The Imaginary Emir: Al-Qa'ida in Iraq's Strategic Mistake
MILITARY ACADEMY WEST POINT NY COMBATING TERRORISM CENTER
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On July 18, 2007, GEN Kevin Bergner confirmed suspicions that the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq ISI -- Abu Umar al-Baghdadi -- is fictitious. The information was provided by Khalid al-Mashadani, who was the Minister of Information within the ISI before he was captured by U.S. forces on July 4, 2007. If al-Mashadanis information is accurate, the al-Baghdadi deception underscores the fact that al-Qaida in Iraq AQI made a major strategic mistake when it established the ISI in October 2006. To exploit this mistake, the United States should not simply attack the AQIISI organization in Iraq, but rather highlight the ISIs ideological failures. The ISI was created to replace the al-Qaida in Iraq brand name to improve AQIs appeal with two constituencies Sunnis in Iraq -- including insurgents -- and senior jihadi scholars outside of Iraq. The ISIs fundamental problem is that these constituencies have contradictory goals and interests Sunnis in Iraq tend to be focused on pragmatic issues like security, occupation, and electricity Jihadi ideologues outside of Iraq are primarily interested in the proper imposition of Islamic law and using the ISI to publicize their ideas. The ISI cannot satisfy the jihadi ideologues without controlling Sunnis in Iraq enough to credibly impose Islamic law. Conversely, the ISI cannot control Sunnis in Iraq without moderating its ideology, which alienates some jihadi scholars and discourages AQIs diehards. The ISI did have its defenders, including central al-Qaida figures Abu Yahya al-Libi and Ayman al-Zawahiri. But despite these efforts, the ISI is failing. It has alienated Sunni insurgents in Iraq by demanding obedience and still cannot generate consistent support from jihadi scholars outside of Iraq. The revelation that al-Baghdadi is fictitious implies that AQIISI is still commanded by Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, who is thought to be Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian.
- Government and Political Science
- Unconventional Warfare