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Al Qaeda in Iraq

The New York Times has an article up on the possibility of a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq following the withdraw of US troops.  The article points out that Al Qaeda has been maintaining a rate of 30 small attacks per week, as well as one major attack every 4-6 weeks.  The US Army currently estimates Al Qaeda’s size at about 1000, where 200 are dedicated fighters.  Recently, attacks have been focused on Iraqi Security Forces, although restarting sectarian violence is an obvious goal that Al Qaeda can be expected to pursue.  The article also suggests growing concern in Washington that the group may begin to plan for attacks outside Iraq.

I personally was surprised by President Obama’s commitment to withdrawing all American troops from Iraq.  While there is an obvious political component to his choice, it seems like Iraqi forces may be able to adequately handle the al Qaeda threat.  I guess we’ll find out over the next few months.  And no doubt the US will still be maintaining a covert intelligence apparatus in Iraq to continue pursuit of al Qaeda.

Last thing, there are three events at DU this week that are worth checking out.  The information is on the left side of this page.


Two developments in Yemen

The United States killed two Americans in Yemen, both of whom had joined Al Qaeda, according to the New York Times.  One was Anwar al-Awlaki, a major Al Qaeda figurehead/leader/cleric in Yemen that the US has been aiming to kill for some time now.  This strike comes despite the upheaval in Yemen, and the absence of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In early September, the Obama administration’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said recent cooperation with Yemen was better than it has ever been despite the prolonged absence of Mr. Saleh, who returned recently after four months in Saudi Arabia recovering from wounds he suffered in a bomb attack on his presidential palace.

The article goes on to indicates that America’s interests in Yemen are almost entirely motivated by a desire to track down and kill Al Qaeda, and that so long as Saleh is a partner in that mission, the US will avoid putting any heavy pressure on Saleh to leave office.  The article also suggests that since al-Awlaki is an English speaker who aims his messages toward Muslims in the West, he had little influence on the course of protests and political developments in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the entrenched President Saleh has put out some new demands for leaving office, according to Al Jazeera.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, the embattled leader told Time magazine and The Washington Post that a power transfer deal crafted by his Gulf neighbours calls for “all the elements” causing tension in Yemen to be removed and warned of a civil war if that did not occur.

Saleh was referring to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has joined ranks with a populist uprising that began early this year, and the powerful al-Ahmar tribe, not related to the general.

“If we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given in to a coup,” Saleh said in his first interview since returning home on Friday from a stay in Saudi Arabia to recover from injuries sustained during a June attack on his palace.

“If we transfer power, and they are in their positions, and they are still decision makers, this will be very dangerous. This will lead to civil war.”

In the interview, Saleh insisted he remained committed to the GCC initiative, denying claims he was seeking delays to hold on to power and putting the blame on the opposition’s inflexibility.

“This is a misunderstanding. We are willing within the next hours and next days to sign it, if the JMP [Joint Meetings Party] comes closer” to reaching an agreement, Saleh said about the Joint Meetings Party opposition coalition.

This all has sparked another round of protests and violence in Sanaa and Taiz.  Perhaps US involvement could break the deadlock.  Perhaps greater GCC pressure is what’s called for.  At the moment I’d say both sides seem firmly committed to staying their course, so some unforeseen development is needed before any breakthrough occurs.

Yemen – Still not Better

Al Jazeera is reporting on violence across Yemen.  Honestly, if less than five people die in a single day there, no one seems to notice.  Yemen’s part in the Arab Spring reached a climax when the GCC states and the United States collectively called for Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down from the presidency, and he appeared prepared to do so before surprisingly reneging.  Now, it feels like stalemate.  Saleh himself is still in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.  The article points out that

UN human rights officials gave warning on Tuesday of an impending civil war unless the political deadlock was resolved.

Civil War in Yemen would be disastrous, first because of the tangled tribal relations that would make lines of alliances at least as complicated as the Civil War that rocked Lebanon for years, and second because there is an Al Qaeda presence in Yemen that would benefit from the chaos, especially in that it would gain operating space.

So today’s big question is, from the United States perspective, what is the best thing we can do to bring stability?  A few options are to do nothing, to back Saleh, or to back those calling for his ouster.  If we back one party, does that equate to supportive speeches, to sending supplies, or to arming a faction?  How aggressively can we pursue Al Qaeda in Yemen as this deadlock continues?

Some other news, in case you missed it:  David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy are visiting Tripoli, but the New York Times is concerned about Islamist’s growing sway in Libya.  In Jordan a million man march is planned against the Israeli embassy, so Israel is pulling its diplomats as a precautionary measure.  Finally, we are nearing the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, and Ban Ki-moon (who was here in Denver a few weeks ago) hopes that the bid at least spurs a meaningful dialogue.


Al Qaeda needs a leader

This New York Times article details the problem now facing al Qaeda, that of establishing a new leadership.  A quote:

Now, with a handful of flawed or little-known candidates ready to succeed Bin Laden, but no one with his status and charisma, the future of the network’s old hub is uncertain. Some American intelligence analysts believe that the fact that more than 10 days have passed without the announcement of a successor could be a sign of a power struggle.

The viewpoints presented are similar to those given by Professor Szyliowicz during yesterday’s Bin Laden Panel.  But even if you went, the article is still a good read.  Especially if you want to start learning specific names of those within the terrorist organization.

Thoughts on bin Laden

I’m going to pass on putting any links to the story, everyone everywhere is reporting on it (even ESPN).  But anyways, after following the story, here are my takeaways (feel free to disagree in the comments area):

  • Did Pakistani intelligence know where bin Laden was?  Pakistani officials are saying no.  If they did know, did they eventually tip us off?  Reports from unnamed US officials say we tracked bin Laden down on our own.  There are folks guessing that perhaps the Pakistanis threw us a bone on bin Laden to cut down on drone strikes.
  • Rumors out there that we recovered two computers from the compound.  Hopefully no one there thought to destroy the computers and we recovered them intact.  The intelligence gains from his records could be huge.
  • If the CIA really has been on the trail of bin Laden’s courier, then there have to be a long list of other places he has been that we are now prepared to investigate/attack.
  • The government has properly raised warnings and threat levels.  My opinion is that there may be poorly planned, ineffective attacks over the next few weeks abroad, but I’d be surprised if a major attack occurs soon.  Al Qaeda has been trying to hit us again for ten years.  If they have an opportunity, why would they wait on it?  I just cant envision a “on the day I die, you finally attack” pact.
  • If I were the Taliban, I would consider announcing a formal break with al Qaeda this week and making a play at rapprochement with the US.  That strikes me as the path of least resistance for them to regain legitimacy to govern Afghanistan.  Of course, Mullah Omar has stayed loyal to al Qaeda this long, and there are probably plenty of financial incentives for that alliance to continue.
  • I think talk of this locking up Obama’s reelection are silly.  It will still be the economy that determines that, a la George H. W. Bush.
  • I really, really hope nothing surfaces involving the US doing anything unprofessional with the body.  Funny to joke about, but unbecoming.  Some reports saying the body has already been buried at sea after Saudi Arabia declined to take it back.
  • Ayman al Zawahiri, you’re next.
  • Given the marginalization of al Qaeda throughout the Arab Spring, 2011 really isn’t going well for al Qaeda.  If you are a frustrated Arab young person, how does martyrdom for al Qaeda list as more appealing than participating in the popular protests around the region?

Iraq suspects Al Qaeda involvement in attack

There was a siege attack in Takrit, Iraq yesterday, according to this BBC News article.  A group of eight men blew a car up outside of a council headquarters building, a diversion that allowed them to enter the building and open up fire on those inside, before finally blowing themselves up.  In total, more than 50 were killed and more than 100 others injured.  The style of the attack leads government officials there to suspect al Qaeda involvement.

Al-Qaeda’s New Marketing Strategy

CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria has released this segment from his popular Sunday morning news program GPS. He explains how Al-Qaeda has released a new magazine….directed at women. Al-Shamikha offers articles on everything from supporting jihad to beauty advice. One of the featured pieces is how jewelry can be purchased and then sold off for a profit to help the cause. As Zakaria notes, the marketing gurus at Al-Qaeda are clearly hoping to cover a niche in a tough magazine marketplace: literate female jihadists waging war against the west.