Iraq, in Light of Revelations as to Al Qaeda's Plan/Hopes

Monday, October 10, 2005 at 07:20 AM

A few days ago, the media reported the details of a letter from Zawahiri, believed to be the second in command of Al Qaeda, to al-Zarqawi, believed to be the leading representative of Al Qaeda and the insurgency in Iraq.  The letters contents were described in some detail on Oct. 7 in the NY Times.[source here]
That article offers one of the first pportunities for Americans to compare the announced goals and concerns of Al Qaeda to the descriptions of those goals and concerns by Western officials, most  notably President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, and to events in Iraq.

Zawahiri laid out a four step plan:

  1. Expel America from iraq

  2. Establish a caliphate in Iraq

  3. Spread the caliphate to Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt

  4. The large caliphate takes on Israel

First and foremost, it is pretty clear that Zawahiri does consider Iraq to be part of a holy war  in the sense that he envisions a Sunni Moslem nation there that will be the foundation for taking control of three other existing Arab nations.  Iraq is described as "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era."  It is equally clear that he views Israel as an ultimate enemy. The letter also voices animosity to Shia Muslims, similar to the animosity evident in a Zarqawi letter dated February, 2004 which declared his intent to foment a Sunni-Shia war inside Iraq.

Zawahiri also voices concern that the end of step 1, the expulsion of America, may dampen the enthusiasm of the insurgents, referred to as mujahadeen by Zawahiri.  He warns that "The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with
the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal."

What this means to me is:

a. Bush & Blair have been misrepresenting the long term goals of Al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda seems to want not to oppose "freedom" around the world, but to reestablish what they view as the golden era of Islam.  This is a more defined, narrow, and political goal than either Bush or Blair lets on.

b. To the extent that our invasion of Iraq has offered the Sunni insurgents an opportunity to begin waging a war on the Shia, we have potentially destabilized the surrounding
region (Lebanon, Syria, Egypt) as well.

c. If Al Qaeda has its way, there be a clash between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, either sooner or later.

d. If Al Qaeda has its way, there will be a clash between Sunni Muslims and Israel, either sooner or later.

e. Unlike what many of us who oppose the war have come to believe, simply leaving right now might very well have some very bad consequences for Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, and Israelis.

f. Unlike what many who support the war have come to believe, staying in Iraq long term, or even "mid term" seems very likely to exacerbate the problem and speed the radicalization process on which Al Qaeda counts.  Even Zawahiri recognizes that America's withdrawal may cool down the ardor of his followers in Iraq.

g. There is a serious possibility that Al Qaeda's plans will result in a very broad war in this part of the world.  Would Iran sit by and allow a Sunni Caliphate hostile to the Shiite form of Islam?  Would Egypt, for example, sit by and allow this Sunni Caliphate in Iraq to become established knowing that it has plans to overcome Egypt?  Would Turkey sit by and allow all this intra-Arab fighting on its border, knowing that its own Kurdish population would very much like to resurrect  a Kurdistan in combination with Iraq's Kurds? What will Israel do if the Al Qaeda-supported Sunnis seem to be getting the upper hand?  And on and on.

h. We are now truly between a rock and a hard place.  Thanks to our esteemed leadership, We have "broken" the country to the extent that it offered Zarqawi a window of opportunity to begin a campaign to restore the caliphate and abolish Israel (the outcome of which we may well not be able to influence), and provided the ideal recruiting tool for him to attract committed fighters and funding.

My conclusion is that I am very glad I don't have to make the decision on what to do now.  Staying to ensure an elected government, even knowing that this government is likely to have to fight a civil war, may be the best we can accomplish now.  And it's likely to be a very difficult and bloody road from here to even there.

[On a tangent, I found the letter, or at least the parts made public, notable for the lack of mention of Saudi Arabia and Iran.  How would the imagined Sunni Caliphate fir with the existing Sunni Saudi Arabia?  What does Zawahiri expect of Iran?]