Friday, June 09, 2006

Turning the Corner in the War on Terror

(Cross-posted at Blanton's and Ashton's.)

Reuters reports that Al Qaeda's leaders are planning to replace Zarqawi with someone who will clean up the terrorist organization's rep with the Iraqi people -- by focusing on attacking American and Iraqi military forces rather than beheading civilians. It's kind of like the "kinder, gentler nation" that George H.W. Bush promised Americans weary of the "avarice and greed" that characterized the Reagan years.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor may be a local figure with close ties to Osama bin Laden, who focuses attacks more on U.S. and Iraqi troops and less on brutal beheadings and random suicide bombings.

The Jordanian militant led a high profile campaign of videotaped executions and bombings that often targeted civilians and killed thousands.

But Abdel Bari Atwan, an al Qaeda expert who has interviewed Osama bin Laden, said he expects a less extreme Iraqi figure named Abdel Rahman al-Iraqi to take over from Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. air strike on Wednesday.

"Zarqawi was a loose cannon who gave al Qaeda in Iraq a bad name with gruesome beheadings. Bin Laden had put al-Iraqi in place because he thought it would be wiser to have an Iraqi to help forge ties with others groups," said Atwan from London.

"Al-Iraqi is more sophisticated than Zarqawi and he spent time with bin Laden in Afghanistan. He will be lower profile but the suicide bombings are expected to continue because he is an extremist. But I think he will focus on U.S. and Iraqi forces."

Al Qaeda in Iraq issued a statement on Thursday signed by Iraqi in which he promised bin Laden that the group would keep up the campaign of violence. The statement described al-Iraqi as the group's deputy leader.

Much better, eh?

Via Josh Marshall and Joel Achenbach, Ivo Daalder says al-Zarqawi was a "truly evil" man, and we are well rid of him. But his death is not going to end the violence in Iraq:

What we have in Iraq today -- and have had for many, many months -- is not a traditional insurgency or even wanton terrorism, but a large-scale sectarian conflict. Much of the killing in Iraq today isn't the result of Zarqawi's men, but of Sunni and Shite militias engaged in a big fight for control of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and the resources they control. The vast majority of the 1,400 bodies that showed up in the Baghdad morgue last month (that's right: 1,400 bodies -- or nearly 50 people each and every day!) were killed by militias of one kind or another. The guys responsible for these deaths are not fighting an existing government (which is what an insurgency implies) but they're fighting to determine who governs Iraq and what spoils will fall to which group of Iraqis.

Also via Joel Achenbach, a CSIS draft report written by Anthony Cordesman warns that it remains to be seen whether Al-Zarqawi's death will have more than a temporary political and psychological benefit:

Regardless of how decisively the government acts, Zarqawi's death will have a positive impact. There is no other figure in the insurgency that has captured Iraq and the world's attention. Most other leaders are nearly faceless and many are unknown. At the same time, Zarqawi's extremism has sometimes been a liability. His cruelty and calls for Jihad against Shi'ites, his willingness to attack civilians and fellow Muslims, has helped push at least some Sunnis away from the insurgency, divided even some elements of Al Qa'ida in Mesopotamia, and been a partial liability. There is at least some risk that his death will allow the surviving insurgency to broaden its base.

But, the past tendency to demonize both Zarqawi and Al Qa'ida in Mesopotamia has
been dangerously misleading. The insurgency is far more complex and robust.
The level of damage Zarqawi's death will do to Al Qa'ida in Mesopotamia is almost
impossible to predict. Reports of deep divisions in Al Qa'ida sometimes seem to owe as much to wishful thinking and disinformation as fact.
It still, however, is far from clear that [U.S. and Iraqi forces] can attack the entire organization. If much does survive, it can take on a less extreme and more Iraqi character, and Zarqawi's death may allow him to treated as a martyr and even be spun into a kind of "victory."

The bulk of Al Qa'ida in Mesopotamia is now Iraqi, not foreign, and it has developed a highly compartmented organization, with regional emirs and cells with a high degree of isolation and security and a high degree of independence. The end result might be th[at] most of Al Qa'ida survives, and even "moderates" in ways that expand its reach in ways Zarqawi's extremism prevented.

It is also important to note that Al Qa'ida in Mesopotamia has already shown that it can resurface under a variety of other names and covers. ...
One thing is clear, most of the insurgency will not be affect[ed] because Al Qa'ida is a highly visible and extraordinarily brutal cadre within a much larger group of different insurgent movements. Experts differ on how much insurgent groups compete or coordinate, and how different their goals are. ...

The right does not want to hear all this, of course. It interferes with their need to have George W. Bush look like a hero, to prove that he was right all along, to defend a war that is increasingly unpopular at home. Or, as Gateway Pundit puts it, Democrats are party poopers.

Gateway Pundit also links to a CNN interview with John Murtha, in which the anchor, Carol Lin (oh, so objectively) asks Murtha, "Is it fair to say that this attack and the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi wouldn't have happened if U.S. troops were not on the ground?"

Unfortunately, Rep. Murtha's response missed the obvious point that if the U.S. had not started a war in Iraq that has been going on for over three years now, Al Qaeda would not be in Iraq, and no one would have even heard of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It's the Bush administration that made Zarqawi a household name.

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