October 8, 2007

Nuts On The Run

Amir Taheri believes that an assassination in Syria reveals how desperate al-Qaeda has become. His column in today's New York Post reviews the life of the late and unlamented Muhammad Gul Aghasi, who helped channel foreign jihadists into Iraq through Syria until his untimely demise at the hands of unknown assailants ended his distribution business for AQ (via Newsbeat1):

UNKNOWN gunmen murdered Muhammad Gul Aghasi - one of the key "theologians" of al Qaeda - at a mosque in northern Syria last month. Candidates for the fiery preacher's killing include rivals within his own radical group, agents of the Americans - and his Syrian hosts. Whatever the truth, this is bad news for the already ailing al Qaeda.

Born in 1973, Aghasi, who was of mixed Kurdish-Turkmen ethnic stock, studied Islamic theology in Damascus in the 1990s before traveling to Pakistan, where he established contact with the Taliban and al Qaeda. In 2004, having returned to his Syrian hometown, he created the Ghuraba al-Shaam (Aliens of the Levant), with the declared aim of recruiting, training and arming jihadists to fight against the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led Coalition forces.

By 2006, Aghasi - using the nom de guerre Abu Qaaqaa (Father of the Hissing Sound of Swords) - claimed that his group had dispatched more than 2,000 jihadists from half-a-dozen Arab countries to Iraq. The group also boasted of providing jihadists in Iraq with safe havens inside Syria where they could rest, get medical care (even dental work!), retrain and even get married before returning to the battlefield.

Wearing Afghan-style clothes and the mandatory flowing beard, Aghasi was especially proud of the role his jihadists had played in fighting the Americans in Fallujah for more than a year. He claimed that his bulletproof, German-made limousine had been a gift from an Arab businessman for his role in the Fallujah battle. He had created an outfit called Office of Services for the Mujahedin in Iraq, handling millions of dollars collected from unknown benefactors.

In other words, Aghasi had a pretty comfortable life in Damascus, making money off of the terrorist insurgency in western Iraq. The Assad regime allowed him to do as he pleased, and allies compensated him with money and gifts while he sent their sons to certain death. That free ride ended in a hail of bullets, and now some wonder whether Aghasi may not have played both sides of the street at the end.

Taheri reports that rumors in the Islamist movement had Aghasi working for the Americans in Damascus. Those rumors had reached the higher levels of the Assad government, who decided to hasten Aghasi's rendezvous with his 72 virgins. Even before then, the flow of jihadists into Iraq had slowed significantly, as prospects of intimidating the Americans out of Iraq began to dim with the success of the surge and the advent of a professional Iraqi Army. Even if he was not an American agent, Aghasi had outlived his usefulness to Assad and AQ.

The AQ leadership has a big credibility problem in Iraq. They essentially put all of their eggs in the one basket, betting that they could win a big propaganda victory by forcing the US out of Iraq. When the Democratic efforts to put an end date on the deployment failed and as General David Petraeus began reporting major successes, that prospect blinked out. Instead, even Democratic presidential candidates have refused to predict a withdrawal by 2013, meaning that AQ and its affiliates will have to fight another six years in a battle that they have already all but lost.

And that will damage them in other areas of the world. They have managed to hold their own in Waziristan, but even there they have become more marginalized as Pakistan's leaders build a moderate alliance against the extremists. AQ has allied themselves with governments that they have repudiated in the past, such as Teheran and Damascus. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have neglected important battlefronts such as the Caucasus, where the Islamist cause has all but disappeared, as well as the Philippines, Indonesia, and even nearby Kashmir.

The result of the surge has been the negation of Osama's investment in the Sunni tribes there. Thanks to AQI's rapaciousness and savagery, the Sunnis have rejected AQ and its terrorism in greater and greater numbers, strengthening the Iraqi government and the American counterinsurgency efforts there. The loss of Iraq would deal a harsh blow to AQ's global efforts and deprive them of the one resource they most need: suicidal young men. With Aghasi's abrupt departure, that commodity has become even more scarce than before, and with the continuing loss of credibility, they're not likely find any increase in that resource soon.


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