The drone masters at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center are coordinating with the Joint Special Operations Command (who ran the operation that killed bin Laden) in a new, expanded offensive. Senior ISIS people are being identified, targeted, and then killed with extremely limited oversight.
“These people are being identified and targeted through a separate effort,” said a senior U.S. official familiar with the operation, referring to the British militant, Junaid Hussain, and others killed in a recent weeks. [Washington Post]
September 2, 2015 B. Wallace 121Contact
Posted at 01:53 AM | Permalink
Why is the cruel fist of ISIS tolerated, embraced, even extolled? While we focus on their atrocities, the populace under the Caliphate experiences cleaning and repainting roads, rising employment, surveying for establishing new sidewalks and pathways, repair of sewage lines, running hospitals, running various markets in many cities and villages, running poultry farms, running sewing shops, providing zakat funds and food distribution to those eligible, repaving roads and sidewalks, decorating streets, running car dealerships, building a sports hall, resuming a water filtration plant, settling disputes and reconciling differences between clans, and starting the second round of tests in schools.
Atrocities, alas, may be viewed comparatively, especially by those who have experienced the mighty war machine of The West. Steal: lose your hand. Commit adultery: get stoned to death. Dare step out of 'the party line' and get cruelly punished. What does this leave you with?
Stability: a rarity in the faction torn Middle East, l0nged for by millions, and something 'we' take for granted. That, coupled with the devastating force used to eliminate opposition, is a powerful incentive to cease resisting.
The persistence of ISIS is real. Droning off a handful of fighters and leaders only adds to their arsenal of propaganda, pointing to the atrocities of the West while doing little to weaken their infrastructure. ISIS is thinking far ahead and are carefully grooming the youngest within their expanding realm. It's time to admit it. They are here to stay for quite a while and Western leaders had better start serious deliberations about the best way to deal with them in the long term.
Posted at 02:08 PM | Permalink
Al-Raqqah, Syria: “a city where fear prevails. Music has been banned, Christians have to pay an Islamic tax for protection, people are executed in the main square and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding foreigners in Afghan-style outfits patrol the streets enforcing Shariah restrictions.” Prayer is mandatory and shops must be closed during prayer times. Smokers are arrested on sight and whipped in public. Hookah shops and cafes are closing for good as customers no longer feel safe, and women and men may not sit at the same tables. Veiling rules are posted (full covering for face and hands) and flogging is the punishment. Unmarked cars patrol the streets looking for transgressors. We think Kafka would recognize al-Raqqah.
ISIL are the same group who, in the past 12 months, unleashed 30 suicide murderers against Iraqi Sunni militias and security forces (and the innocent civilians who died along with the fighters). This is the same group that al-Qaeda thought too violent (against Muslims) to be tolerated. Imagine getting kicked out of al-Qaeda for being too violent!
About five thousand ISIL control the city of 500,000. They swarmed there from other areas since they ousted the al-Nusra Front fighters in January. Few in number, strong in dedication to violence, and willing to kill with ease they have terrorized an entire city.
Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda, and its al-Nusra offshoot, consider themselves a battle group engaged in the struggle to become the major power in a future Syrian Islamic state. Zawahiri’s main focus is Assad and he claims to act in the interests of the people, without specifying the governance to come. Like many apocalyptic groups they feel that the future will sort itself out after the battle is won. Faith insists that Allah will provide the correct answer.
Baghdadi’s ISIL see themselves as rulers now; of whatever territory they control now; of whatever people they subject now. Their future is now, and it is horrible to behold.
March 7 2014 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Thanks to Haider for the AP article I had missed.
Posted at 05:44 PM | Permalink
I’ve never been to Derna in Syria. In fact I hadn’t heard of it until recently when AQ factions (We call groups espousing al-Qaeda doctrine ‘AQ’) began competing to see which could take control of the city in the name of their fantasied return to an imagined perfect Caliphate of yore.
Terrorizing the population is key to the success of AQ. Small in number, they must rely on irrational, exaggerated responses to their activities. Recent assassinations (of local officials and military personnel), and bombings (of polling places, government offices, and retail shops) have reduced moderates to silence. Only the bravest of anti-terrorists are willing to speak out against the violence that is becoming part of Derna’s quotidian life.
Yesterday’s bombing of a cosmetics store illustrates the enormous gap between AQ doctrine and the hearts of the populace. Women in makeup is nothing new to Islam and it is hard to find Koran or Hadith injunctions against cosmetics, although limitations loosely defined by ‘modesty’ do exist. Halal cosmetics is a 10-15 billion dollar industry, and growing by over 10% per year.
A more direct political effect was caused by the bombing of 5 of Derna’s voting centers. Many people were frightened enough to skip the vote for members of the Constitutional Committee.
A tiny minority, self-deluded and morally corrupt, is able to disrupt the lives of millions, especially when fear is allowed to control the behavior of the masses. There were no bombs on voting day, and all could have taken part without incident.
March 3, 2014 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Posted at 01:00 PM | Permalink
There’s a competition for the ‘Good Terrorist’ award, and the two front runners are laughably, if you ignore the victims, vying for your votes.
Al-Nusra, the original Iraqi injection of terrorists into Syria, has recently severed connections with the ISIL latecomers. Al-Nusra claims the ISIL is too brutal and continues to attack Muslims as part of the ant-Assad campaign. In their bid for your sympathy they fail to mention their complicity in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Kurds in north-east of Syria, their beheading of Christians, the murder of civilian truck drivers, and the recent car bombing in Lebanon. The list of al-Nusra atrocities is long.
ISIL can claim an agreement with Christians in ar-Raqqah. These Christian Syrians have signed an agreement with ISIL that guarantees their protection, as long as they pay a head tax, refrain from building churches, eschew the carrying of weapons, and not display crosses or broadcast prayer services. The document concludes, "If they [the Christians] violate anything contained in this agreement, then they have no pact of protection, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will make befall them what befell the people of war and rebelliousness." We can only assume that this benevolence is meant to outweigh their car bombings targeting civilians, execution of unarmed soldiers, and the other atrocities documented by Human Rights Watch.
The date for the Good Terrorist Awards Ceremony has not yet been set.
February 28, 2014 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Posted at 11:47 AM | Permalink
While the US is calling for Russia to curtail its arms shipments to Assad (stating the obvious in that more arms means more death)
..America is sending arms, via Saudi Arabia, to Syrian rebels, and
..America is sending arms to Iraq's senior state terrorist, Prime Minister Maliki.
How many faces can we wear before the masks begin to fall?
Posted at 12:04 PM | Permalink
The decimated al-Qaeda ‘core’ may in fact be seriously weakened since the death of its charismatic leader Osama bin Laden but still we see daily reports of violence by al-Qaeda and its offshoots, affiliates, and wannabes. The core ideology, on the other hand, is quietly spreading its tendrils.
While the ISIS (or ISIL-the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant) focus on training adult fighters (who are encouraged to return to carry jihad back to their homelands), al-Nusra Front (more closely allied with al-Qaeda Core) schools have opened to teach the Salafist ideas of Ibn Tamiya. Children, whose regular schools have been closed by the chaos, are taught the path of jihad, learning that Islam will prevail “with god’s book and a sword.” Along with free food and supplies come exercise, entertainment, and studies of Koran. The 10-15 year-olds study mathematics ‘and some other subjects.’ There is also, for select students, light-weapons training and an indoctrination into the importance of following the orders of the mujahidin. Young bodies are fed and young minds are steered into the path of violence. Child warriors have already been found among the anti-Assad forces.
Meanwhile, in the desert tracts of the Sahara, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has launched preaching convoys to visit villages and spread a jihad-focused version of Islam.
In spite of the excited reports of al-Qaeda’s use of videos, Face Book, Twitter, and their own social networks the most effective means of radicalization to violence is simple face-to-face conversation. And al-Qaeda is aware of this.
February 7, 2014, by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Posted at 12:56 PM | Permalink
“We want jihad,” said the young boy at an al-Qaeda school in Syria. "We recommend all mujahideen in the Levant and Iraq. We want jihad, and we do not want to sit without doing anything. We want jihad. Our brothers in the Islamic State are fighting and getting martyred." The video is the 15th in ISIL’s Al-Furqaan Media series Messages from the Land of Epic Battles.
The faces of the children are just that. Faces one could see anywhere; young, smiling, and impressionable as only young ones can be. Al-Qaeda' schools may be the only schools these students are able to attend. Isolated from a broader education they are being injected with world views and justifications for violence that will be hard to dislodge.
So, while we ponder who to give bullets to, and waddle into political dialogues with shifting faction in Syria, al-Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is delivering its own narrative of the world to the young people; the future drivers of Syria’s fate.
There is a delusion afoot. Thinking that our most serious threat is an armed army of Jihadists, and that we simply must defend ourselves with bullets and bombs may block more important thoughts; thoughts that are harder to accept, easier to deny, and dangerous in their misdirection.
December 18, 2013 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Posted at 10:22 AM | Permalink
Al-Qaeda (AQ) entered Syria ostensibly to aid the anti-Assad forces. Its real goal was to promote instability in order to later establish itself a Sharia based government as part of its dream of fulfilling its Global Narrative by replacing existing governments in Muslim countries with a single Islamic state or "caliphate".  Its effect on Syrian politics has been enormous, and it has impinged upon the foreign policies of many nations as they try to shape their response to the conflicts within Syria.
Al-Qaeda’s tactic of entering a local conflict, ostensibly to help the opposition forces, in order to further its own goals is not new. This applies to al-Qaida linked Salafist groups as well. Perhaps the clearest example is the 2012 entrance of elements of AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Maghreb) into the resurgent Taureg resistance. Periodic uprisings seeking recognition of Taureg rights in Mali have been plaguing the country since 1962, shortly after the country was liberated from French control. AQ linked groups, Ansar Dine, AQIM, and MUJAO quickly entered the fray, allying themselves with the Taureg who were then quickly pushed aside as AQ mounted its own offensive. They moved quickly to capture towns and impose their version of Sharia law on the local populations. This series of events marks a common tactic of al-Qaeda and can be seen in AQ’s actions in Syria.
The Ba’ath party, ruled mainly by Alawite-Shiite tribal affiliations, has been in power since the late 60s. Hafaz al-Assad declared himself President in the 70s and the majority Sunni country was now led by a Shiite. In the 80s he successfully put down a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood insurrection with a swift, bloody, and effective response. Bashir al-Assad (Assad in this paper) took over the presidency in 2000, after his father’s death and has ruled since then.
The Arab Spring reached Syria on March 15, 2011 when some 150 protesters gathered in Damascus to demand reforms. The protests quickly spread to other cities. Predictably, given the history of the regime’s brutal repression of dissent, Assad’s response was swift and harsh. On the 18th the government forces first used live ammunition against peaceful protesters and the numbers of dead and wounded began to mount. Funeral processions were also attacked. By the 25th of March Damascus, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Tel, and Latakia saw growing peaceful demonstrations of and by March 28th some 5 dozen protesters had been killed. Soon thousands and then tens of thousands of protesters filled streets across the country. Assad, at first, claimed his government did not order the violent response, but social media carried enough videos of Syrian troops firing on unarmed civilians to dispel this idea.
The first reports of an armed opposition came in July, 2011 when the Free Syrian Army, a group of defected officers, declared their stance. This became known as the main ‘secular’ resistance group to which many other groups aligned themselves. However, Salafist groups quickly formed amid the more secular militias and coalitions began to form as early as the end of 2011 when Western and Sunni states began a strong, eventually failed, effort to build a non-Salafist alliance. The Assad regime refused any and all negotiations with the opposition, opting instead for strong military and police action. The U.S. response was slow in coming, and it wasn’t until August that President Obama called for Assad to step down.
Local opposition militias began to form and by September there were some 40 significant groups aligned in various coalitions. Salafists and Sunni extremists groups were present, but only in small numbers, and I found no record of foreign Salafists involvement, although al-Qaeda groups were present (focused on their actions in Iraq), until January 2012.
By the end of 2011 most Western nations had gone from calling for restraint to calling for the ouster of President Assad. Some armed support was flowing to the opposition, mostly covertly. Efforts to halt the violence by diplomacy along with the imposition of sanctions had failed.
2012 and the entrance of al-Qaeda
Things changed dramatically in January of 2012 when al-Nusra Front posted a You Tube video announcement of its joining the opposition. The video spoke of Syria as ‘a station in the Umma’ and declared al-Nusra to be a “defender of Muslims in Syria and the world, slamming the Arab League and their mission, Iran and Turkey for their collaboration with the ‘Baathist enemy’ and ‘western enemy’ respectively”.
An offspring of Iraq’s ISIS, al-Nusrah brought slick media, highly trained fighters, ample weapons, and a lot of money into the field. Its impact grew quickly as it claimed important victory after victory. In early 2012 Western analysts were not sure if the spate of bombings hitting the capital were al-Qaeda operations. There were suspicions, but no proof. Evidence of individuals associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq surfaced, but Western governments and media outlets were not ready to declare an al-Qaeda presence.
Evidence to the contrary slowly increased. Assad claimed the rebels were al-Qaeda led. ISIS commander Ayman al-Zawahiri was issuing appeals for fighters to join the uprising. SITE intelligence was reporting on al-Qaeda’s influence, but the West was mostly refusing to hear the message, and was still in denial about al-Qaeda’s existence in Syria. Voltairenet and other independent outlets were reporting atrocities committed by the rebels. At the same time most were ignoring the presence of indigenous Salafist groups on the ground. By the summer of 2012 there were stories in Lebanon Spring of a growing al-Qaeda presence, the spotting of AQ’s Abu Musaab Al Souri in Syria, and the crossing of some 7,000 fighters into Syria from Iraq. As the year progressed Western media began to exaggerate the numbers, talent, and general strength of al-Nusra, conflating all opposition Salafists with al-Qaeda. This oversimplification only made policy decisions more difficult.
An indication of the immediate impact of al-Qaeda on American policy was seen in the U.S. Defense Department’s lack of surety about the situation on the ground. Our intelligence network in the Middle East was sparse at that time. Secretary Leon Panetta admitted the confusion, saying, “the dynamic has made any decision about U.S. involvement in the region that much more difficult.” When questioned about U.S. support of an opposition that included al-Qaeda Panetta said, "Just the fact that they're present concerns us. As to what their role is and how extensive their role is, I think that still remains to be seen.” 
By mid-2012 there were several peace proposals put forward by external bodies such as The Arab League, The Friends of Syria Group, and even a June 30 Conference on Syria. The conference was put together by the UN’s Kofi Anan and included the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China. An interim government was called for that would provide a framework for a new representative government of ‘all’ factions, if they were included by mutual agreement. Given the makeup of the participants, there was little chance that al-Qaeda, or any Salafist groups, would be represented. Little came of these early proposals. The U.S., EU, and Britain imposed sanctions, but military support was not offered to the opposition however Turkey admitted allowing safe passage to Syrian rebels.
Al-Qaeda splits the opposition: The opposition, now fully engaged in an asymmetric war, splintered into two main groupings: the more secular, aligned with the FSA, and those supporting the Salafists, including indigenous Salafists and al-Qaeda fighters. While this is a simplification, it does capture the largest split in the opposition. Many splinter groups continue to exist. Some are very small militias thrown together in self-defense of villages and minority ethnic groups, and some are quite large, well-trained, and receive significant foreign support.
Al-Qaeda is, perhaps, the most important foreign force in Syria, but they are not alone. Many Salafists have entered Syria to join the fight. Syria has become an attractive location for jihad. Salafists do not view the Bashar al-Assad regime as Muslim since he follows Alawi Islam, which is considered heterodox even within mainstream Shia Islamic discourse. For Salafists this justifies killing him, his forces, and his supporters. And Syria’s crackdown on Jihadists training for battles in Iraq has encouraged Salafist opposition from many quarters.
By the end of 2012 a strange thing happened in Western media. A few name changes and reorganizations later the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) became the media’s conflation of all the Salafist groups operating against Assad. Ignoring origins (indigenous or not) and the fierce competition between Salafist groups most media split the opposition into either secular or al-Qaeda linked forces. To emphasize this exaggeration the media labeled other violent Salafist groups “al-Qaeda affiliated.”
Russia and Iran quickly supported the regime with weapons. Qatar and Saudi Arabia supported the opposition in the same manner. The conflict was cast by most media as part of the Arab Spring; the popular uprisings against tyrannical regimes. By July 2012 China had voiced its support of Assad while the U.S. and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Kuwait, among others, were calling for Assad to step down, but no military actions were taken. Nations that would ordinarily shun al-Qaeda affiliation supported the opposition, perhaps because they are ‘the enemy of my enemy.’ Assad’s regime is seen by many as a foothold for Iran. Direct infusions of cash as well as arms and ammunition are flowing to Salafists. These are not minor donations. They have already run into the millions of dollars and show no signs of diminishing.
The U.N. has been stalled by Russian and Chinese vetoes. The Arab League condemned the violence and imposed sanctions while strongly objecting to any foreign intervention. Support by external nations has been based upon religious affiliation. This has helped to drive the insurgency from its initial political aspirations into a clearly religious battle between Shiite and Sunni.
The presence of al-Qaeda posed a significant problem for the United States and some other nations seeking self-satisfying responses. In the U.S. there was strong public opposition, fed by war weariness, to using ground forces. There U.S. laws against supporting terrorist linked groups made it hard to overtly supply weapons to any group since there was little assurance of keeping them out of terrorist hands. These laws also cover humanitarian aid, and so the U.S. is cautious to the point of reducing aid to innocent civilians for fear of it falling into terrorist hands.
Britain and France issued statements of support for the rebels in September, 2013 but did not follow up with material help. Recent indications are that they, too, are wary of inadvertent support of AQ elements.
Terror tactics have not been limited to the al-Qaeda terrorists that the West is so careful about not supporting. The June 2013 UN commission of inquiry reported extensive incidents of war crimes, including terrorism, on all sides. The report stated clearly that government’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, with no military purpose, “spread terror among the civilian populations.” Their attacks on relief columns, after ‘giving safe passage,’ summary executions, and other acts all amount to war crimes, according to the report. The FSA, al-Qaeda, and other Salafist groups are likewise implicated. Deadly violence against unarmed civilians, siege attacks on Shiite villages, and beheadings of prisoners are attributed to the opposition. Snipers on both sides have killed innocent civilians. These are only a few of the ‘unlawful killing’ incidents documented by the UN. Assad has used the report to bolster his political stance, claiming self-defense against terrorists as the reason for his strong military response to the uprising.
The 2013 entrance of Hezbollah into the fighting was a significant point that in some geographical areas tipped the balance toward Assad’s forces. It has political implications as well, bringing Israel to openly criticize the U.S. for not taking a more aggressive stand to back the rebels. Backed by the might of Iran’s weaponry and money the experienced Hezbollah fighters were able to quickly regain some ground, key roads, and towns previously taken by the opposition fighters. Hezbollah’s entrance forced Al-Nusra to align with other Salafists, and at times even with the FSA, to battle against these Shiite forces. Their presence on the ground has become a rallying and recruitment cry for foreign fighters to come to Syria and join the al-Qaeda linked groups to battle against the Shiite armies.
By mid-2013 Syrian forces controlled some 40% of the territory and some 60% of the population. The fighting was no longer FSA secularists against the government. It had clearly become Shia against Sunni, with the Alawites dominating the militias aligned with Assad. The Salafists, especially al-Qaeda linked groups, are leading the fight against them, and the FSA is losing its power with many of its fighters defecting to Salafist groups.
But al-Qaeda does not have a free hand in Syria. Aside from their antipathy toward the mostly secular FSA they are in competition with other, mainly indigenous, Salafist groups; for territory, power, and influence in the future. Periodic cooperation among opposition forces is a complex affair. They sometimes band together in individual battles against Assad’s forces. They have been known to form temporary alliances to fight FSA forces. But all seek to be the most powerful opposition force, placing themselves in a position to rule the country once the fighting is ended. This resultant infighting has weakened them less effective than a unified opposition would be.
One example of the fluid nature of the political alignments of opposition groups is the history of the opposition’s Tawhid Brigades. They have Muslim Brotherhood roots and initially spent some energy trying to end the fighting between the FSA and the Salafists. Al-Nusra battled with them from time to time, but fought alongside them at other times. Government forces killed the Tawhid’s leader, Abdulkader al-Saleh in November, 2013. He himself, was an example of the shifting allegiances that have complicated the situation. Once committed to a pluralist Syria, he had lately shifted his aims as foreign money and fighters flowed into the fighting. His last statements showed an alliance, in ideology, with the Salafists. “All the ummah abandoned us [referring to Muslims worldwide]. Depend on not on weapons but on God.” The group is no longer in the forefront of the opposition.
At present many Western nations continue to refuse to openly do business of any sort with al-Qaeda linked groups. Because of legal restrictions the overt American response to the Syrian struggles has been publicly almost non-existent, although there are rumors of covert supplies delivered by the U.S. (acting through others) to opposition forces. Fear of arms and or money headed for the opposition falling into AQ hands has tied Obama’s hands. Verifying the rumors in a roundabout way was the announcement that United States and Britain have suspended aid to northern Syria after Islamists seized western-backed rebel warehouses containing both humanitarian and military supplies. The warehouses had been under FSA control at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey.
Saudi Arabia likewise hesitated, but has evidently overcome this objection in recent months. They had been supporting the secular Syrian National Council up until September, 2013, but pulled their support and have instead been funneling light arms to Salafists. Because the Saudis are dealing with increased internal al-Qaeda attacks they have been careful to arm only those Salafist opposition forces who have evidenced contention with al-Qaeda.
American policy makers are in a quandary. Having spent several years stating their opposition to Assad, even calling for his ouster, they must now consider the growing strength of the Salafists, including al-Qaeda. To many Assad may seems a better alternative than a Salafist/al-Qaeda regime in Syria. This has added fuel to a move toward negotiations with all parties that would lead to Assad remaining in power with a more representative government.
Aside from official responses there is now the problem of foreign fighters streaming into Syria. Some estimates put the count at 8,000. Many see the border with Iraq as the main entry point for foreign fighters but Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in Oslo, claims most foreign fighters are coming through the Turkish border.
Iraqi Shiite militias, rarely reported on, are also fighting for the regime. London’s Asharq Al-Awsat reported on December 16, 2013 that a fatwa has been issued, by Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Kazem Al-Haeri, sanctifying Shiites to fight alongside Assad’s forces. He stated, “The war in Syria is . . . against infidels fighting Islam and, therefore, Islam must be defended,” adding, “. . . fighting in Syria is legitimate, and all those who die in battle there are martyrs.”
On Assad’s side there are hundreds of Hezbollah fighters on the ground at any given time. They are rotated in and out as they gain experience. Hezbollah has fought directly against al-Qaeda groups in many areas and are currently engaged, along with Assad forces, in the mountainous Qalamounss region. The opposition in the area comprises some 40,000 men in several militias. The strongest opposition forces in the area are allied with al-Qaeda, and hold many of the mountain villages and connecting roads. “Influential Sunni clerics . . . have stated that jihad in Syria is wajib (an obligation). Therefore, it is likely that even more foreign fighters will come to Syria.
While accurate counts during conflicts are difficult to verify, reliable observer report that over 115,000 have died to date, most of them civilians, and the casualty rate is rising. Mass imprisonments of protesters and reports of widespread torture speak of state terrorism.
Al-Qaeda also complicates the exodus of refugees into neighboring countries. Because many of the refugees are sympathetic to the opposition there are fears that terrorists may be embedded with them. This makes decisions about how much liberty to give the newly arrived Syrians a security matter. It also affects how readily neighboring governments are willing to give support to the refugees. The burden of Syrian refugees on Iraq has pushed Maliki to agree to a deal with the United Nations to open a relief supply route through Iraq. This allows the U.N. to resupply its Syrian warehouses with non-military aid, especially badly needed food and medical supplies.
Al-Qaeda and the PKK: Lately, Syrian Kurds came under al-Qaeda attack. PKK fighters entered Syria through Iraqi Kurdistan to come to their aid, and then fled back to Kurdistan to regroup. Some Kurdish Syrian refugees have joined the PKK. Al-Qaeda’s response was quick: they set off bombs in Iraqi Kurdistan. The first were against military targets but the next attacks were in civilian areas. These are the first AQ attacks in this semi-independent region of Iraq, an area that has remained remarkably stable in the midst of Middle East turmoil. The political fallout for Turkey, Iraq, and Iraq Kurdistan will engender more complications to add to an already complex set of relationships.
A similar ‘lateral’ attack by Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, an al-Qaeda affiliate, occurred in Lebanon, November 19, when car bombs near the Iranian Embassy in Beirut sent a message that Iran’s and Hezbollah’s interference in Syria will be met with terrorist attacks that could be carried out in other countries that house Iranian missions. Their twitter account, on December 8, said Lebanese military targets are “"legitimate" due to Iran and Hezbollah allegedly killing Syrians and guarding the Israel-Lebanon borders. He wrote: "The Persian Iran is executing the young Muslims in Ahvaz, and Baghdad, and destroying their villages in Dammaj and Damascus, and overpowering them in Beirut, so we will not sleep amidst the injustice!!"
Al-Qaeda has been murdering journalists in Syria. The December 8th the body of Yasser Faisal al-Jumaili, an Iraqi photojournalist who was executed by al-Qaeda in Syria, arrived in Fallujah. His death represents al-Qaeda’s policy of executing journalists which has made it harder to obtain detailed news of the fighting. Estimates of media people killed since the start of the uprising range from 100 to 150. Of course, AQ is not the only threat to journalists. Both sides are seeking to control reports of the fighting, and the nature of independent reporting hampers this effort.
Al-Qaeda has had a significant political impact in the Syrian conflict. In fact Syria may be the new model of AQ’s newest tactical approach to achieving its broadest aims: Enter the local fray parasitically, and grow first destabilize and then take over the country.
Assad’s military strategy is total annihilation of the enemy and its supporters. The use of terror tactics is now widespread on both sides. The terror tactics of the Salafists have benefited Assad by garnering sympathy from many citizens. His new narrative portrays his regime as a defense against the violent Salafists. It is to his advantage to exaggerate the importance of al-Qaeda in Syria.
However, I think Al-Qaeda’s complete success in Syria is unlikely.
There are many indications of al-Qaeda’s increasing hold on the northern Syria, even to the point of imposing harsh restrictions on speech, mobility, and its own extreme Sharia interpretation of social life. This has terrorized local populations, but has not won them over to its Global Narrative. AQ’s killing of innocent civilians in bombing attacks has not won them friends. A recent CNN poll in the area cited popular dissatisfaction with AQ in spite of their infusions of social support to towns they have control over. The New York Times has reported similar attitudes. Many in the opposition feel that Assad is a better choice than al-Qaeda.
On the other hand: Assad has retained the support of his military; a critical aspect in any forward looking analysis. Syrians have a generally mistrustful anti-Western/U.S. attitude and will not support Western military intervention. The opposition has failed to form a unified coalition. No proposal for a post-Assad political structure has gained any traction. Al-Qaeda’s sense of self importance is not matched by reality. They can interfere, but cannot conquer.
The recent exposure of al-Qaeda atrocities have shifted opinions. Former US diplomat Ryan Crocker told the New York Times that it was time "to start talking to the Assad regime again".
The Economist’s view of the near future seems an optimistically reasonable possibility: a Syria eventually left in pieces after a Russian-American brokered deal. Assad’s Alawites will still be in power, controlling Damascus and the West. The Kurds will control the north-east and form a strong alliance with Iraqi Kurdistan. The rebels, including al-Qaeda, will control the rest, but they will still be splintered and the infighting among them will continue. This would satisfy an overriding Western view that stability is more valuable than specific political considerations. When viewed as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Syrian conflict might best be settled in such a relatively stable compromise, at least for the near future.
However, now that there are religious claims to the legitimacy of violence at both ends of the political spectrum, and what began as a political uprising has become a religious war, it will be difficult to find a political solution.
Al-Qaeda’s influence in the current turmoil across the Middle East and from Yemen to Morocco is significant. Those who predicted AQ’s decline due to the death of Usama bin Laden were evidently incorrect and President Obama’s May 2013 declaration of a weakened al-Qaeda no longer seems true. They may not have the same charismatic leader, but their narrative is still strong and their call for fighters to go to Syria has been heeded by many.
This is bad news for those who seek to forcefully remove the repressive governments in the region. Any destabilizing violent action will probably be met with al-Qaeda’s interference…and they have the resources and experience to make an interfering difference in any opposition movement, making extant regimes more secure.
December 17, 2013 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
 November 19, 2013 NY Times
Posted at 11:03 AM | Permalink