Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Al-Qaeda Is Losing the War

Al-Qaeda Is Losing the War
By Alain Campiotti
Le Temps

Wednesday 07 November 2007

The military war launched by Osama bin Ladin has aroused a rejection response from local communities that see no way out of a bloodbath and have begun to distance themselves.

Rami Ayad was killed as an example. To frighten people. Now Gaza knows it. After the murder of this young Baptist bookseller on October 7, the city preferred to believe in the crime of a solo fanatic or mentally disturbed person. For several days now, Gazans know that Ayad was stabbed, then executed with a bullet to the head because a local radical group had condemned him to death. What group? No one says. The "Takfir" - those who grant themselves the right by fatwa to kill Muslims, the "hypocrites" (the Shiites) or, of course, the infidels? Al-Qaeda? My interlocutor, who knows, doesn't answer. But since Gaza has come to understand its significance, the Christian's murder has acted on the city like an electroshock. Sunday, a requiem mass will be said in the Roman Holy Family Church, and Hamas will come in force. The Palestinians - who have committed their own terror on the streets of Tel-Aviv - don't want to include in their ranks those radicals of global jihad who kill in Bali, Madrid, New York and Gaza, professing to do so for Palestine. Al-Qaeda has never been able to involve itself in this fight that Osama bin Ladin nonetheless describes as a priority.

And suddenly, within Islam, this Palestinian rejection is no longer an isolated phenomenon. In the Lebanese drama, the bloodiest episode was the terrible little war this summer in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared, north of Tripoli. The source of that confrontation in the country of manipulation is still not clear. On the one hand, Fatah al-Islam, a group of several hundred jihadists who came from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, had taken over control of the camp. On the other, the fragile Lebanese army, which, from May to August, in very tough combat, killed or captured almost all the Islamist fighters. Nahr al-Bared is in the heart of North Lebanon, Sunni and conservative, which approved the army's bloody action. Fatah al-Islam referred to al-Qaeda. Its recruits came from Iraq or were in training to go there.

Iraq is precisely the third domain where something is tipping. For the West, the war over there has become routine. Five more American soldiers killed there Monday and Tuesday by roadside bombs and two dozen Iraqis executed in secret. But the news media are so used to a mechanical condemnation of the wicked occupation that a villain decided on, that they can't bring themselves to see what doesn't fit into that scenario, or can only see it as an effect of American military disinformation.

Having exhausted its arguments in 2003, and contrary to all evidence, the Bush administration presented the invasion of Iraq as a decisive confrontation with al-Qaeda. It was a lie, which has become true. The CIA itself abundantly demonstrated that the occupation was the most fertile recruitment medium for Osama bin Ladin's organization. And the Saudi, like his second Ayman al-Zawahiri, very quickly ratified George Bush: Iraq was the main battlefield. Now al-Qaeda is perhaps in the process of losing that battle, not because of the superiority of arms apposite it, but because of a rejection reaction coming from the fertile breeding medium itself. As in Gaza, as in Lebanon, and on a greater scale.

Of course, the Americans continue to lie. They would like the world to believe - and the Iraqis first of all - that the battle in Mesopotamia is being conducted against a foreign body, deadly to the country. In fact, the immense majority of al-Qaeda fighters there are Iraqis, reinforced by some hundreds of foreign volunteers pretty ready for martyrdom. If the organization initially forged by Abu Mussab al-Zarqaoui rallied to Osama bin Ladin, that's because of a community of vision with respect to ends and means. The fight was global, to eliminate Western influence and penetration of the territory of the Umma (the vast family of Islam), beginning with Iraq, by re-editing the glorious precedent of the liberation of Sovietized Afghanistan. The means were remorseless: including, as of the beginning of last year, murders of Shiites accused of collaboration with the enemy, because, as the majority, they essentially held governmental power.

The Sunni tribes, which should have been al-Qaeda's spawning grounds, had nothing to do with this global combat and in a year they had blood indigestion. The Americans helped them choose another route by inundating them with weapons and some hundreds of millions of dollars. The Sunnis still hate the occupier every bit as much, but the jihadist organization is now facing, apart from the Marines, an army of auxiliaries who obey their tribal chiefs.

That's a tactic the United States has used elsewhere - in Vietnam, for example - with results that were disastrous in the long run. But Iraq is different and the Cold War is over. Al-Qaeda does not really have a rear-country. The alliance Zarqaoui (killed in June 2006) forged had made Ramadi its capital. It lost it. All around Ramadi, broad swathes of the immense Al-Anbar Province elude al-Qaeda. Samarra and Fallujah are no longer dangerous places. American reinforcements and tribal militias are also pressuring jihadist groups farther east, and in Baghdad itself. Military losses are down, civilian losses also, it appears. Refugees have returned to the capital.

If this intelligence came from the Iraqi government and the American Embassy in their Green Zone only, it wouldn't be worth much. But the confirmation of these hangover effects comes from al-Qaeda itself. In a recording, an extract of which was broadcast by the Al-Jazeera station, Osama bin Ladin admitted that "mistakes" had been committed in Iraq. He appealed for resistance fighters to unite in the face of the common American enemy, which amounted to a confession of differences and fratricidal fights. That intervention provoked a tempest in the jihadist movement over the Internet. The Qatari station had broadcast an extract from the tape only, and militants accused it of manipulation and threatened the station. That was a reversal: up until now, al-Jazeera, very honorable and professional, had been more the target of the Americans who held it to be complicit with al-Qaeda and punished it for that.

Fissures, moreover, are appearing in the jihadist movement. The preacher Salman al-Odah, a former mentor to Osama bin Ladin, addressed an open letter to the emir in hiding, in which he reproaches him with drawing misfortune upon Muslims through the culture of martyrdom. Abdulaziz al-Sherif, a movement theoretician and al-Zawahiri intimate, publicly broke with the organization. Abdulaziz al-Ashaikh, the Saudi Grand Mufti (who, of course, is certainly not free to say whatever he wants) issued a fatwa in October prohibiting young Saudis from engaging in jihad: he does not want them to transform themselves into mobile bombs in order to achieve military and political objectives that are not their own.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, for his part, has just launched a call to arms in the Maghreb, against France and Spain, all the while praising a tiny Libyan sub-group's rallying to al-Qaeda. But these cries suddenly resemble those of a wounded animal. To the point that bin Ladin's fourth son, Omar, who dumped his father after having shared his life for four years in an Afghan camp, now prefers the comfort of the tabloids and his escapades. He considers his progenitor and his friends "crazies" who are leading Muslims into "disaster."

His father hides himself for the moment with the others Omar frequented in the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan border, in the midst of the rebellious tribes, a convenient range for the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. Ten years ago, al-Qaeda was in the same caves, a little farther north, preparing its declaration of war against the Crusaders and the Jews, devising its plans for spectacular attacks that would bring the enemy out of its haunts so that it could bleed it as it bled and sickened the Russians during the 1980s. Ten years later, the enemy came, but it's al-Qaeda that bleeds. And in the tribal zones that protect it, the organization cannot easily construct the liberation of the Umma from the revolts of the Pashtuns and the Baluchis, poppy-growers and Taliban, undoubtedly still covertly financed by the Pakistani secret services.

So, other spectacular attacks and great horrors? Those that wounded Europe have had no other impact than to kill. No other government will react again as the United States did after 2001. Blind violence exhausts itself over time. In a way, that's what the participants in the requiem mass Sunday in the Holy Family Church, Christians and Muslims, will be saying. Hamas, which will be in the church, has renounced suicide attacks, and, in garroted Gaza, it holds the jihadists at a distance. For now.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.


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