Major General William Caldwell’s August 16th briefing on the state of counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad also includes an interesting, extended look at efforts to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and intelligence gleaned from the terror organization based on the capture of detainees (as well as the examination of documents, computers and other materials, which are not mentioned in the briefing). According to Maj. Gen. Caldwell, Coalition forces have obtained ” unique insight into the plans and operations of al-Qaida in Iraq and what they are doing to achieve their goals.”
Al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a potent force behind the sectarian violence, and is still working to instigate a civil war between the Shiites and Sunnis. al Qaeda also recognizes the “killing of innocent Iraqi civilians has damaged their public support and is working to reverse that perception.” With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the brutal Sheikh of Slaughters who personally beheaded western captives, this task becomes easier. An intelligence official tells me that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the purported new head of the Mujahideen Shura Council and Zarqawi’s replacement, has issued a decree forbidding the filming of the beheading of captives.
The terror group is attempting to form a political wing and present itself as a “legitimate political organization to be viewed as the alternative to the legitimate, duly-elected government of Iraq.” It also is striving to to co-opt the support of the Sunni tribes (much of this support in Western Anbar province eroded as al Qaeda’s brutal form of government combined with the assassination of tribal leaders and the US offensive turned the tribes against them.). There are difficulties in spreading propaganda message via media outlets. The importance of interpersonal relationships is also highlighted. “Placement and access into the inner circles is won through personal associations, demonstrated loyalty and vetted experience. Key personalities are known associates of trusted members,” says Maj. Gen. Caldwell. Al-Qaeda’s greatest weapon in Iraq continues to be the ability to spread money around, and this is its greatest tool for recruitment.
The information below is excerpted from Major General William Ca/dwell’s August 16th briefing:
As you all know, we are systematically dismantling the al-Qaida network. Methodical operations have continued in a very deliberate and conscious fashion as we disrupt and disorganize that network. Recent detainees have given us the unique insight into the plans and operations of al-Qaida in Iraq and what they are doing to achieve their goals here. In discussing these efforts, detainees have provided invaluable insight into Iraq’s means to its end and have also identified multiple vulnerabilities and exploitable weaknesses that the al-Qaida in Iraq leaders perceive within and from without their organization.
But to put this in context, we probably need to first remember what is the current security situation here. The core conflict in Iraq has transitioned to a struggle mostly between Sunni and Shi’a extremists seeking to control key areas of Baghdad, create or protect sectarian enclaves, divert economic resources and impose their political and religious agendas.
The sectarian violence in and around Baghdad defines the framework of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Within Baghdad, death squads and terrorists are locked into a mutually reinforcing cycle of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shi’a extremists portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups.
In regards to al-Qaida in Iraq, their leadership has outlined the end state towards which their propaganda efforts are currently working. Specifically, as given to us by those who have been detained over the last two months, they seek to portray al-Qaida in Iraq as a legitimate political organization to be viewed as the alternative to the legitimate, duly-elected government of Iraq.
Their primary goal in discrediting the government of Iraq is the expulsion of the U.S. from Iraq in order to remove support for the government of Iraq and impose themselves, al-Qaida in Iraq, as the power.
Detainees have also begun to divulge how al-Qaida in Iraq is attempting to achieve these goals. Al-Qaida in Iraq brings in other foreign fighters and terrorists for the sole purpose of killing innocent Iraqis and preventing the piece and stability that Iraqis deserve. They do not care about this nation. Al-Qaida in Iraq encourages Sunni and Shi’a in-fighting and believes a widespread sectarian divide will force the United States into neutrality and ultimately departure.
Al-Qaida in Iraq, through the media and other grassroots propaganda, will promote a theme that portrays the Sunnis as under attack by coalition forces, and the government of Iraq as being corrupt. They aim to rally Sunni support by conveying al Qaeda in Iraq as a Sunni protectorate. They then attempt to promote themselves as the defender of the oppressed instead of a terrorist organization.
Al-Qaida in Iraq is making a concerted effort to gain legitimacy by marketing itself to the Iraqi people as a credible, helpful organization that appeals to Iraqis in desperate social and economic situations while projecting a civic-minded image. They have produced propaganda that blames coalition forces and the Iraqi government for problems such as unemployment, security, government corruption, gas prices and the lack of power, in hopes that this will empower them to take on the role as their protectorate.
Al-Qaida in Iraq wants to present itself as a legitimate organization. They’re striving to increase its operational power by building a political base with a military wing, not unlike that of other extremist organizations that have turned to politics in order to grow roots.
Al-Qaida in Iraq realizes killing of innocent Iraqi civilians has damaged their public support and is working to reverse that perception. By no means does it mean they intend to stop creating sectarian violence, but rather change the perception.
Al-Qaida in Iraq is also exploring its own version of tribal engagement. They are giving thought to engendering support from whole tribes, rather than individual Iraqi citizens. Al-Qaida in Iraq hopes to win the support of key tribal leaders and then allow them to carry the message to the rest of their tribe.
Multiple detainees conveyed frustration over their inability to also control a larger portion of the media market. These same detainees discussed al-Qaida in Iraq’s desire to use broadcast television. They lamented the fact that it is becoming more and more dangerous and more difficult for them to disseminate their propaganda. One detainee stated that the safest and most preferred method of disseminating religious propaganda is handing out cassette tapes and CDs on Fridays after prayers.
In regard to recruitment, al-Qaida in Iraq offers money, cell phones and vehicles to prospective recruits. These items appear somewhat attractive to young men. However, placement and access into the inner circles is won through personal associations, demonstrated loyalty and vetted experience. Key personalities are known associates of trusted members. Abu Uzman (sp) stated that his recruiting plan for the Umar (sic) Brigade relied on his associates talking with people they knew, who then talked to others and so on.
One detainee stated there are three vulnerabilities al-Qaida in Iraq looks for in their potential recruits: one, individuals who have been detained by coalition forces in the past; two, children or a relative of individuals who have been detained or killed by coalition forces; and three, individuals that display religious values similar to those of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Within jihadist circles, an individual could only swear allegiance to al-Qaida in Iraq through sponsorship. Sponsorship is key to joining the ranks of al-Qaida, and a sponsor must be a trusted member of that organization.
Many anti-coalition organizations operating in Iraq are inherently al-Qaida in Iraq-based on their common IDs — ideals, beliefs and goals. This binds several groups which operate under different names but are essentially al-Qaida in Iraq. The Mujahideen Shura Council is an example of how al-Qaida in Iraq is attempting to mask itself by aligning with other groups, especially Iraqi groups. Their aim is to give an Iraqi identity to in al-Qaida in Iraq ideologies. Al-Qaida in Iraq anticipates this will be the path towards acceptance of its political structure and ideology by Iraqis.
However, Iraqi Security Forces, with coalition forces in support, continue to degrade the al-Qaida in Iraq network by removing key to mid-level leadership and aggressively targeting the internal foreign fighter facilitator networks.
As al-Qaida in Iraq attempts to recover from this degradation, they continue to be a primary instigator of sectarian violence in Iraq. A significant portion of detained terrorists are providing clear, actionable intelligence for Iraqi and coalition forces to continue the methodical, deliberate efforts to eliminate terrorism here in Iraq. Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to work closely with each other and with the Iraqi citizens to establish peace and security throughout Iraq.
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