Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

AL-QAEDA vs. THE INSURGENCY....The Washington Post reports today about a story that's been developing in Iraq over the past few weeks: the looming breakup between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the rest of the Sunni insurgency.

Key Sunni militant groups are severing their association with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group that claims allegiance to the organization led by Osama bin Laden....The Sunni insurgency in Iraq has long been fractious, in part because secular nationalists, tribal leaders and former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and army have rejected al-Qaeda's tactics, particularly beheadings. But the emerging rift represents the Sunni groups' most decisive effort since the 2003 invasion to distance themselves from al-Qaeda in Iraq.

....What the split means for the United States and its efforts to pacify Iraq remains unknown.

It's hard to say what this all portends, but a couple of days ago Marc Lynch made a point that's worth keeping in mind: this splitup means that opposition to al-Qaeda is no longer the same thing as opposition to the Sunni insurgency. So if you read a story saying, for example, that tribal leaders are "turning against al-Qaeda," this may or may not really mean anything. It might be good news, but it also might mean only that the local shaykhs are taking sides in an internal dispute — but are no less committed to fighting American forces. Something to keep in the back of your mind as you scan the news.

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Saying "Sunni insurgency" isn't the same thing as saying "tribal leaders," either. A lot of tribes and tribal leaders in Anbar are moving toward the Iraqi government. Not all are members of the Islamic Army of Iraq.

Posted by: harry on April 14, 2007 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

This conflict is far from new, and hasn't exactly paid great dividends for the U.S. so far. Just checking my own archives, I found this from January 2006

... the nationalist Sunnis aren't being driven into an alliance with the Americans and Shiites out of their wish to remove foreign terrorists from Iraq. In fact, it's the other way around -- the murderous freaks pledging allegiance to Zarqawi and al-Qaeda are acting as our de facto allies by ever-so-slightly distracting the Baathist-led guerrillas. And I expect that Team Shiite accordingly views the latter's perceived momentary vulnerability as an opportunity not to invite the Sunnis into the political fold, but to crush them further.
I don't think the political physics of the situation in Iraq have changed since then.

Posted by: Swopa on April 14, 2007 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

The way I've always read this is that al-Qaeda only survives within Iraq at the sufferance of the Sunnis and their organizations. As outsiders they can never survive in foreign territory without the support of at least more than some of the populace. Which is why it has always been an administration lie that al-Qaeda would take over in Iraq in the absence of the US Army. Was never going to happen.

For the Sunnis there are two calculations going on. 1) How much benefit from the help of a-Q (numbers, training, firepower, etc.), and what's the downside (lack of local control, run amok, poor public relations, etc.). Is the net worth it. 2) Are they bent to the same cause and, even if the net is positive, do they need it.

Well, now they have 2 million Sunnis in Syria and Jordan (I assume they all are; no reason for the Shias to go there) most of whom are pretty pissed off. From among them and passing through are fighters willing to go to/return to Iraq with attitude, training(?), money, equipment, more attuned to Sunni needs than a-Q. Also presumably half of the displaced in Iraq are Sunni with not much to do and holding a grudge.

I guess, if push comes to shove between the Sunnis and Shia, they would accept help from anywhere that will. But al-Qaeda itself would have allegiances beyond the immediate Sunni group supporting them, with a priority more against the US than the Shias. Divergent.

Anyway, unfortunately, if the Sunnis are pushing a-Q out, it's more that they are a hinderance than good news for peace in Iraq or, indirectly (sort of), for US troops.

For what it's worth.

Posted by: notthere on April 14, 2007 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

To the extent that insurgent groups are drawing battle lines against one another, it suggests they feel the end of the U.S. occupation is in view, even if it isn't imminent. They'll be positioning themselves for continuation of the civil war once we are gone.

Good news or bad news? Neither; it's just the slowly evolving reality that U.S. forces are going to have to leave eventually.

Posted by: jimBOB on April 14, 2007 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK

I wish I had dozens of government think-tank PhD's studying the dynamics of the cliques in my junior high school. Would have been more useful.

Posted by: anonymous on April 14, 2007 at 2:57 AM | PERMALINK

Here is the little nugget that I am in awe of...al Qae'da in Iraq comprises something like 2-4% of the insurgent forces, but they get credit for everything!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

I mean, I'm just sayin that they can't have that many suicide bombers left!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:01 AM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, don't you remember that before they caught him, every last IED etc. was personally put there by Zarqawi himself?

These bozos are so busy shadowboxing the imaginary chief insurgent du jour, it's no wonder the place has gone Mogudishu.

Posted by: jimBOB on April 14, 2007 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

Fuckin' checkers men, amock in the land of chess.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

I know how to spell "amok" but "mock" just comes naturally these days.

Speaking of which, where the hell are the trolls? I'm feeling especially redheaded tonight.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

...but they get credit for everything!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

Exactly. But they would. They're set up for the publicity. That's what they want and use.

The US then amplifies it for them. Osama is 2-bit but pulled off a coup because people had their guard down and brains switched off.

They are so defeatable, but everyone here gets so hyped up they make them into some "real" enemy.

I am embarassed.

Posted by: notthere on April 14, 2007 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

I am embarassed.

Me too. I used to fucking live over there. I'm doubly embarrassed. Hell, I'm humiliated in front of many of them. (You know, having a conscience and all.)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

You mean al-Qaeda won't own Iraq, lock, stock and barrel the second the U.S. pulls out? But that is what The Decider told us and he never lies. Right???

Posted by: The Grim Reaper on April 14, 2007 at 6:51 AM | PERMALINK

Here is the little nugget that I am in awe of...al Qae'da in Iraq comprises something like 2-4% of the insurgent forces, but they get credit for everything!!!

Good point. Not only that, most of the wingnuts assume that Al Qaeda in Iraq are evil foreign fighters that the nationalist Iraqis have finally decided to drive out, when in reality most of Al Qaeda in Iraq are simply locals who've thrown in their hand with that movement.

So the bottom line is that Sunnis fighting Al Qaeda is just one more line of sectarian warfare in this broader civil war, one more way in which Iraq is splintering apart.

By posting this I'm fully aware of how much it harms Marler's weak attempts at propaganda and misdirection. Unfortunately reality has a liberal bias.

Posted by: trex on April 14, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

It puts to bed the notion that if we pull out that Iraq will turn into another Afghanistan with al-Qaeda operating with free rein. I don't think anyone has any idea what will happen when (not if) we leave but the idea that al-Qaeda will rule the country is absurd. They do not have large support within the country. As a matter of fact, if the Shiia win which is expected because of their larger numbers, they will not look too kindly on al-Qaeda. And now, according to this report, even if the Sunni win al-Qaeda is not assured a place in post war Iraq.

All the more evidence that there is absolutely no reason why we should be in the middle of a civil war.

Posted by: Slide on April 14, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

We're winning. Even you must see that now.

Posted by: egbert on April 14, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

I look at it as gang turf fights. If Al Qaeda and other gangs are trying to recruit the same fighters,
dipping into the same arms caches, or trying to hijack the same oil trucks or corner the market on
sheep smuggling to Syria they're bound to be at odds.

Posted by: markg8 on April 14, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

"We're winning. Even......"

Yeah, just like O'Reilly screaming "down 80 percent, down 80 percent" the past month.

Oops, then there is that pesky report yesterday about casualties rising outside of Baghdad, with casualities inside of Baghday slightly down. And, of course, that bridge being blown asunder and the bomb INSIDE of the Green Zone.

Now, when the split among Norman, Egbert and AH develops, we will have Real News.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on April 14, 2007 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Fat White Guy,

Alas, we did have al Quaeda neatly isolated from all the rest of these insurgent groups, but we missed the opportunity by invading Iraq. We stand some chance of regaining that state, but it requires that we leave Iraq. Sigh.

MSR

Posted by: MSR on April 14, 2007 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

How can anyone question whether this is good news? More Arabs are now fighting al Qaeda. The fact that these Sunni are natural allies of al Qaeda makes it all the better.

This is excellent news for Iraqis and for the civilized world. Although al Qaeda is a small percentage of the terrorists in Iraq, they have killed and maimed disproportionate numbers of people. Furthermore, their goal of chaos in Iraq is bad for everyone.

The turning of Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda is no accident. I have read that it has been a goal of the United States to turn Sunnis against al Qaeda. It's good to see us succeeding through negoations as well as militarily. Every American should take pride in this develoment.

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 14, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

I have read that it has been a goal of the United States to turn Sunnis against al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has never enjoyed the support of the Iraqi people. This "good news" is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, a superb head-fake that seems to have fooled a lot of you.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

If al Qaeda did not exist, George W. Bush would have to invent it.

Every American should take pride in this develoment. ex-lax at 11:38 AM

You mean the status quo ante bellum situation in Iraq when Saddam did not tolerate their presence? Since they are a minimal presence, their removal will not lead to peace.

Posted by: Mike on April 14, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I thought this was one of the concepts for leaving in the first place. If the US leaves, al Qaeda's main enemey is gone and they're not wanted by the Iraqi people who will begin to drive them out.

Posted by: Fred on April 14, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Could that mean that we might actually make progress in Iraq, relatively speaking, after all?

Posted by: Neil B. on April 14, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is all really new news to me, but I am thinking it may reflect that Saudi Arabia is taking a more direct role in Sunni politics. As I have said, I even think that Saudi Arabia might contemplate a direct, conventional military invasion of Iraq once the American presence is gone or so reduced as to be helpless. In fact, blowing up Sunni moderates in Parliament may have been a first step towards a Sunni reconquista of Iraq.

How could the Saudis pull such an audacious plan off? First of all, as Israel has oft noted, the Saudis have a pretty nice army and air force, with top-grade American equipment. Secondly, the Saudi army is mostly manned by Pakistani mercenaries who are well trained.

Thirdly, the Saudis are going to figure that for the Americans 2008 will be the Tet Offensive all over again, a complete collapse of American will to fight. Those Americans who have their hearts and minds set on quitting will not allow any kind of an effort to defend the fledgling nationalist Iraqi government (elected, not a monarchy) against any move by anybody, including Iran.

I'm not sure that the Saudis and Iranians aren't reading this situation exactly right. They know they can't do too much until Bush is safely out the door in January of 2009, but the day the Democrats take completely over then all hell breaks lose.

How doesn't this happen?

Posted by: mike cook on April 14, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) wrote: Al Qaeda has never enjoyed the support of the Iraqi people.

Maybe not general support, but many Sunnis were not opposing al Qaeda in Iraq. The change to active, mitiary opposition is big news and good news.

This "good news" is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, a superb head-fake that seems to have fooled a lot of you.

Can you expand on this point? Evidently you think the news report is not accurate. What is it that you believe really happened? Do you dispute that some Sunni tribal leaders who were previously not fighting al Qaeda in Iraq are now fighting them?

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 14, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

>"The US then amplifies it for them. Osama is 2-bit but pulled off a coup because people had their guard down and brains switched off."

Osama was basically an 'operations consultant' to various Jihadist splinter groups. This role eventually included the Saudi group that actually planned and executed the 9-11 hijackings.

Both before and after 9-11 Osama was a great poster boy for the US government due to his fondness for media exposure.

'Al-Quaeda' was a term invented by the US government to create the illusion of a unified terror organization so they could prosecute individuals under RICO laws. (pre 9-11)

Everyone should watch the BBC series 'The Power of Nightmares'. It's available on google video. Yes, I post this bit of advice a lot.

If you go out and watch it, you'll know why I think it's important. Perhaps the best 3 hours you could invest when it comes to understanding the situation between Isalm and the 'west'. If you don't have 3 hours, just watch the last episode.

Kevin, if you read this... have you watched it???

Posted by: Buford on April 14, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Buford, I don't know that it makes much difference. There have been any number of attacks by Islamic terrorists: American embassies in Africa, USS Cole, the first World Trade Center, the Washington D.C. snipers, Madrid, Bali, British Underground, numberous attacks in Iraq, routine attacks against Israel, the thwarted attack in Canada, etc. Whether these attacks are centralized through al Qaeda or uncentralized, they're a big, big problem for the civilized world.

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 14, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Ken "cakewalk" Adelman would blush at your level of tendentiousness lately -- are you seriously trying to argue that the split with al Qaeda is not being accompanied with a reproachment with the elected govt? One of the points the dastardly McCain emphasised recently is that 14 of the 18 major tribal leaders in Anbar are now meeting regularly with the govt, trying to reknit the country.

Posted by: minion on April 14, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Do you dispute that some Sunni tribal leaders who were previously not fighting al Qaeda in Iraq are now fighting them?

Let's try to put this in terms even you can understand.

Let's say that certain residents of Boston and Philadelphia were both were both attacking the corrupt, ineffectual government of the United States that had been installed during a Chinese occupation. The Philadelphians were fighting for a return to the historic government where they had held more power and influence, and the Bostonians, who were being aided by the IRA and the Catholic Church, envisioned a government based on Catholic Christian principles.

And as this went on more and more Philadelphians began to be victims of collateral damage as the Bostonians began to expand their turf into Philly.

This resulted in a new armed conflict between Bostonians and Philadelphians while both groups still participated in attacks against the government.

What have you gained by this? How does this contribute to the goal of lessening violence or stabilizing the country?

It doesn't, you've gained nothing. By adding even more violence to the mix it gas only made things worse.

Posted by: trex on April 14, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Or maybe the Sunnis are just now realizing that Al Qaeda in Iraq is a CIA group.

Posted by: Goron on April 14, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

So if you read a story saying, for example, that tribal leaders are "turning against al-Qaeda," this may or may not really mean anything.

Most such stories that I have read go on to say that the tribal leaders are cooperating more with American military forces, and that more Sunni young men are joining the police and the Iraqi army, which they previously avoided. Krauthammer's article yesterday quoted such a comment from an American.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 14, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

just more goddam spin.

al-fresco has never existed. it has always been the invention of the fascist bastids who wanted to foist on the sheep the notion of some great and all-powerful global enemy of the usa.

Posted by: albertchampion on April 14, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

trex, are you comparing the Catholic Church to al Qaeda? That's beyond the pale. I don't think much of the IRA, but I would also object to comparing them to al Qaeda.

The IRA used violence and terror to try to take control of Northern Ireland. Al Quada uses violence and terror to try to destroy civilization as we know it.

Comparing Philadelphians to Saddam's Baath Party regime is also bizarre. Eating pepper pot soup may not be to your taste, but it can't be compared with attempted genocide of the Kurds, widespread torture and mass murder, etc.

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 14, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Comparing Philadelphians to Saddam's Baath Party regime is also bizarre

You're so stupid it hurts.

Posted by: trex on April 14, 2007 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

...Krauthammer's article yesterday quoted such a comment from an American.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 14, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

That confirms it then? Must be true.

Posted by: notthere on April 15, 2007 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

mike cook: but the day the Democrats take completely over then all hell breaks lose.

2-months into the U.S.-led Baghdad Security Plan, at least 289-people were killed and injured across Iraq on Saturday, including 36-dead in a car bomb attack in the holy Shiite city of Karbala. - McClatchy Newspapers 4/14/07


The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army. - AP 4/1/07

Posted by: mr. irony on April 15, 2007 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

I am surprised no one has posted that this is a four to six months old story...... The Independent had an article by one of the Allawis about it, and it had been known privately for some time before that.

Posted by: maunga on April 15, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Pat is a coward. Pat is an anonymous coward like the DLC organization Americans for Jobs, who smeared Dean. DLC operatives like Pat have no difficulty harrassing Nader voters and anti-war advocates, but love Murtha while he jets around in a defense contractor's plane on his way to a beach house vacation paid for by another defense contractor. Pat is such a coward he cannot comment about what he thinks. Pat is a DLC backstabber.

Posted by: Brojo on April 17, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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