One group who is worrying is the Bush Administration. With Bush’s latest change in
strategy tactics in Iraq, the Administration issued a PowerPoint presentation warning us ominously that “Al-Qaida in Iraq has declared and shown its intentions to establish a caliphate in Iraq and then to expand the caliphate widely.” Is this likely? Well, Shiites by virtue of their religion do not believe in establishing a caliphate. They’re not about to go for that. In fact, the World Public Opinion survey shows Iraqis have a 96% unfavorable opinion of Al Qaeda. What about the Sunnis? Well, Al Qaeda is more popular among them. 77% view Al Qaeda unfavorably. I think the chances of caliphate being established in Iraq rank up there with socialism coming to Utah.
A second group worrying is Al Qaeda itself. In a letter captured in autumn of 2006 addressed to a leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq from Al Qaeda proper, the author writes that the “most important thing is that you continue your jihad in Iraq. … Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God’s permission.” Actually this should come as no surprise to Americans since the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Iraq occupation was helping Al Qaeda recruiting. Unlike the Bush Administration, Al Qaeda sees itself principally trying to win an ideological war rather than a military one. So from its point of view, things that inspire hatred of the West are extremely helpful. It was not for nothing that Osama bin Laden practically endorsed Bush going into the 2004 elections.
A third group worrying about Al Qaeda is our pottery barn liberals. (Not to be confused with the partisan liberals, the process liberals, the rabid lambs, and the moonbats.) The pottery barn liberals take non-liberal Colin Powell’s “if you break it, you own it” very seriously. The pottery barn concern is certainly worthy. How much damage can Al Qaeda in Iraq do without the U.S. hanging around?
Al Qaeda in Iraq or Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (usually abbreviated JTJ) has taken on the tactic of suicide bombing. This is not, by the way the preferred tactic of the Baathist elements of the insurgency. The letter mentioned above expresses concern that JTJ’s attacks on Sunni leaders (yes, Sunni leaders) was not winning them Iraqi friends. If JTJ does not have many Iraqi friends, the Christian Science Monitor reports that they don’t have many foreign friends either. In an article titled “Iraq war draws foreign jihadists, but not in droves,” they report that only about seventy foreigners are joining the insurgency a month. In total less than 10% of the fighters are from abroad. I have heard much lower numbers.
It’s difficult to get a handle on the composition of the insurgency, but it would seem that Baathists would constitute its largest faction. Baathists had an organization before the war. They represented the Sunnis for decades. As a nationalist grouping, they were adamantly secular. (For example, they supported women’s rights much more than any Islamist party would.) It does not seem likely to me that the Sunnis in Iraq would have a strong Islamist tradition and want to establish a caliphate or even a state on the model of Saudi Arabia.
In this light, it would be wise to remember a few things about the U.S. presence in Iraq. The abuses at Abu Ghraib had a huge effect on Iraqi public opinion. They essentially turned Iraqi opinion against the coalition presence. The Sunni insurgency has been known for its media savvy and you can bet that photos you have never even seen from Abu Ghraib have been widely viewed throughout Sunni Iraq. That’s what they think of when they think of U.S. forces.
Further, there is the Vietnam analogy. Faced with an indistinguishable enemy and the need to win hearts and minds, soldiers and Marines must decide and decide quickly, “Do I shoot or not?” Winning ideologically requires reluctance to use lethal force; saving American lives requires aggressive use of lethal force. Our British allies have criticized the U.S. forces for their quickness of trigger. The result is that we have wasted a lot of Iraqi lives and that is the horrible side effect of a counter insurgency. The Sunnis really want us out of there – despite recent reports. 57% want us out in six months and 91% want us out within a year. 97% think our forces provoke more conflict than we prevent and 92% think approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces. The U.S. is simply in no position to make the JTJ less attractive to Iraqis.
So what might we conclude from all of this? I would say the following:
- Al Qaeda internationally wants and needs us to stay in Iraq. To undercut them, we should withdraw pronto.
- JTJ lacks significant support even among Iraqi Sunnis. The Sunni part of the insurgency is predominantly Baathist.
- JTJ’s main tactic is suicide bombing against which military inventions have been notoriously unsuccessful.
- The presence of U.S. forces will only solidify oppositional sentiment among Sunnis.