Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Myth of al-Qaeda in Iraq

Andrew Tilghman of the Washington Monthly has reminded us that Al Qaeda's apparently huge reach across the world may be in part a creation of our imagination. Tilghman, at least, is reminding us, again [as some other writers have before], that Al Qaeda may not be as powerful as we have supposed. In fact, there are many lethal forces operative in the Middle East and in the absence of effective state control they have had plenty of room to operate.

"Fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is the last big argument for keeping U.S. troops in the country. But the military's estimation of the threat is alarmingly wrong."
"In March 2007, a pair of truck bombs tore through the Shiite marketplace in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, killing more than 150 people ... U.S. Army General David Petraeus publicly blamed [al-Qaeda in Iraq]"
"Yet there's reason to doubt that AQI had any role in the bombing. In the weeks before the attack, sectarian tensions had been simmering [after a report that a Sunni woman had been gang raped by Shiite Iraqi army soldiers] ... multiple insurgent groups called for violence"
"This scenario has become common. After a strike, the military rushes to point the finger at al-Qaeda".
"[A]l-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence ... may also be overstated."
"[I]nstability on the ground stems from multiple sources ... [such as] Shiite militants, often connected to, or even part of, the Iraqi government ... opportunistic criminal gangs ... homegrown Iraqi Sunni religious groups."
"Malcolm Nance ... a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq ... believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency."
"So how did the military come up with an estimate of 15 percent?"
"When the White House singles out al-Qaeda in Iraq for special attention, the bureaucracy responds by creating procedures that hunt down more evidence of the organization."
"With disproportionate resources dedicated to tracking AQI, the search has become a self-reinforcing loop."
"This is not to say that al-Qaeda in Iraq doesn't pose a real danger ... Today multiple Iraqi insurgent groups target U.S. forces, with the aim of driving out the occupation. But once our troops withdraw, most Sunni resistance fighters will have no impetus to launch strikes on American soil."

Click on the title for the whole article.

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