Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Caliphs frustration with his emirs

Yes, Bin Laden’s latest audiotape aired on al Jazeera is somewhat unique Not in its ideological party line or in the Salafi doctrinal roots. That hasn’t changed nor is it expected to. Surely, in a previous speech he inserted some neo Marxist and Trotskyite stuff; but that was part of his “American” rhetoric, and possibly at the request of his Gringo advisers. Today’s audio wasn’t concerned about Berkeley’s approval but was dedicated to whip the chaotic commanders of Jihad in Iraq. Usama’s message was more so the expression of a frustrated (self appointed) “Caliph” trying to reign in on his emirs gone wild in the deserts of Middle Earth. The “Lord” is upset with how al Qaeda Iraq has administered the struggle, the people and the image. Incredibly, the number one of al Qaeda said the المجاهدين “Mujahidins” in Iraq committed أخطاء “mistakes.” I purposely quoted the words in Arabic because this was indeed the first time the man used them in this context: self criticism. In fact he criticized the “emirs” for the recklessness of their Jihad in the land of the two rivers. If one reviews the public statements of Bin Laden, at least since 1996, this would be the first time he would talk about the Jihadists’ mistakes, not the errors by Muslim rulers in general: Now these are his own fighters who are at fault. The last time an al Qaeda leader came close to this attitude was the shy warning by Ayman Zawahiri to Zarqawi demanding that the killing of Shiia stops in Iraq. But the top leader at the time wasn’t addressing the mistakes of the emirs. He dealt with “higher geopolitical matters” per the comments of Abdel Bari Atwan on al Jazeera tonight. “Sheikh Bin Laden, said Atwan deals with high level issues, such as the confrontation with the United States, India etc, but this time the Sheikh is dealing with issues on the ground.”

Maybe not so comparable in context, but see it as a summoning by the “Fuhrer” to his Generals after losing Libya, Stalingrad or Normandy. The plan of the high commander was excellent, but the commanding officers messed it up, would be a possible analogy. Indeed since that speech delivered on February 11, 2003 in which Usama asked his worldwide Jihadists to prepare for Iraq and form the expeditionary corps to fight the Kuffar (infidels) for Baghdad, the Terror activities were scoring points: instability, bloodshed, sectarian violence, further recruitment, and political chaos behind enemy lines, that is within the West, particularly in America. But things began to change as the “generals” started to act as owners of the land. Again on al Jazeera (swiftly after the tape was released), another commentator Abdelwahhab al Qassab, said the reason of the set back was the interference of al Qaeda (foreign fighters) in Iraqis daily lives. Qassab is right, I’d argue, the emirs went wild in Iraq with the Sunni population, particularly with the tribes. They went a la Khmer Rouge with traditional communities and even with local Islamists. On al Jazeera, other commentators said al Qaeda and its competitors committed the errors “of Algeria.” Interestingly this statement means loads to the analysts who have observed the civil war in Algeria in the 1990s. The mainstream Front Islamique du Salut (Slavation Islamic Front) first, then its first off shoot, the “Armed Islamic Groupings” and lastly the second generation off shoot “Salafi Group of Call and Combat;” all of them going from extreme to more extremism, got themselves involved in a mass bloodshed with the Algerian population. Ironically the academic elite in the West, lost in the labyrinth of interpretation, portrayed the Algerian Jihadists as an interim force for change (!) Stunningly, it is al Qaeda today -in the words of Bin Laden- which is stating that the Algerian type of reckless Jihadism is irresponsible. This is so telling in terms of the Western failure in reading the barbarism of the Salafists in the 1990s, and in doubling this failure of analysis by asserting since 2003 that al Qaeda Iraq is an expression of the Iraqis opposing the “foreign occupation.”
Well, here we have the chief of the organization telling the world that excesses were committed in Iraq, which led to divisions and to alienating tribes and urban communities. Indeed, in his letter to the “Iraqi people” Bin Laden is asking -ironically- for a change of direction by his own followers. Actually, for more precision the audio message’s title doesn’t use the term شعب العراق Shaab al Iraq , accurately translated into the people of Iraq but the term لأهل العراق “ahl al Iraq” which would translate into: population, communities or even the inhabitants, as an ideological indication that Iraqis aren’t a people of their own but a segment of the Umma (Islamic Nation). His linguistic game aims at telling his audience that local and transnational Jihadis are in fact one in their struggle. In short here are his points:
1. All Jihadists -read also Islamists- in Iraq must unify; meaning all power struggles should cease.
2. “Mistakes” were made indeed and they need to be corrected.
3. The “tribes” cannot be marginalized and made into enemies. They should be recuperated.
4. Clerics, with strong fatwas should be the mentors of the reunified Jihadi movement.
5. The main new direction is that the Jamaa (read the collectivity) primes over the selfish leadership of one or multiple emirs. That’s the bottom line.
6. Last but not least, all Jihadists must come to a center of gravity where everyone has to make a concession.
Always on al Jazeera, yet another commentator Dhaya' Rashwan said that Bin laden is telling his supporters in Iraq to make concessions on few things and unite with all other insurgents to defeat the US. And as in magic, Abdelrahman al Jabburi -the spokesperson of the “Iraqi resistance,” a competitive group, called in (al Jazeera) and declared that “indeed local Jihadists must seize the opportunity and reorganize, unite.” Almost as in a captivating movie, in about three hours, the master of al Qaeda had his message aired, the commentators were ready to make very focused analysis -of what it means- and leaders from inside Iraq calling in and approving. The audio message was few minutes long while the whole back and forth debate was few hours long.
At the end of the day, this tape show -as I have argued since last summer- that al Qaeda central feels that their strategic initiative in Iraq is lagging behind. Two things went wrong for al Qaeda: One was the misbehavior of its own barons on the ground, and two -one can see it clearer now- the (US led) surge has worked so far. The Jihadi combat machine is flying low and is going through turbulences. Any major decision in Washington can accentuate this direction down or release it up. Ben Ladin has taken the risk of exposing this reality to his foes. It should be read thoroughly and responsibly inside the beltway.
Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and the author of The War of Ideas.

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