return to ICG Spaces home    ICG Risk Blog    discussions    newsletters    login    

ICG Risk Blog - [ Iraq replaces Palestine as militant Islam's crie de guerre, part 2 ]

Iraq replaces Palestine as militant Islam's crie de guerre, part 2


Part 1

Having often said that Muslims live in a past glory for which we (the West) give them no credit, it should come as no surprise that Muslims speak in an 'informed code' that we have not taken the effort to pierce. Thus bin Laden could say during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm that the US had destroyed Baghdad worse than its sacking by the Mongol Hulagu in 1258 and it was understood by the faithful.

Commencing in the early 13th Century, various Mongol generals descended on China, India, Afghanistan, Persia, Turkestan, and Russia. "For the cities and cultivated places in the Mongols’ path, they were a natural disaster on the order of an asteroid collision." Five hundred years of construction by the Abbassid caliphate had made Baghdad the wonder of the Islamic world and an irresistible target to the Mongols. Then as now, Sunnis repressed Shiites and the latter supported the Mongols. The caliph’s vizier, a Shiite, may have actively assisted Hulagu. Its sacking left it in ruins and what was not destroyed was completed in 1401 by the Turkic - and Muslim - Tamerlane. (Notice the habit: It is the infidel foreigner, Hulagu, that is remembered for blame and not the local Muslim, Tamerlane.) Baghdad was without further consequence until petroleum and European Great Power politics touched it in the early 20th Century.

The attraction of Baghdad is great in Sunni eyes, reaching mythic proportions:

Many Muslims believe that the Mongol destruction of Baghdad and of the caliphate was the worst misfortune ever to befall Islam. With it, the faith’s first period of flowering came to a decisive close… Historical speculations about what might have been if the disaster had never occurred go in various directions, some tending toward the wild. A book on Arab cultural identity published in the nineteen-fifties quoted a high official in the Syrian government who said that if the Mongols hadn’t destroyed the libraries of Baghdad, Arab science would have produced the atom bomb long before the West.

Western readers must understand that there is an ancient subtext at play here, one that most in the West are unaware of its symbolism but is palpable to Arabs and Muslims. In a Crusader Redux, great Muslim cities are occupied or leveraged by Western infidel powers; US/Coalition forces in Baghdad, the West's pawn, Israel, in Jerusalem and the presence and/or effect of US presence and impact on Mecca and other holy sites in the Arabian Shield. A colleague noted that Damascus can be included as it played a pivotal point in the Crusades and is now under pressure by the US, Europe and the UN. All other things being equal, this foreign presence is a rallying cry to nationalists and jihadists alike. See Putting bin Laden into the perspective of Islam, Part IPart II and Apocalyptic Islam.

Thus bin Laden can connect the US and Coalition forces to Hulagu and Muslim heads will nod. We stand convicted at the onset. After having initially ignored Palestine in favor of pursuing activities in the Arabian Shield and Southwest Asia, bin Laden adopted the Palestinian issue as a force multiplier for his own aims, giving it added potency.

By the time of the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, the US had inherited centuries of distrust as yet another infidel Crusader along with at least two generations of pan-Arab enmity over its support of authoritarian Arab regimes and Israel alike, but US actions took only three years to move Iraq into primacy over Palestine as an Arab rallying call, recruiting tool, training ground for both in-country and 'transient' insurgents, vastly more effective base of insurgent operations than Afghanistan ever was, less ethnically identifiable base than Afghanistan offered, and a means to extend radicalization to Muslims beyond the Arab bloc.

Having allowed that to happen, we have failed to develop the means or the will to repair it. Conversely, al Zarqawi and his mujahideen organization have a clear plan to continue their operation by three targeting categories, each called a "political axis":

  • First axis, "isolate the American army": Target Arab translators cooperating with US military, the police and the National Guard
  • Second axis, targeting of Arab and foreign ambassadors: Target the Arab diplomatic corps to "isolate the [apostate] Iraqi government from the international community, and from neighboring countries"
  • Third axis, targeting of infidel militias, and the symbols of Unbelief and atheism the Shi'ites: Target non-Sunni militias such as the al-Badr Brigades, "who are supported in the first place by Iran, the filthy Shi'ite state and in the second place by Syria." 
The goal is to position al Zarqawi as the "true heir to the mother of modern jihad":
"al-Qaeda in Iraq is re-establishing other al-Qaedas spreading the jihad in all parts of the globe just as the mother al-Qaeda organization did from Afghanistan."

Al Zarqawi has expanded his Iraqi campaign to Muslim extremists populating "at least 24 groups, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to much smaller organizations in Indonesia" comprising "nearly 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe." Much of this growth has occurred since the 2003 invasion by the US, and is now said to have created a "network that rivals Osama bin Laden's."

Al-Zarqawi is a hero to extremists. One of the London suicide bombers equated al-Zarqawi with bin Laden and al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. In a video released last month, the bomber cited the three as his heroes… The persistence of [al-Zarqawi organization] attacks and subsequent media exposure have made al-Zarqawi the public face of al Qaeda and the broader insurgency. He has become so central to al Qaeda's operations that some evidence suggests he is providing money to bin Laden.

On a broader horizon, the letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, to al Zarqawi is instructive in defining the plan to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq in place of a secular regime, and then expand it (leave aside its authenticity as these four stages are validated elsewhere):

  • First stage: expel US forces
  • Second stage: "Establish an Islamic emirate... over as much territory as [Al-Zarqawi] can... in Sunni areas" of Iraq, and do it quickly "in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans"
  • Third stage: Spread jihad to neighboring countries
  • Fourth stage: All-out war with Israel, which may coincide with stage three

It remains to be seen if this Salafization of the Iraq conflict, which MGen Richard Zahner calls "an insurgency hijacked by a terrorist campaign," will be allowed to continue once a combination of Baathists and Iraqi nationalists achieve their goals. It is possible that both will exist in uneasy condominium for some time to come thereby allowing al Zarquari to preside over a neo-Taliban exclusion zone to continue his efforts.

Beyond the more identifiably religious, are the nationalists, Baathists included, whose motives for contesting US forces are independent of a religious jihad. Ghosh's nationalist facilitator is a case in point:

[His] dealings with jihadist groups have left him suspicious about their long-term goals in Iraq. "I've had many conversations with them, and I keep asking, 'What is your vision?'" he says. "They never have a straight answer." He fears they want to turn Iraq into another Afghanistan, with a Taliban-style government. Even for a born-again Muslim, that's a distressing scenario. So, he says, "one day, when the Americans have gone, we will need to fight another war, against these jihadis. They won't leave quietly."

Experts say US is losing war on terror
By David Morgan
1 November, 2005
Note Yahoo uses the original Reuters text (below) only altering the title.
Bush critics conclude U.S. is losing war on terrorism
By David Morgan
1 November 2005, 12:14pm EST

Al-Zarqawi as Master Strategist in Iraq, Rising Leader of the Global Jihad
By Stephen Ulph
Terrorism Focus
Jamestown Foundation
Volume 2, Issue 20 (October 31, 2005)

Professor of Death
EXCLUSIVE: An Iraqi insurgent leader reveals how he trains and equips suicide bombers and sends them on their lethal missions
By Aparisim Ghosh
Oct. 24, 2005
Original scrolled to
Mirrors at Time here and here
Mirrored in Iran

U.S.: Zarqawi A 'Daily' Threat
Oct. 22, 2005
Same text under different titles
U.S.: Zarqawi's Connections Grow Globally
Last Updated: Saturday, October 22, 12:51 PM EDT
U.S.: Zarqawi's Terror Network Growing
Oct 22, 5:52 PM EDT

Zarqawi 'Hijacked' Insurgency
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post
September 28, 2005

Destroying Baghdad.
New Yorker
Issue of 2005-04-25
Posted 2005-04-18

Iraq War Diverting Resources from War on Terror, Experts Say
by Warren P. Strobel
November 26, 2003
Original has
scrolled off

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


  discuss this article

<<  |  September 2019  |  >>
view our rss feed