The National Intelligence Estimate gets it wrong
A map of the Sunni Islamic State from an al Qaeda video. Image from MEMRI.
A pair of bombs ripped through a predominately Shia market in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 80 and wounding hundreds. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the likely culprit is al Qaeda in Iraq. In an effort to dissociate itself as a force promoting civil war and sectarian violence, al Qaeda has ceased to claim credit for brutal attacks against Shia. But it hasn’t ceased the attacks.
Today’s bombings in Baghdad bear the hallmarks of an al Qaeda strike. The timing, target and mode of attack carry the signature of an al Qaeda operation. The bombing also helps expose a fallacy of the recent National Intelligence Estimate, which claims al_Qaeda plays only a minor role in the insurgency.
Timing: As the Associated Press notes, the attacks were coordinated on the very day of the anniversary of the Samarra bombing, where al Qaeda destroyed the Golden Dome of the al-Askaria mosque, the most revered site in Shia Islam. The bombing kicked off a wave of sectarian violence which has threatened to plunge Iraq into civil war.
But not only was the attack in Baghdad on the very day of the Samarra bombing, it was timed to occur “shortly after the government called for a 15-minute period of commemoration for the Feb. 22 Samarra bombing.”
Targets: Today’s bombings, like several others over the past month, have occurred in predominantly Shia areas, ensuring Shia are killed, thus further discrediting the government’s ability to protect them. In order for al Qaeda to establish its rump Islamic State, it needs the Iraqi Security Forces to fail, Baghdad to remain a sectarian battlefield and the U.S. to draw down or withdraw from Iraq. Mass attacks on Shia civilians radicalizes the Shia, forces them to choose between the government and militias, and places greater political pressure on the U.S. to withdraw lest it be mired in a ‘civil war.’
Mode of Attack: The attackers used car bombs, planned the attack to inflict massive casualties, and coordinated the attacks to occur nearly simultaneously. “The bombs struck within a minute of each other, targeting two buildings about 200 yards apart,” notes the Associated Press. “One of the cars was parked near the entrance to a parking garage under one of the buildings.” The Interior Minster later stated three suspects were arrested in the attack: two foreigners and one Iraqi.
The National Intelligence Estimate
At the beginning of February, the intelligence community released the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which claimed “sectarian bloodshed has surpassed the threat from al Qaeda,” and continued to promote the idea al Qaeda is only a small element of the insurgency. The NIE was hotly disputed by four intelligence agencies, and “four of America’s 16 intelligence agencies have obliged the Directorate of National Intelligence to provide a formal dissent to the 90-page classified Iraq assessment.” The disagreement was over al Qaeda’s role in the insurgency (as well as issues related to Pakistan). Eli Lake of the New York Sun reports:
According to two sources familiar with the addendum, the dissenters argue that the Baathist wing of the umbrella Sunni terrorist group has ceded authority to Abu Ayoub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq who replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The majority view, endorsed by the CIA, the National Security Agency, the State Department, and others, holds that a majority of the Sunni insurgency is still comprised of Baathists and Sunni nationalists…
At issue in the bureaucratic fight is the methodology for counting Al Qaeda fighters. “They employed a methodology by looking at the fighter’s background,” an intelligence analyst familiar with the debate told The New York Sun. “The CIA looked at whether the fighters were recruited through religious means, or did they go to a training camp.”
What the supporters of the NIE fail to recognize is al Qaeda, despite what its composition and number of foreign fighters, is a major driving force behind the sectarian violence by conducting mass casualty attacks designed to divide the Iraqi government and her people. The January attacks in Baghdad clearly demonstrate al Qaeda is a driving force behind both the insurgency and the sectarian violence.
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