Thursday, September 28, 2006

Abu Hamza al-Muhajir

This remains the introductory phase of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir's tenure as commander of al Qaeda in Iraq. His Ramadan tape is very interesting. The Guardian has a thorough account:
The new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has admitted that more than 4,000 foreign fighters have been killed in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an internet recording.

Speaking on the audio recording, posted on an Islamist website, a voice purported to be that of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir - also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri - says: "We have spilled the blood in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight."

The Arabic word he uses indicates he is speaking about foreigners who joined the insurgency in Iraq, not coalition troops.

It is believed to be the first major statement from insurgents in Iraq about their losses.


"I congratulate the Muslim nation on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan, the month of jihad (holy war). I ask God to make it a month for honour and victory for Muslims," the voice says.

It also encourages Masri's followers to kidnap westerners who could be used to bargain for the freedom of Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman. The cleric is being held over links to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

"I call on every holy fighter in Iraq to strive during this holy month ... to capture some dogs of the Christians so that we can liberate our imprisoned sheikh," it says. The voice goes on to offer a "general amnesty" to Iraqis who have cooperated with US-led forces or fled the country.

"As for those who supported the occupiers and their agents, becoming their eyes and ears, and who betrayed their religion, honour and land for material or social gains ... I declare a general amnesty during this month of generosity and forgiveness," the speaker says.

"We waive the right to [avenge] the blood that was shed by your hands and your betrayal," he says.

A US intelligence official in Washington said American authorities had expected a Ramadan message from the group.

"They wanted to get something out to continue shoring up their position, to show al-Qaida's still engaged and leading this after Zarqawi's death," he told Reuters.
Based on this terrorist's nom de guerre, he is not a native Iraqi. The U.S. has identified him as an Egyptian, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and a member of EIJ -- Zawahiri's group. The invocation of the blind sheikh is consistent with an EIJ jihadist. I find it particularly interesting, also, that Muhajir has waived the right to avenge collaborators and has targeted Christians. Al Qaeda approved of Zarqawi's butchery and advised him to target collaborating Shiite. There was an effort to pull Zarqawi back in 2005. It met with little success.

But, he's dead now.

Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker wrote earlier this month:
In a letter to bin Laden in January, 2004, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, Zarqawi explained that “if we succeed in dragging [the Shia] into the arena of sectarian war it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger.” He said that he would formally pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda if bin Laden endorsed his battle against the Shiites. Bin Laden told Zarqawi to go ahead and “use the Shiite card,” perhaps because his son Saad and other Al Qaeda figures were being held in Iran, and he hoped that Zarqawi would persuade the Iranians to hand them over; he hesitated, however, to formally ally himself with Zarqawi.


Within radical Islamist circles, Zarqawi’s gory executions and attacks on Muslims at prayer became a source of controversy. From prison, Maqdisi chastised his former protégé. “The pure hands of jihad fighters must not be stained by shedding inviolable blood,” he wrote in an article that was posted on his Web site in July, 2004. “There is no point in vengeful acts that terrify people, provoke the entire world against mujahideen, and prompt the world to fight them.” Maqdisi also advised jihadis not to go to Iraq, “because it will be an inferno for them. This is, by God, the biggest catastrophe.”

Zarqawi angrily refuted Maqdisi’s remarks, saying that he took orders only from God; however, he was beginning to realize that his efforts in Iraq were another dead end for jihad. “The space of movement is starting to get smaller,” he had written to bin Laden in June. “The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors’ necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening.” Finally, bin Laden agreed to lend his influence to assist Zarqawi in drawing recruits to his cause. In October, 2004, Zarqawi announced his new job title: emir of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

From that time until he was killed by American bombs, in June, 2006, Zarqawi led a murderous campaign unmatched in the history of Al Qaeda. Before Zarqawi became a member, Al Qaeda had killed some thirty-two hundred people. Zarqawi’s forces probably killed twice that number.

In July, 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s chief ideologue and second-in-command, attempted to steer the nihilistic Zarqawi closer to the founders’ original course. In a letter, he outlined the next steps for the Iraqi jihad: “The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate. . . . The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before—the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.”

Zawahiri advised Zarqawi to moderate his attacks on Iraqi Shiites and to stop beheading hostages. “We are in a battle,” Zawahiri reminded him. “And more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.”
With Muhajir placed in charge of al Qaeda in Iraq, I had a bad feeling that Zawahiri was going to a trusted hand. A lot of the experts thought the organization would nominate an Iraqi to lead them. That is a reasonable assumption, but not necessarily assured. Assuming al Qaeda has some level of command and control (and this letter writing indicates it does) Zawahiri likely wanted a more politically savvy leader. Muhajir's first major address recounts the previous casualties -- almost to say that his group has suffered too -- and offers peace among Muslims. If he referenced foreigners directly, he may have done so in an attempt to build legitimacy for foreign jihadists, himself included, in Iraq. He then calls for attacks on Christians to free the Blind Sheikh.

This is as much the art of politics as it is the art of war. I would anticipate a tough month of Ramadan.

More news...

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Senior U.S. military officials have stepped up complaints that Iraq's Shiite-led government is thwarting efforts to go after Shiite death squads blamed in the execution-style killings of Sunni Arabs in neighborhoods across this capital.

Although deadly Sunni Arab rebel attacks remain frequent in Baghdad, U.S. officials, including Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, say death squads affiliated with Shiite militias have become the main factors ratcheting up the capital's death toll from sectarian killings.
The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Iraq's two most deadly Shiite Muslim militias have killed thousands of Sunni Arabs since February, with the more experienced Badr Brigade often working in tandem with Al Mahdi army, collecting intelligence on targets and forming hit lists that Al Mahdi militia members carry out, a senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.

In some cases, death squads have been accompanied by a "clerical figure to basically run" an Islamic court to provide "the blessing for the conduct of the execution," the official said.
The Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 -- A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."
The New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday.
The Washington Post on 8/25/2006:
At least until July, Abu Diri and the dozens of men believed to be under him operated out of Sadr City and Shula, two Baghdad neighborhoods that are home to more than 2 million Shiites. The districts are heavily loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has a significant presence there. Abu Diri's victims typically were found blindfolded, with hands bound, in the streets lining Sadr City, American officers said.

U.S. military officials, distrustful of Sadr after battling his Mahdi Army in the first two years of the war, believe Abu Diri is linked to the militia.

"He's the enforcer," said 1st Lt. Zeroy Lawson, the intelligence officer with a small U.S. Army unit that works in Sadr City and is responsible for helping train the Iraqi army there. "He goes after specific targets" of Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

Lawson called him Sadr City's agent "for external affairs," going across Baghdad in pursuit of Sunnis or any others seen as enemies.

Sadr and his top aides publicly disavow Abu Diri.
The United Nations has a report on the spread of terrorism, AP:
UNITED NATIONS – Al-Qaeda's activity in Iraq remains disproportionate to its size, and Afghanistan's Taliban rebels continue to benefit from a close relationship with the network and other foreign terrorist groups, according to a U.N. report.

As an indication of the close relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the two groups said “new explosive devices are now used in Afghanistan within a month of their first appearing in Iraq.”

“And while the Taliban have not been found fighting outside Afghanistan/Pakistan, there have been reports of them training in both Iraq and Somalia,” the committee's terrorism experts said.

By contrast, it said, al-Qaeda is not only operating in Iraq but there have been many attacks elsewhere that have promoted al-Qaeda objectives, “even if mounted by unconnected groups or individuals with narrowed sectarian or political aims.”


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