Iraq Will Not Be A Qaedistan

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
International Herald Tribune
March 8, 2008 By Olivier Roy
PARIS--One of the key questions in the U.S. presidential race is what will happen if U.S. troops leave Iraq.
Of course nobody knows for sure. But I can say this: Al Qaeda will not take power and establish an Islamic state.
Too many in the West persist in seeing Al Qaeda as a territorialized Middle East organization bent on expelling the Christians and Jews from the region in order to create a "Dar al-Islam" (land of Islam) under the umbrella of a caliphate.
Al Qaeda is not a continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is a non-territorial global entity which has never tried to implement an Islamic state, even in Afghanistan, where it found sanctuary in the 1990s.
It is pointless thinking of Al Qaeda as a political organization seeking to conquer and rule a territory. Al Qaeda recruits among disenfranchised youth, most of them without direct connections with the embattled countries of the Middle East.
Second-generation Western Muslims, converts, Saudis, Egyptians and Moroccans make up the bulk of the Al Qaeda traveling jihadists - not Afghans, Palestinians or Iraqis. Al Qaeda does not have the necessary local rooting for taking power.
Al Qaeda's strategy is first to to confront the big boys - or rather the big boy, the United States - directly, relying not on the actual damage inflicted (financial cost, number of dead) but on image, media impact and the terror effect.
The mirror effect of those who claim a clash of civilizations, of course, intensifies the impact. In fact, Al Qaeda needs those who demonize it, because it makes it what it is not: the vanguard of the "Muslim wrath."
Al Qaeda goes where the Americans are while the U.S. Army goes where Washington thinks Qaeda might be . . . one day.
Secondly, Al Qaeda seeks to hijack existing conflicts and make them part of the global jihad against the West.
However, in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the different Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda has managed only to implant foreign volunteers into these struggles, volunteers who usually do not understand local politics and find support among the local population only as long as they fight a common enemy, such as American troops in Iraq.
But their respective agenda is totally different: Local actors, Islamist or not, want a political solution on their own terms. They do not want chaos or global jihad. As soon as there is a discrepancy between "the policy of the worst" waged by Al Qaeda and a possible local political settlement, the local actors choose the local settlement.
The Bosnians got rid of the radical foreign fighters once they achieved their independence; the Taliban rank-and-file refused to die for Al Qaeda when the Western forces landed in Afghanistan after 9/11.
In Iraq, many among the Sunnis, including the Salafists, resent not only Al Qaeda's tactics of indiscriminate suicide bombings, but also the strategy of confronting the Shiites.
The fact is Al Qaeda plays a role in the deterioration of the conflicts but is unable to succeed in coordinating them. Local, national, tribal or sectarian religious channels are stronger.
Al Qaeda may recruit some local organizations, acting within a limited area or linguistic region, with their own history. These groups then claim affiliation with Al Qaeda. They are to be found in Indonesia (Jemah Islamiyya); in the northern Sahel (the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which in January 2007 changed its name to the Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb); Northern Lebanon (third-generation but still uprooted Palestinian refugees); in the Sunni triangle of Iraq (with the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group); and in Saudi Arabia and Yemen ("Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabic Peninsula").
But these organizations do not need Al Qaeda in order to recruit or operate. If they have rallied to it, it is because they have difficulty in defining or achieving a local objective (an Islamic state, for example). They become globalized therefore by default.
In short, there may be good reasons for the United States to remain in Iraq, but they have nothing to do with Al Qaeda; they have more to do with a damage-control operation. If the U.S. troops leave, there might be a civil war, there might be a growing Iranian influence, Iraq might be turned into a battlefield by proxies between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There could be a Sunni-controlled area, a Shiite state and an independent Kurdistan, but no Qaedistan.
It would have been better to concentrate the Western forces on Afghanistan, which has been the real cradle of Al Qaeda. If only part of the brains and armor devoted to the "surge" in Iraq had been devoted to Afghanistan, instead of the incessant turnover of disparaged NATO troops with little knowledge of the country, things would have been better.
But in Afghanistan, as anywhere else in the greater Middle East, there is no military solution, only a political solution by dealing with the local actors, and dropping the senseless idea of a "global war on terror."
Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research, is author of "Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah" and "Islamist Networks: The Pakistan-Afghan Connection."