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A Note on "Al Qaeda"

Jim MacDonald:

Making Light: The Latest Iraq Surge: Have y’all noticed that over the last two weeks the word from everyone (Bush, at the Naval War College for example, where everyone in the audience already knew better) is that we’re fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. Everyone who’s resisting is Al Qaeda. Everyone who’s fighting is Al Qaeda. Everyone who’s killed is Al Qaeda.

What’s with that? They aren’t insurgents any more. Or Sunni fighters, or Shiite militias. or even Baathist dead-enders. All the bad guys are Al Qaeda.

Kinda reminds me of Vietnam:

“How do you know he’s Viet Cong?” “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Six years after 9/11 this is the only card left in Bush’s hand.

If he’s so hot on Al Qaeda isn’t it time to find Osama bin Forgotten? Y’know, the guy who actually attacked us?

Joe Klein

A Note on Al Qaeda - Swampland - TIME: Several readers have been grumbling about the increased use of "Al Qaeda" to describe the enemy in Iraq. There is, I think, good reason for this usage, but only in the context of the current U.S. offensive. The group in question is actually Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, what the military calls Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which represents the most dangerous sliver--no more than 5%--of the Sunni insurgency. This is also the group, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that is the spine of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.

In the past, AQI has had a close working relationship with many of the indigenous Sunni insurgency cells.... [I]t has offended the Sunni tribes and the Baathist remnant of the insurgency. As I'll explain in the coming edition of the magazine, AQI has been pretty much kicked out of al-Anbar province because it tried to impose a Taliban-like rule--forced marriages, Sharia etc--on Sunnis mostly pissed off at the U.S. for invading their country and imposing a Shi'ite regime. These more secular elements of the Sunni insurgency have turned on AQI and are providing the U.S. with--for the first time in this war--actionable intelligence. And so, the current nationwide operation, Phantom Thunder, is focused upon this insurgent sliver--the 5% represented by AQI.

There is a belief, which I don't buy, that the rest of the Sunni insurgents will now reconcile with the Shi'ite government....

Meanwhile, the Shi'ites have a lunatic fringe of their own: the Mahdi Army Special Groups.... (As I learned first hand--I found myself underneath a table during dinner as missiles landed nearby on my first night in Iraq--the Mahdi Army Special Groups, not Al Qaeda, are the people shelling the Green Zone most nights, according to military intelligence sources.)

So, bottom line: Others may be painting with a broader, and inaccurate, brush, but when I refer to Al Qaeda in this context, it only means the enemy in the current phase of battle, one particular sliver of the Sunni insurgency. There are other enemies of stability in Iraq, and other battles to come. I remain convinced, as I was before I went to Iraq, that our ability to influence these battles is minimal at best... and that a careful drawdown of troops, starting now, remains our best option.

John Ward Anderson:

Residents Say 17 Killed by U.S. Were Not Insurgents - washingtonpost.com: The U.S. military is investigating the killings of 17 people in a U.S. helicopter attack north of Baghdad a week ago, after residents of the area complained that the victims were not fighters from the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, as the military originally claimed, but members of a village guard force and ordinary citizens.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, said the June 22 incident in Khalis, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, was under investigation "because of discussions with locals who say it didn't happen as we reported it." The attack occurred in the opening days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, an offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq that is centered on Baqubah, about 10 miles southeast of Khalis.

A U.S. military statement on the day of the incident called the dead men "al-Qaeda gunmen" and said they were killed after trying to sneak into Khalis.

"Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs [Iraqi police] and infiltrate the village," the statement said."The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using," it said.

Garver said townspeople claim "the individuals were not al-Qaeda, but members of the community." He said additional details were not available, pending completion of the investigation.

The investigation came to light after the BBC reported on its Web site that residents of Khalis were "incensed" that the dead men were accused of being members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Villagers "say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the U.S. military says it foiled," the BBC reported.

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 06/29/2007 | Bush plays al Qaida card to bolster support for Iraq policy: Jonathan S. Landay: WASHINGTON — Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington."Al Qaida is the main enemy for Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike," Bush asserted. "Al Qaida's responsible for the most sensational killings in Iraq. They're responsible for the sensational killings on U.S. soil."

U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides....

"The only way they think they can rally people is by blaming al Qaida," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center who's critical of the administration's strategy...

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