authenticity.

Apart from the fact that the handful of reporters who viewed it were not allowed to personally examine it or take any notes when they saw it, one deeply troubling question remains about that letter. At the very end of the translation widely available (but not independently verified) online, the alleged author Zawahiri explicitly tells the recipient of the letter to give his fraternal greetings to his "brother Zarqawi".

It is beyond me why Zawahiri would say such a thing at the end of this letter if that letter in fact was originally addressed to Zarqawi. At a minimum that comment raises serious questions about the accuracy of the translation.

Therefore, one of the more significant pieces of evidence of AQ central's exercise of control of AQI is brought into serious question in my view.

Posted by Bill Roggio at July 13, 2007 6:58 PM ET:

Tony,

There have been numerous letters intercepted between Pakistan and Iraq. The Attyia al-Jaza'ri letter is one of the more well know, but the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has others. We've captured numerous senior al Qaeda operatives from south Asia in Iraq, the latest and most important being al-Hadi al-Iraqi. Abu Farouq was also killed in Iraq. The letter you reference is genuine. Oddly enough, Zarqawi executed the strategy of stirring up sectarian violence he advocated to Zawahiri.

Posted by Tony at July 13, 2007 7:10 PM ET:

Bill-

Thanks for the information, some of which I was previously unaware.

On the more narrow point of the authenticity of Zawahiri's purported letter to Zarqawi, the link provided to that letter in your article:

http://tinyurl.com/2s9tou

is no longer active. Do you happen to have another link to it?

I specifically recall this purported letter to Zarqawi from Zawahiri containing the glaring error in the end, i.e. purporting to be to Zarqawi and then at the end telling the recipient to give his fraternal greetings to Zarqawi.

Posted by Tom W. at July 13, 2007 7:21 PM ET:

IRAQ TERROR LINKS
1. U.S. Grand Jury Indictment of Osama bin Laden, dated November 6, 1998:

Paragraph 4. "In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."

http://tinyurl.com/3f2rq

2. Top secret Iraqi document dated March 28, 1992, lists Osama bin Laden as an asset of the Iraqi intelligence services.

http://tinyurl.com/ks4at

3. In 1992, Ayman al Zawahiri--who later became the Number Two in al Qaeda--visited Baghdad for a meeting with Saddam Hussein.

http://tinyurl.com/7d7hx

4. From 1999 to 2002, Saddam Hussein ran three training camps in Iraq that produced thousands of Islamic terrorists.

http://tinyurl.com/c7njm

5. Saddam's intelligence service gave Ansar al-Islam money and weapons.

http://tinyurl.com/78hzj

6. Iraqi memo dated November 22, 1999, shows that Saddam Hussein's chemists trained "Arab fedayeen" how to make IEDs

http://powerlineblog.com/archives/013815.php

7. Iraqi memo dated March 11, 2001, shows that Saddam Hussein recruited suicide volunteers to attack U.S. interests.

http://tinyurl.com/gcbso

8. 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta was trained by Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal in Baghdad in July of 2001.

http://tinyurl.com/z6v4

9. Members of an Iraqi secret-police organization called Unit 999 were dispatched to camps in Afghanistan to instruct Al Qaeda terrorists.

http://tinyurl.com/ywp78r

10. Abu Nidal lived openly in Baghdad.

http://tinyurl.com/26l8m9

11. Saddam maintained a terrorist training camp at Salman Pak near Baghdad where foreign terrorists were trained how to take over commercial aircraft using weapons no more sophisticated than knives.

http://tinyurl.com/4ah6z

12. Iraq gave Abdul Rahman Yasin, a 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspirator, both money and sanctuary.

http://tinyurl.com/4ah6z

13. Abu Zubayr, an officer in Saddam's secret police, was also the ringleader of an al Qaeda cell in Morocco. He attended the September 5, 2001 meeting in Spain with other al Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Bin-al-Shibh, the 9/11 financial chief.

http://tinyurl.com/4ah6z

14. Iraq made direct payments to the Philippine-based al Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group.

http://tinyurl.com/4ah6z

15. In August 1998, an Iraqi member of al Qaeda traveled to Pakistan with an agent of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the American and British embassies with chemical mortars.

http://tinyurl.com/7d7hx

Posted by Tony at July 13, 2007 8:04 PM ET:

Bill-

I found this link to the letter:

http://tinyurl.com/9zujp

What I can't understand is how in the second to last paragraph of this letter it says:

"By God, if by chance you're going to Fallujah, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

How is that consistent with the intended recipient of the letter being Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

That's like me writing you a letter and then saying at the end "Say Hello to Bill Roggio for me."

Posted by Neo-andertal at July 13, 2007 8:13 PM ET:

Tony,

While Zarqawi was a dynamic and charismatic leader and recruiter for AQI it never meant that he was in sole control of the organization. AQI has both a flexible system of command and a robust system for replacing it's commanders. It is well documented that AQI quickly and repeatedly replaces organizational losses. Everyone knew that Zarqawi's days were numbered and provision had already been made for his loss.

The fact that Zarqawi was quickly replaced shows the level of organization within AQI. I don't know how someone gets the opposite conclusion out of Zarqawi's replacement. That the replacement some how represents weakness within the organization. That line of argument doesn't make any sense.

I do remember in the days following Zarqawi's death that there was an effort among some to promote their own favorites into leadership. The parent Al Qaeda organization quickly imposed their own leadership. It might be noted that since Zarqawi's death AQI has avoided his personal leadership style for a more corporate organizational style where responsibilities and command structure within the organization are clearly delineated.

Posted by Dave at July 13, 2007 8:46 PM ET:

Just three points:

1. The Shia government says that all the bombing attacks are done by BATHISTS.

2. Only the BATHIST high command would know where the munitions are cached.

3. al Duri is still in command and has excommunicated some ex-bathists who are now negotiating with the US.

ergo: The BATHISTS still run the bombing show. Local non-bathists plant the bombs and get paid. But the money has been short which is why the Saudi funded types have gained more clout.

Posted by Neo-andertal at July 13, 2007 8:48 PM ET:

Thanks for writing this Bill,
I have been waiting for someone to write a comprehensive rebuttal for some time. I've seen the Al Qaeda deniers at work for some time now rising from the leftist conspiracy mills that populate the Internet. I have had my stab at arguing against this before but have been frustrated by the lack of a comprehensive rebuttal. I don't have the professional skill required to document and write such a rebuttal myself although I often hammer away at some of the issues involved. (Note: Take anything I write after 11:00 PM with a liberal dose of skepticism)

What you have is a great start, but I do hope you revisit this theme often as you have with other important issues. It would be very useful along the way to flesh this out and give further documentation.

Posted by Neo at July 13, 2007 9:09 PM ET:

Dave,

There is no official Baathist insurgent operation. Former Baathist's a liberally distributed throughout the different insurgent organizations. The Al Qaeda in Iraq franchise is full of former Baathists. During the first years of the resistance there was an active presence of former Baathist intelligence professionals that acted as the eyes of the insurgency. It is arguable that much of this capability has since been absorbed into AQI and Islamic State of Iraq.

I will concede that publicly available portrayals of Al Qaeda are drastically oversimplified, but that isn't what we are arguing here. You're primary assertion that Al Qaeda, Baathist, and Nationalist are mutually exclusive and are natural dividing lines within the insurgency don't match reality. Think of the three groups as an always shifting confused muddle or an unholy trinity if you wish, but the clear distinctions you are trying to draw just don't exist.

Posted by Neo at July 13, 2007 9:30 PM ET:

Bill,

Max's comment is correct to a large degree. Even a semi-literate such as myself can see your site will be needing a strong editorial hand in the future. Given that I do see a lot of material that looks a whole lot like yours popping up in the MSM. You're site is one of the single most remarkable web resources available and in many ways the content is often better sourced than much of what I see in the MSM. Don't expect too many direct quotes of your work though. Getting that sort of legitimacy will have to be a long term project.

OK guys, the thread is yours, I'm not taking over another one for you. Everyone give it your best shot!

Posted by Neo at July 13, 2007 9:41 PM ET:

That was supposed to be: "Former Baathist's (are) liberally distributed throughout the different insurgent organizations."

By the way, anyone out there offering free late night editorial services and is willing to take on truly annoying grammatical and sentence structure problems can get in touch with me.

Posted by Dave at July 13, 2007 9:51 PM ET:

Neo,

If the Bathists still control most of the access to munitions then, no matter their numerical size, they still control the bombing campaign. The Army would know what types of munitions had been placed in the booby trapped houses in Baquba and what types of explosive residues have been found at recent bombings. Was al-Quaeda using Bathist munitions or something else. It has been reported recently that al-Quaeda houses had been used for the manufacture of homemade explosive (surely an act of desperation). You can bet that the BATHISTS charge through the nose for the location of the next available munitions cache. This situation is what makes the Iraq war so hard to predict. Note that the locals have practically no weapons of their own and have to ask the US for support.

Posted by crosspatch at July 13, 2007 10:04 PM ET:

I have noticed a connection between debate in congress and reporting. For example, when the latest House legislation mandating timetables for withdrawal was in process, the media was reporting at the top of every hour in every news broadcast that the Administration was poised to issue a report that showed *none* of the Iraqi government benchmarks had been met.

When the administration released the actual report showing that many benchmarks were met and many others partially met, they reported it once on the "world news" broadcast and never broadcast it on their hourly newscast. It seems that when something is on the floor for debate in either house of Congress, the media feels free to make up whatever story (or report what someone else made up) validates a surrender agenda.

So, I see nothing inconsistent in Clark Hoyt's piece. It is an attempt to use "peer pressure" to get other media outlets "in line" with the NYT's agenda.

Posted by joe at July 13, 2007 10:09 PM ET:

One of your best articles yet. This debate needs to make it into the mainstream news in order for the public to realistically weigh the pros and cons of leaving iraq. The lack of realism in our foreign policy is probably our greatest weakness.

Posted by Captain America at July 13, 2007 10:16 PM ET:

Bill --

It's always important to consider the source (err...author).

A quick Google search brings up an 2006 interview Nance had in Australia.

The podcast and transcript are here:

http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1566485.htm

Note that Nance states "And then we have Iraq. And that is the mother of all new al-Qaeda organisations, if you want to put it that way."


Posted by jordan at July 13, 2007 10:39 PM ET:

Bill, this question was brought up today in the President's news conference. He did not provide the details you have in his answer, although he did say that AQ and AQ in Iraq are the same organization.

Most CT resources say that some centralization has reemerged after the scattering brought on by the Afghanistan invasion. Also, Zawahiri's most recent video speaks directly to people in Iraq that he seems to believe are supposed to do what he says.

What is Al Queda, anyway, just a state of mind? How else can it operate except in the cellular fashion you outline? Hopefully, the President is equipped to address this question with greater clarity next time.

Posted by Neo at July 13, 2007 10:53 PM ET:

Dave,
There were controls on all the munitions stores scattered throughout the country? That's news to me. Once again where is this separate organization you call the Baathists, the 1920 Revolution Brigade perhaps? Since former Baathists knew where the stuff was, you can make some argument of control, but with former Baathists distributed throughout insurgent organizations including Al Qaeda that control has to be highly diffuse. I don't see any sign of that level of control over old government munitions stores by anyone, not at this late of date.

Don't get me wrong. There are lots of former Baathists resisting us. They don't have anything resembling a single dominant organization though. I can't imagine any former Baathist that has tries to hold out on that sort of thing against AQI or ISI. Only if you want a few extra holes in your head. Ask the 1920 Revolution Brigade!

Posted by @thepointyend at July 13, 2007 11:06 PM ET:

Dave - It would be hard to say that the Ba'athists control access to munitions when they can almost be picked up off the ground virtually anywhere. And even if there are FRL/FRE with access to caches that aren't just laying about, that doesn't mean that those FRL/FRE operate under the rubric of Ba'athist organizations instead of AQ. Regardless of the various organizations out there conducting operations against coalition forces and ISF, the more important point is that AQ is particularly bent on fomenting sectarian violence. An FRL/FRE attack on the coalition forces and ISF is serious, but an AQ attack that plays on sectarian fears only leads to more non-insurgent sectarian violence - and that sectarianism risks splitting the government, the ISF, and those Iraqis that tacitly support the gov't, ISF or coalition forces. THAT is why AQ is the biggest threat.

Posted by @thepointyend at July 13, 2007 11:07 PM ET:

By the way, Bill, nice deconstruction of Nance's argument.

Posted by Terry Gain at July 13, 2007 11:31 PM ET:

Great article, Bill. As a long time reader it is my opinion that this is your best work yet.

Tom W, thank you for your great research and links. You are easily the best "commenter" on Iraq that I've come across.

Captain America. Thank you for your timely research.

Neo, watch those contactions or you may say "you're site" when you mean "your site". To verify whether a contaction is correct, expand it.

It's about time is correct: it is about time but "it's duty", i.e. "it is duty " is clearly wrong.

Posted by Terry Gain at July 13, 2007 11:35 PM ET:

BTW,

I do know how to spell contraction. And I love the irony.

Posted by Bill Roggio at July 14, 2007 12:01 AM ET:

Tony,

Here is your answer. It's part of a poem/slogan. This was from Rita Katz, the director of SITE, so do not discount the publication. She concluded it was indeed Zawahiri.

The sentence with which Zawahiri closed his letter to Zarqawi, is, in fact, that slogan: "By Allah, if by any chance you are going to Fallujah, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Not only is it reasonable for him to conclude his letter to Zarqawi thus, but it also demonstrates that he is well-informed on the very latest developments in the jihadi community.

Her

Posted by Malcolm Nance at July 14, 2007 12:15 AM ET:

Bill,
Thanks for the entertaining response but in quickly and forcefully responding to my analysis, which preceded the recent media debate, you make numerous claims that I never made. In fact you posted what I actually said right under the errors. Perhaps thats an editing mistake.


I recommend you read the blog entry a little more carefully and take the opportunity to read my book, the Terrorists of Iraq (www.terroristsofiraq.com).

As I live in the theater of operations(not Washington), speak Arabic and work with the Iraqis who are risking their life for us - I am just as deeply invested in my field intelligence assessments being right as you are about your opinions, but my life and that of many others depends on it being exceptionally right all of the time so its not just a semantics debate for me. One thing is certain, I never underestimate the enemy in Iraq ... any of them -ever.

Additionally, the excellent counter-insurgency & counter-terrorism experts at Small Wars Journal (www.smallwarsjournal.com) provide varied and scholarly opinions which may help clarify some facts.

Posted by Tony at July 14, 2007 12:21 AM ET:

Thanks Bill-

Although the links to the original poem were inactive, this is a perfectly plausible and legitimate answer to a question that has been bugging me for some time.

Thanks again, I appreciate it!

Tony

Posted by Bill Roggio at July 14, 2007 12:35 AM ET:

Malcolm,

Feel free to point out where I misrepresented your views. Otherwise your criticism isn't very helpful. Your article is riddled with contradictions and factual errors. Perhaps that was an editing mistake?

Your argument that your assessment is correct while mine is opinion is arrogant. Every military officer and intelligence official I know that works in the theater thinks you are dead wrong. And these aren't people in Washington, they are in Iraq.

I'm quite aware of the Small Wars Journal. I've met Dave Dillege and Bill Nagle, and attended Joint Urban Warrior 06. Unfortunately I couldn't attend this year due to a scheduling conflict. I've embedded with Bing West's Son, Owen. Josh Manchester is a good friend of mine.

I'm not underestimating the enemy. Nor are the military commanders I've personally seen in action on the ground.

Posted by Neo-andertal at July 14, 2007 1:51 AM ET:

This was meant as a counterargument against a now deleted comment. Since it still is pertinent to the debate (and one of the better arguments I have put together), I'll leave it.

Your source AJ, whoever that is, states: "Most reliable estimates put the fundamentalist/jihadist/al Qaeda actors in Iraq at around 3-5% of the total insurgency, with virtually no approximations exceeding 10%."

I usually see that figure in connection with the number of foreign fighters identified with Al Qaeda. Which if counting only foreign elements, 10 percent sounds quite high actually. Note that much of the Al Qaeda has been long since Iraqified meaning much of the ranks of the organization are now Iraqi. Does it really mater if these people are foreign or domestic born, former Baathist, or have nationalist sentiments? Even than including both Iraqi's and foreign elements I would be surprised if core Al Qaeda made up more than 15 percent of the insurgency (my percentage). Than there are those that fight under the much larger Islamic State in Iraq banner, essentially affiliated groups and groups who fight alongside Al Qaeda. How do these totals compare with the numerous other independent and regional groups not closely associated with Al Qaeda.

I see an attempt to separate indigenous Iraqi members of Al Qaeda and treat them differently and I also see an effort to distinguish groups that fight under the ISI umbrella form the Al Qaeda core group. Two questions I have. Are these really significant distinctions? If not, where does that put your numbers of total core members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (including both domestic and foreign born members), and also where does that put your numbers fighting within the larger Islamic State of Iraq umbrella. Drawing the line there makes those numbers in play much larger than, doesn't it. Than of course we have issues of active vs. dormant and level of activity amongst the differing groups. Someone give me an honest estimate of how that all works out in the different parts of the Iraq.

Last, let me flip the question. Are you sure if we left them alone, nationalist elements among them would force Al Qaeda out? I think Al Qaeda could give domestic groups a real run for their money. In fact with consistent outside pressure to add to what they already have in Iraq, Al Qaeda would make a very overwhelming force. Part of what allows Sunni tribes to turn against Al Qaeda now is protection offered by US forces. Without that protection, I wonder how many would stand against Al Qaeda consolidation? If you do pull back now you risk just such a consolidation. Remember we won't be coming back to face Al Qaeda if we make the wrong call. We will just have to live with the consequences.

In conclusion, I see a lot of people counting Al Qaeda loyalists differently (often using similar data). The question isn't semantic. Much of this seems to depend on where you think Sunni loyalties will go once US soldiers are out of the picture. If you think the dividing line will be between foreign on one side and domestic Sunni on the other, than Al Qaeda is a small force that may be sqeezed out of the picture. If on the other hand you believe that Al Qaeda would retain the loyalty on much of their indigenous members and allies, than your numbers are much larger and you may have a persistent Al Qaeda in Iraq problem after you leave.

Just my 2 cents. By the way, what percentage of Pakistani & Afghani insurgents are foreign born Al Qaeda? How small and irrelevant are they to the current political picture in those countries? If we left Afghanistan, could we assume Al Qaeda's indigenous support would evaporate there too? How about it anyone?

Posted by BobbyD at July 14, 2007 8:48 AM ET:

Could this be the beginning of the left covering its tracks over the past four years? You know the war is lost, blah, blah, blah. Now that the facts are evident that Al Qaeda is getting its butt kicked in Iraq, is it now time for the left to say these guys were just a bunch of "misfits"?

Posted by David M at July 14, 2007 8:58 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/14/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.

Posted by Neo at July 14, 2007 10:25 AM ET:

BobbyD,
Some people like the theory that this is a classic insurgency against an invader, so they diminish the role of the outside influences. Other people like to think that much of this is the work of outside players, they have Al Quada and Iran responsible for everything. Neither position reflects the truth. We do need to make sure that we don't stray too far into the second option. Others need to be honest about ample evidence that there is a good deal of outside influence stoking this fight.

I hope there are some out there (reporters) that would seek out people among the Sunnis, perhaps among the Anbar Salvation people or refuges in Jordan, to get their history of how this all happened. I'll bet there's a lot of good interviews to be had. I fear that people have their own version of events and don't really want reality to intrude. I saw this same thing happen after the fall of the Berlin Wall. People had an opportunity to go into the former Soviet block and get interviews with influential people within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block, before all the old people died. Problem was, not many were really interested. Academia had formed its own opinions on what had happened back in the 60's and 70's and was quite satisfied with itself. No need for reality to intrude. No reassessments needed. No need to find out the Soviet Union was actually worse than perceived. The work from that era still dominates the thinking of present generations. Not that it was all bad, just that essentially the same work still gets produced over and over. It high time for people to get over the last social revolution and think for themselves.

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk at July 14, 2007 10:56 AM ET:

It's becoming clear to me that many people writing on this topic have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

One particularly maddening error of analysis is conflating the number of foreign fighters thought to be on the ground (never more than 10% of the total captured, to my knowledge), and the number of Al Qaeda total.

I've been studying insurgencies most of my adult life. Those foreign fighters are cadres. Trainers and leaders. The moojie equivalent of our own Special Forces.

They come in to recruit and train Iraqi indigenous fighters, and provide them with resources, financing, planning expertise, and leadership.

This is how the Viet Cong operated, too...their leadership was North Vietnamese cadres, who then went south to recruit and train Viet Cong operatives.

The more successful and dangerous they are, the more "Iraqified" the insurgency appears. Yet so many uninformed "analysts" try to use the fact that these cadres have been so successful at recruiting disaffected young men to their cause to minimize the significance of Al Qaeda's presence.

But this conflating of the numbers of foreign fighter cadres and suspected Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda franchisees comes up again and again.

There seems to be a concerted effort to minimize and belittle the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the danger that these cadres pose.

It's wrong. It's intellectually dishonest. It's stupid.

If we withdraw from Iraq, it is simply idiotic to assume that these fanatic cadre members will simply lay down their RPGs and MANPADs and go back to farming garbanzo beans and making flat bread.

They will hand over control to the most dangerous and vile of their Iraqi friends, and they will go somewhere else and make trouble for us on ground of their own choosing - and most likely far closer to U.S. vital interests.

We would likely not even realize where they went until they had struck a severe blow.

The Moojies are on the strategic defensive now. They cannot afford to be seen as decisively defeated in Iraq, so they cannot leave Iraq in force as long as the United States is committed there.

A withdrawal from Iraq would cede to them the advantages of the strategic offensive - and avail the United States nothing but a mouthful of ashes - our credibility with any future allies against Al Qaeda in tatters, and Bin Ladin proven right - that the United States is a paper tiger.

The thought of it produces bile in my throat.

Posted by TS Alfabet at July 14, 2007 10:56 AM ET:

In all the theorizing, let's not forget to look at what we are actually seeing on the ground now in Iraq.

For example, if AQI is not a major player (indeed *the* major player in Iraq insurgencies) then how do we explain what transpired in Bacquba? An entire city is wired with booby-traps and explosives but U.S. casualties in clearing the city were neglible because the local population (and the 1920's Brigade) went out of their way to point out the traps to U.S. forces. Locals also pointed out local AQI sleeper units and safe houses to our troops. There was little if any local, citizen support for the insurgents when U.S. forces finally attacked into the city on June 16. If Michael Yon (and even Nick Burns from NYT) are to be believed, AQI held Bacquba hostage by sheer terror and the residents were "ecstatic" (to quote Mr. Yon) that AQI had been ejected. Their biggest concern was their fear that U.S. forces would leave Bacquba and allow AQI to return to take vengence on the city. Why would residents of Bacquba fear a minor, insurgent group like AQI? Clearly there appears to be a rough split now between AQI (and the Sunni insurgent groups AQI has managed to fold into their operations) on one side and the Sunni "patriotic" groups-- for lack of a better term-- that have rejected AQI's methods and goals and are now cooperating with U.S. and IA forces. If AQI was only a "bit player" or a minor actor in the Iraq insurgency, Bacquba should have been another Fallujah 2004 where U.S. forces destroyed the city and took heavy casualties doing so. How does a minor group, in the view of Nance, have the muscle to take over the largest city in Diyala province and hold it against the people's will? If Nance's theory is correct, the Baathist groups (of which the 1920's Brigades was clearly one) should have been more than able to clear out Al Qaeda from Bacquba.

Now let's consider Anbar Province in this picture. Under Nance's theory, the Anbar Awakening should never have happened since AQI is only a minor player vis a vis the Baathist insurgents. What would drive formerly hostile Sunnis to side with the hated crusaders? All reports indicate that 3 years of AQI brutality finally convinced the Sunni tribal leaders that they would have to embrace the U.S. and IA forces in order to prevail over AQI. If Nance's theory is correct, this should never have happened as the very heart of Sunni resistance should have been able to stamp out AQI without American assistance. Clearly the non-AQI insurgents-- the ones that the Sunni tribes would first and foremost count upon for protection-- could not overcome AQI. And what have we seen in Anbar Province since this re-alignment? If AQI was only a minor actor in the insurgency, violence in Anbar should not have changed significantly since the Baathist insurgents would, presumably, remain untouched in Anbar to conduct attacks against U.S. forces. Instead, with the ejection of AQI from Anbar, levels of violence plummeted. Places like Ramadi which should continue to be a raging cauldron of Baathist resistance are calm. How to explain this dramatic drop of violence in Anbar when AQI was expelled unless AQI was *the* major source of it in the first place?

It is an interesting commentary that Michael Yon gives in one of his recent dispatches from Bacquba (www.michaelyon-online.com) of the new attitude amongst the Sunni population at large that Americans are not in Iraq to establish a permanent occupation for oil. If that is true, then it naturally follows that the "patriotic" insurgents such as 1920's Brigades that refused to line up with AQI are now willing to actively side with U.S. forces. In fact, in his video interview with Mr. Yon, 1920's Brigade leader "Abu Ali" specifically said that his group would require a specific timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces once the Iraqi Army and police were able to maintain security on their own.

On top of the other deficiencies noted by Bill in his analysis, Nance's theory does not fit with what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq. Everywhere AQI is expelled, violence decreases dramatically. Everywhere AQI dominates or has a free hand, violence escalates. It is good that MNF-I continues to differentiate between AQI and other insurgent groups, but, for the Sunni-led part of the insurgency, increasingly AQI is the only game in town.

Posted by jordan at July 14, 2007 11:46 AM ET:

This debate is being picked up by MSM this morning, but only in the most superficial sense -- are the insurgent groups in Iraq really Al Queda as we've thought of them in the past? CNN persists by asking are these groups Al Queda "for real"? They conclude, no, that Al Q. groups in Iraq have not pledged loyalty to Bin Laden, and they don't get resources and support from Bin Laden. They receive video directives from the CEO, Zawahiri, but that doesn't mean they work for him.

So... what is an AQ franchise? Can they be viewed as "for real" Al Queda? CNN's story on it this morning generally poopooed any claim that there's any significant "for real" Al Queda with any influence or numbers in Iraq.

Posted by jim g at July 14, 2007 12:22 PM ET:

Bill (and everyone else on this site)

Thank you so very much for all the excellent information, perspective and commnetary you provide. Many of us that come here would never have any information to balance what the MSM puts out and promotes, which (depending on your perspective) is biased or "tragedy TV-like" (i.e. death and destruction sell, non-visual success does not).

My own "expert" opinion is that regardless of Mr. Nance' motiviations, I do believe there is concern on the left that things may take a turn for the better in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the debate in DC is all about US politics and an Iraq that is moving in a positive direction would have extremely negative implications for the Democratic party in the '08 elections. Many of the Republicans that are moving towards opposing the President are doing so to cover their rears as well.

As far as Senator Lugar goes, I actually was raised in IN and have met him - he's a good guy. What people ignore about his position is that he is simply stating that the American people and Congress won't support a long stay in Iraq and therefore we have to leave (and need to plan for it better then we did the post-invasion). While he may well be right on the "facts" he is wrong on principle and I hope General Petreaus Sept. report is the beginning of turing the PR war around here in the US.

Sorry if this appears off-topic but too me this all fits together.

Posted by Neo-andertal at July 14, 2007 12:54 PM ET:

Jason Van Steenwyk,

"I've been studying insurgencies most of my adult life. Those foreign fighters are cadres. Trainers and leaders. The moojie equivalent of our own Special Forces

They come in to recruit and train Iraqi indigenous fighters, and provide them with resources, financing, planning expertise, and leadership."

I agree. An essential point that needs to be explicitly stated. I think the foreign fighter metric has become a bit of a smoke screen. The devil is in the details, no magical metric is going to reveal the truth. The low number of foreign Al Qaeda tells very relatively little about what is going on.

Posted by grognard at July 14, 2007 1:23 PM ET:

"Gentlemen define your terms" Voltaire.
Just some observations on the discussion from someone who has no preconceived ideas on what constitutes AQ and is trying to make sense of all this.

The first problem I see is that AQ is both an organization and inspiration for terrorism. As an organization they send operatives to train and supply locals in attacks against Shiites and Americans. As an organization they supply, train, and direct attacks against targets like the Shiite holy places to stir up sectarian violence. They also inspire people to attack the US and Iraqi forces, but the attack is a target of opportunity rather than pre planned operation, and of course AQ takes credit for it.

The second problem I see is assigning motivation to the supporters of AQ. Some will no doubt join for religious fervor, others might see it as a way to revenge the death of a family member. Ba'athist elements in one area of the country might work with AQ to drive out Shiites, but in other areas oppose AQ for challenging their authority. An AQ trained Iraqi cell might follow directives, or they might take on an agenda of their own, or do both depending on circumstances. I don't picture AQ as being strictly like a military organization where they only operate on command, local "initiative" is also playing a part.

The third problem is that the overall situation is changing. I do think that the Sunnis are tired of AQ and the predominantly domestic insurgency is evolving into a more outside inspired/organized insurgency. The trouble is that it is not the same evolution going on in every part of the country, some areas are well on their way others are still using AQ to defend against Shiites. I would also add that this could change in a heartbeat if there was a major Shiite attack against Sunnis that was viewed as the beginning of an extermination campaign.

I view both sides of the debate are honorable, because of it's very nature AQ is going to be difficult beast to define to everyone's satisfaction.

Posted by Captain America at July 14, 2007 1:32 PM ET:

Nance -

General Petraeus says that al Qaeda is the number one enemy in Iraq. Relative size to other terrorist groups (insurgents if you like) in my view is not significant.

AQ is a franchise terrorist organization. We are in a fight against his top franchisee and against his protectors in Afghanistan.

Parenthetically, I find the timing of your SWJ article, the NYT Ostrich approach to AQI, and the Democrats "go fight AQ elsewhere" approach suspicious.

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk at July 14, 2007 2:05 PM ET:

I can state from personal observation and from interviews with detainees and their interrogators in the summer and fall of 2003 that there were, in fact, no "controls" on munitions.

My battalion, the 1-124, found literally scores, perhaps hundreds, of arms caches of various sizes, some of them including hundreds of mortar rounds and dozens of artillery rounds, RPGs (including later model RPG-18s, which are significant steps up from the RPG-7s you usually see in file footage). Some of these caches required multiple truckloads and trailers to evacuate, others had to be detonated on the spot.

These caches were usually buried in neighborhoods surrounding the town (in this case, Ramadi), with no controls or guards whatsoever, and no system of accountability we were able to discern.

According to the locals, the tribes were acquiring these munitions as a hedge against Saddam's fall from power. Apparently, the tribal elders forsaw a good amount of internecine violence, and armed themselves heavily to deter aggression against their neighborhoods from rival tribes - Shia or otherwise.

The idea that simple possession of large amounts of arms fingers any organization as Ba'athist, rather than Al Qaeda, is just ridiculous.

The Mahdi Army is Shia - and they managed to get their hands on plenty of munitions themselves. You can finger Iran for some of it, but not all of it.

Posted by AMac at July 14, 2007 2:09 PM ET:

Malcolm Nance, July 14, 2007 at 12:15am --

Thanks for commenting on Bill Roggio's analysis of your article. As Roggio pointed out (12:35am), a broad-stroke response along the lines of "You're wrong on many issues" is not very helpful to readers.

You described two categories of mistakes, without giving examples of either:

(1) Points on which your analysis is correct and Roggio's is wrong; and

(2) Points on which Roggio has mistakenly attributed an incorrect position to you (presumably your take and Roggio's take on the substance of these matters are thus similar).

Perhaps you could list what you view as the most consequential of each class of errors, and rebut them. They could be posted in these comments, or a link to another site would work just as well.

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at July 14, 2007 2:15 PM ET:

Neo,
Saw you commented on the overlap of Baathist/ al Qaeda cooperation post invasion. I've put together a list of the Baathists caught working for al Qaeda post invasion and plan on posting it at www.regimeofterror.com soon. If you'd like a copy I can send it to you. Feel free to email me through my site.

Posted by Soldier's Dad at July 14, 2007 3:15 PM ET:

Malcolm,

CSIS was making a claim that US Military didn't "know their enemy" as you make in your aricle. I would agree with you that the US military is less than forthcoming on pointing out "Pubic Enemy #4,5,6,7,8". There is a reason for this.

Once you have declared someone your main enemy, than someone has to lose, Iraq is an "Honor/Shame" Society. Creating a situtuation where someone has to appear "defeated" almost guarantees they will fight to the death.

By only ambigously naming the non-Al Queda groups, those groups have the option of just stopping or even switching sides. As we have seen in AlAnbar and Diyala.

Did not the Italians switch sides in WWII??
We blamed it all on Mussolini and his Fascist party, but it must have been more than just Mussolini supporters that were fighting on the side of Germany in '41.

Posted by Neo at July 14, 2007 4:13 PM ET:

Soldier's Dad,

No malice intended, but I'm not so sure about that argument.

I think there are simpler reasons. First the armies priority is fighting a war, not providing that level of detailed public information. Second by the time they're done listing and documenting public enemy 1-to-8 for a given area they have probably given up a good deal of their operational intelligence. It's not like we have gone to a great deal of trouble to document public enemy 3-to-8 either, so it's not a shortcoming peculiar to the military.

Posted by AQI Losses at July 14, 2007 4:38 PM ET:

Bill,

One of your best pieces yet, plus some great points by readers, especially TS Alfabet, Neo-andertal and Jason Van Steenwyk.

Posted by templar knight at July 15, 2007 12:06 AM ET:

Mr. Roggio, this is surely the most informative article I've seen in regard to the NYT's story and Nance's blog post.

Just as the military situation in Iraq has stablilized, and actually improved in some respects, we see those with a vested interest in the US losing in Iraq redoubling their efforts. Misinformation and misrepresentation, the twin enemies of truth, are always the first choice of the schemers in the liberal press, but look for personal attacks next, questioning both your intelligence and your sources.

Best Regards,

Posted by crosspatch at July 15, 2007 1:49 AM ET:

"They come in to recruit and train Iraqi indigenous fighters, and provide them with resources, financing, planning expertise, and leadership."

...

The devil is in the details, no magical metric is going to reveal the truth. The low number of foreign Al Qaeda tells very relatively little about what is going on. "

As the best of these cadre are captured and killed, it is going to *have* to impact the effectiveness of the training and organization of the various insurgent groups going forward. But you are correct in that it is going to be nearly impossible to quantify because one individual cadre member can be many times more effective in that task than some other individual.

Also, any pressure that might be applied in Pakistan's NW territories could result in a diversion of these cadres to Pakistan further eroding the effectiveness of operations of AQI and other franchised groups.

Forecasts are going to be pretty useless WRT insurgent effectiveness going forward, we are going to simply have to see how it unfolds. A lot is going to depend on the skills of the specific individuals who are killed and captured and their replacement or lack thereof in theater.

Posted by Bruce Campbell at July 15, 2007 7:59 AM ET:

The environment we find ourselves in today is not about labels, al-qaeda this or that group. The battle field today is about ideas, ideology and identity.
It does not matter if it is al-gaeda, red brigade or shinning path, what matters is that we utterly destroy any terrorist at any time in any place in the world. Name games are just that "games". We are in the very fight for our lives and the sooner we focus on and eliminate the "bad guys" and stop calling the enemy names the sooner we will be rid of this pestilence plaguing our world today.

Posted by Don Bistrow at July 15, 2007 8:05 AM ET:

Then you have comments like the following:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that the Iraqi army and police are capable of handling security in the country when U.S. troops leave "any time they want," though he acknowledged the forces need more weapons and training.

Broken down the comment contradicts the two points: we can do it ourselves BUT we need more weapons and training.

Worse yet is the following:

But one of his [al-Maliki] top aides, Hassan al-Suneid, rankled at the assessment, saying the U.S. was treating Iraq like "an experiment in an American laboratory." He sharply criticized the U.S. military, saying it was committing human-rights violations, embarrassing the Iraqi government with its tactics and cooperating with "gangs of killers" in its campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq.

These type of comments beyond what we get and don't get from the MSM is going to cause serious problems down the road, i.e. premature withdrawal with a skeleton U.S. presence, which will make our militry more vunerable since al-Qaeda and other groups will look at this as victory.

We are fighting more than the "enemy" on the ground unfortunately.

Posted by ed at July 15, 2007 11:11 AM ET:

Nice job Bill. Good pointed analysis. I don't know why Malcolm's feathers were so ruffled- I thought he was going to tell us his ILR level for Arabic.

Posted by Neo at July 15, 2007 11:43 AM ET:

Crosspatch,

I don't mean that broad aggregate numbers are meaningless and don't ever predict anything. The best that broad aggregate statistics can do is be a very broad predictor and than only after careful analysis that the aggregate data actually support a trend and variables don't misbehave so much to make the analysis useless. Unfortunately, when studying there are so arbitrary variables to make anything but the most generalized conclusions impossible from aggregate data. YOU CANNOT GO BACKWARDS AND DRAW DETAILED CONCLUSIONS BASED ON A SET OF AGGREGATE DATA. I SEE PEOPLE TRY TO DO THIS CONSTANTLY. Journalists, political scientists, and politicians get broad aggregate numbers and run amok with them.

Within things like aggregate casualty numbers you can pick out a few things. You can broadly see that these people fight seasonally according to tradition, with a spring and fall campaign and bit of a lull during winter. I'm not sure I would say AQI core follows that trend though. You can definitely say a US offensive usually produces more casualties on our side and usually a lot more among the insurgents. That is still broadly the case for the "surge" but didn't happen specifically for Baqabah (The enemy seems to have bugged out before the fight). The increase in casualties during the "surge" has not been at all proportional to the increased numbers of US and IA troops or the greatly increased level of aggressiveness. The bump in casualties has been thus far modest. How this month and next turn out isn't predictable.

What can be said, is that Gen. General Petraeas new aggressive strategy has not produced any sort of obvious vulnerability that is recklessly subjecting our troops to high casualty rates and that the new aggressive posture is not producing casualty rates drastically elevated from last years the more defensive posture. There is no large spike in casualties reflecting the new offensive. How the new posture will affect baseline casualties remains to be seen. I do think those conclusions are within the broad aggregate data.

You can get a few obvious conclusions from broad aggregate data. The enemy is having a harder time pulling off public mass bombings in protected areas. They are finding increasingly remote unprotected areas and targeting infrastructure. The enemies spring offensive was relatively ineffectual when compared with the very effective spring offensives of 2004, 2005, and especially 2006. The number of sectarian attacks in Baghdad is running at less than half of last years counts. Sunni attacks on US troops have increased in numbers but decreased in effectiveness. Shiite attacks on US troops have increased in both numbers and effectiveness. You could probably get a good dozen more broad indicators (of what has happened) out of the aggregate data. It must be pointed out though they are a much better indicator of where we have been and are too volatile (and taken over too short a period) to offer any real predictive power.

Don't expect to get information about the enemies makeup and disposition from broad aggregate data. That requires a different, much more detailed level of analysis that isn't available to the casual reader.

Also, be very wary of people who try to pull very firm specific conclusions based on broad data and watch out for people who substitute what they think is going to happen for what actually happens. Fears and expectations in the beltway seem to be overwhelming any sense of reality.

Posted by Neo-andertal at July 15, 2007 1:18 PM ET:

Of Canards and Straw Men

It's clear in large part the argument about the nature of Al Qaeda in Iraq has become a straw man argument. No one, even the president, nor the military, nor the military blogs are arguing that Al Qaeda is a single monolithic organization with a rigid command structure. Nor is anyone arguing that that there is a large exclusive, largely foreign Al Qaeda in Iraq. This is a Straw Man argument attributed as a political foil for argument purposes. The truth is the left is in a position to falsely lay out both sides of the argument, ignoring real arguments against their positions and fabricating a canard of their own creation in its place.

The same thing has happened with the depiction of Gen. Petraeus current strategy. The "surge" actually referred to an augmentation in troop strength. The current canard is that "the surge is no strategy". Quite right, it is a straw man argument allowing them to either ignore or misrepresent the actual strategy.

The press is now talking Democratic talking points, there is no genuine public debate.

Posted by geekineer at July 15, 2007 2:18 PM ET:

It's interesting to read comments like, "we're in the fight of our lives." I think those who had the measure to face WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, didn't really think they were at a picnic. This is an ugly war that was started and continuously inflamed by horrific leadership at the top.

I think that everyone here seems to be ignoring the fact that our very presence in Iraq is acting as a rallying cry and recruitment mantra for the insurgency. It doesn't really matter what label they place on themselves when they're aiming a sniper rifle at your head.

No matter when we leave we will leave a huge power vacuum that will take months, years, or decades to fill.

Now that the Iraqi leadership has publicly stated that they can handle it without us, I say why wait?

Posted by RedRaider at July 15, 2007 5:03 PM ET:

Great analysis Bill. Thanks for all you do.

The comments from Maliki and his aid are both disturbing and dangerous. Those comments will embolden the spineless surrender monkeys here and if we leave too soon it will enable radical elements in the Shia power structure to engage in ethnic cleansing against the remaining Sunni, which will be bloody and ugly and which may lead other Sunnis in the area to retaliate. In addition, Iran's hand will be stregthened which is a bad thing.

We need to resist calls for any percitiptous withdrawal and continut to patiently build up moderate security forces that are ready, willing and able to protect ALL Iraqis AND enforce the rule of law. Many Shia want us gone so that they and their Iranian handlers can sieze power. Some of those Shia are extermists, some are Iranian puppets and others are just power hungry in their own right. It is going to be hard to convince the Shia to forego grabbing the brass ring for powers sake. Iraq desperately needs a George Washington like figure to step forward, lead and then PEACFULLY transfer power following a legitimate election. Based on what I'm hearing from Maliki I doesn't appear he is that person. When are the next round of elections scheduled?

Posted by Teflon Don at July 16, 2007 4:08 AM ET:

Bill,

Great information, great rebuttal. You can add Karma and Ramadi to the list of places where AQI has tried the VBIED-initiated mass attacks, too. I've seen a lot of things recently that lend on-the-ground credence to the some of the points you make here- I'm going to check to see what I can talk about.

Grats on the 501(c)(3) designation, by the way!

~TD

Posted by crosspatch at July 16, 2007 6:21 AM ET:

What I find *extremely* interesting is the role of our own news media in supporting the insurgency in a psyops role. As I looked at the CNN front page this morning I see an article with the headline:

80 dead as 2 car bombs hit Baghdad

Reading the story, the first paragraph as a matter of fact, I see that the bombs were not in Baghdad or even near Baghdad but were some 150 miles away in Kirkuk.

One of the goals of the current change in operations was to secure Baghdad. Headlines such as these mislead people in believing that the operations are not succeeding and therefore the current operations are unsuccessful. They could have said "Northern Iraq" or even Kirkuk but they chose to say that the bombs were in Baghdad. This is yet one more piece of deliberate misinformation given to the American people in order to distort their view of what is going on. Rather than attempting to educate and inform, the media is *blatant* in it's agenda to misinform and manipulate the people.

Another sad day for the professional journalism trade.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at July 18, 2007 11:16 PM ET:

crosspatch:

I blog about the symbiotic relationship between the terrorists and the media all the time. Terrorism wouldn't affect many people outside the immediate area of the incident, if the media did not publicize and analyze and advertise each and every incident 24/7.

Strategically, insurgent campaigns have shifted from military
campaigns supported by information operations to strategic communications
campaigns supported by guerrilla and terrorist operations.

The enemy's strategic communications campaign relies heavily upon the willing and enthusiastic support of the Western Main Stream Media. The reasons why the Western Main Stream Media are so happy to oblige our enemy are ideological. Antony Jay explains this in Here is the news (as we want to report it.