Al Qaeda Revival In Iraq Feared

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Chicago Tribune
April 20, 2008 Targets include fellow Sunnis who switched sides
By Liz Sly, Tribune correspondent
BAGHDAD — Concerns are rising that the Al Qaeda in Iraq movement is reconstituting for a fresh offensive after a relative lull in which Iraqi officials had boasted that the group was on the verge of defeat and the U.S. had downgraded the threat posed by the Sunni extremists.
In the past week, three large-scale bombings attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq have killed more than 100 people in Anbar and Diyala, two of the provinces in which local Sunnis had turned against the extremists.
In an unusually detailed warning Friday, the U.S. military said it had gathered "credible intelligence" suggesting that Al Qaeda also is preparing for a new wave of attacks in Baghdad, where the group has not staged any large-scale bombings since early March.
"Information collected by Coalition Forces states that numerous AQI terrorists have entered the Baghdad area with the purpose of carrying out vehicle-borne improvised-explosive devices, or suicide-vest attacks," said a statement issued by the military's Baghdad command. It warned citizens to look out for people showing "abnormal behavior" or wearing too many clothes, old cars that have been newly painted, and a stolen ambulance.
"Al Qaeda has many sleeping cells, and now they are reactivating, in Anbar and in Baghdad," said Sheik Ali Hatem al-Sulaiman, the head of the Dulaim tribe and a driving force behind the original Awakening movement in Anbar province, which is populated almost entirely by Dulaims.
The Awakening movement, which the U.S. military now calls "Sons of Iraq," has emerged as a key Al Qaeda target in recent months. Al-Sulaiman narrowly survived a suicide bombing against his Baghdad headquarters in February, and more than 150 Awakening members have been killed in Al Qaeda-linked attacks in recent months.
Letter outlines strategy
In a letter found during a raid on an Al Qaeda hide-out last month, an unknown operative called Abu Sufiyan outlined a strategy to divide Iraqis and destabilize the country that included attacking Awakening members, as well as targeting Shiites and the economic infrastructure.
Addressed to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the letter stated: "They can never have stability ... so that they keep busy with themselves and not be able to unite against us," according to the U.S. military.
In a further sign that Al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to revive its presence in Sunni areas, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported Iraqi leader of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, issued his first statement in months last Tuesday. In it he offered an amnesty to Sunnis who had joined the Awakening movement if they returned to the insurgency, but he also urged attacks on Sunnis who have allied themselves with "the Crusaders."
The Sons of Iraq program, under which the U.S. military pays $300 a month to about 90,000 Sunnis to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been hailed as one of the greatest successes of the past year.
The Sunni revolt against Al Qaeda that started in Anbar province late in 2006 and subsequently spread to Baghdad and other Sunni areas saw Al Qaeda driven out entirely from some of its key strongholds, contributing to the drop in violence witnessed over the past year.
330 operatives killed
The U.S. military also has claimed huge recent gains against Al Qaeda. In Baghdad alone, according to one senior military official, the U.S. has captured or killed more than 330 Al Qaeda operatives just in the past four months.
Many of the Al Qaeda supporters who were chased away relocated to the northern city of Mosul, where Al Qaeda activity remains high.
As Al Qaeda-related violence has diminished, attacks attributed to Shiite extremist militias have been on the rise, to the extent that Gen. David Petraeus identified Shiite groups in his testimony to Congress earlier this month as potentially Iraq's "greatest long-term threat."
"The threat posed by AQI, while still lethal and substantial, has been reduced significantly," he said.
Iraqi officials have gone further, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki describing the Shiite extremists as "worse than Al Qaeda" during his offensive against militias in Basra last month.
But U.S. officials also have warned repeatedly that Al Qaeda is trying to stage a comeback, in part because Al Qaeda leadership continues to see Iraq "as the central front in their global strategy," according to Petraeus.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is a complicated amalgam of extremist Sunni groups, most of them homegrown, some directly tied to Osama bin Laden's movement and all of whom owe broad allegiance to Al Qaeda ideology. Though most of its rank and file are Iraqis, the U.S. military believes the movement receives direction from foreign-born Al Qaeda fighters.
Reflecting Iraq's importance to the Al Qaeda leadership, bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is believed to be hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, issued an audio message Friday saying Iraq would serve as a base from which to launch attacks into Israel.
"Very soon Iraq will become the fortress of Islam, wherefrom will start missions and brigades for the liberation of Al Aqsa Mosque" in Jerusalem, al-Zawahiri purportedly said in the message on an Al Qaeda Web site.