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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Opinions and Editorials arrow Phares Op Ed: "A Caliph's frustration with his emirs"
Phares Op Ed: "A Caliph's frustration with his emirs" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Walid Phares   
Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Walid Phares
Walid Phares

By Walid Phares

Yes, Bin Laden’s latest audiotape aired on al Jazeera is unique. Not in its ideological party line or in the Salafi doctrinal roots; they haven’t changed nor are they expected to. Surely, in a previous speech he inserted some neo-Marxist and Trotskyite rhetoric but that was part of his “American” discourse, and possibly at the request of his Gringo advisers.

Today’s audio didn’t concern itself with Berkeley’s approval but instead was focused on chastising the chaotic commanders of Jihad in Iraq. Osama’s message was more the expression of a frustrated (self-appointed) “Caliph” trying to reign in his emirs gone wild in the deserts of the Middle East. The “Lord” is upset with how al Qaeda Iraq has administered the struggle, the people and the image.

Incredibly, the leader of al Qaeda said the “Mujahidins” in Iraq committed “mistakes.” This was the first time the man used these words 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 is the first time he has mentioned the Jihadists’ mistakes, not the errors by Muslim rulers in general. Now, these are his own fighters who are at fault.

The last time any al Qaeda leader came close to this posture was the shy warning by Ayman Zawahiri to Zarqawi demanding that the killing of Shiia stop in Iraq. But, at the time, the top leader wasn’t addressing the mistakes of the emirs. He dealt with “higher geopolitical matters”, according to 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 this is not as comparable in context, but I see this event as a summoning by the “Fuhrer” to his Generals after losing Libya, Stalingrad or Normandy. A possible analogy would be that the plan of the high commander was excellent, but the commanding officers messed it up. Indeed, since that speech delivered on February 11, 2003 - in which Osama asked his worldwide Jihadists to prepare for Iraq and form the expeditionary corps to fight the Kuffar (infidels) for Baghdad - the terrorist activities were scoring points there: 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 for the setback 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 a lot to the analysts who observed the civil war in Algeria in the 1990s. There, the mainstream Front Islamique du Salut (Salvation Islamic Front), then its first offshoot, the “Armed Islamic Groupings”, and last, the second generation offshoot “Salafi Group of Call and Combat” all went from extreme to more extremism, and thus got themselves involved in 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 – that claims the Algerian type of reckless Jihadism is irresponsible!

This is so revealing in terms of the Western failure to identify the barbarism of the Salafists in the 1990s and, doubling this failure of analysis, to assert that since 2003 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, to be more precise, the audio message’s title doesn’t use the term Shaab al Iraq , accurately translated into “the people of Iraq”, but rather, the term “ahl al Iraq” which would translate into: “population”, “communities” or even “the inhabitants”…all 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” indeed were made 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) presides 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 must 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 a few things and unite with all other insurgents to defeat the US. And magically, 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 a very focused analysis of what it means and leaders from inside Iraq were calling in and approving. The audio message was a few minutes long, while the whole back and forth debate was a few hours long.

At the end of the day, this tape show - as I have argued since last summer – proves that al Qaeda central feels 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 turbulence. Any major decision in Washington can accentuate this direction down or release it up.
Bin 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 and the author of the War of Ideas.

Listen to Dr. Walid Phares talk about this and other updates on The War of Ideas:

Phares on the Bill Bennet radio show: "The Future of Terrorism Project at FDD studies the ballistics of terror." Visit Website ]



 
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