Friday, September 14, 2007 

Cowardly assassination of a real resistance fighter.

I'm not one to make liberal use of the word "cowardly" when describing attacks by terrorist groups, especially those that result, either purposely or accidentally in the death of the perpetrator himself. Whatever we think of the motives behind suicide attackers, or what personal inadequacies or perverse thinking leads them to make such a unjustifiable decision, the act itself of ending your own life, in essence for what you believe in, even if you believe that the act itself will result in your installment in paradise, is not one which can be described as "cowardly". While suicide has for a long time been caricatured as taking the cowards' way out, and we can criticise the person for not caring about the mess that their death will both leave behind and create, the taking of ones own life requires strength that can never be dismissed as being easy to achieve or as an essentially empty act.

This is why the spectre of suicide bombers on the loose is so viscerally terrifying; the cliche of "them" loving death while we love life does have some merit to it. We do everything we can, not just to escape death, but to prolong our lives and to halt the visible signs of aging, while their attachment to at least this plane of existence is so flimsy that they'll sacrifice everything for something completely unachievable and take numerous innocents with them in the bargain.
Susan Sontag's comments just after September the 11th, that "cowardly" would be a term better applied to those who also make use of planes but who rather than using the machines themselves as weapons drop their explosive cargo from a great, safe height, have never lost their resonance.

The assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha, the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, most likely by a improvised explosive device planted in his car by al-Qaida fighters disguised as petitioners who visited the Sheikh yesterday on the first day of Ramadan, was however most certainly a cowardly act. Rather than killing him using a suicide bomber, as al-Qaida in Iraq's calling card has been, they used their weakest and lamest tactic, used to kill dozens of American soldiers, as well as countless other innocent Iraqis.

We shouldn't overplay the significance of the emergence of the Anbar Salvation Council, which is exactly what Petraeus did earlier in the week in his statements to Congress and the Senate, but the rising up against the "Islamic State of Iraq" has always been the most welcome development to occur in Iraq in years. It showed that no longer were the Iraqis prepared to exchange one tyranny for another, from Saddam's secular police state to al-Qaida's extremist implementation of Sharia law, which had for a time prospered amongst the Iraqi tribes that had the most to lose from Saddam's overthrow. Their tactics may have at times been no better than that of the fighters they turned against, but they remain the best hope of eradicating the "Islamic State", something that the Americans can never possibly imagine to achieve.

While Abu Reesha's death shows just how deep the problems in Iraq still are, away from the rosy image presented this week, it by no means marks the blowing apart of the hopes of pacifying Iraq, as Patrick Cockburn writes. If anything, Reesha's death is likely only to galvanise those opposing the takfirists into being ever more determined to eject the murderers that set-up home after the invasion.

Another welcome development was contained in an interview with the spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, who made clear that his group, unlike al-Qaida, are prepared to negotiate with the Americans. It can't be coincidence that as al-Qaida continues its barbarism, exemplified by the indefensible attacks on the Yezidis, the other insurgent groups continue to move towards a position of opposing the "Islamic State" while being prepared to end their own struggle, as long as the Americans themselves also withdrawal. As the release of another new report suggests that the death toll since 2003 could be even higher than previously feared, the need to bring the conflict to an end becomes more urgent than ever.

Similarly, the deteriorating situation in Basra, as reported by the Times which makes clear just how unsafe former employees of the British army now are, necessitates that we quickly identify all those we owe a debt of service to and offer them sanctuary, even if only temporarily. You can still make your voice heard by contacting your MP and informing them of the "we can't turn them away" campaign.

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Monday, September 10, 2007 

Setting up franchises.

US soldiers pose with former insurgents, allegedly from Hamas in Iraq in a village on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In his "The Solution" diatribe, released at the weekend (PDF), rather than pointing the finger at the decadent lifestyles of those that inhabit the "West", a familiar bugbear of Islamist takfiris, bin Laden instead targeted, of all things, capitalism. Coming from someone who used his family's wealth and connections from the very beginning of his radicalisation to finance the various causes he's espoused over the years, not to mention how he now relies on the donations of rich Saudis, to suggest this is ever so slightly hypocritical is akin to remarking that Julian Clary is only a little camp.

Rather than capitalism itself though, bin Laden retains the majority of his fire for corporations, who he describes as the "real tyrannical terrorists". While you can't help thinking that he might not survive telling that to the faces of the families of the thousands murdered by jihadis in Iraq in "martyrdom operations", bin Laden and his mostly autonomous organisation have actually themselves drew on one of the most successful, but also tyrannical business innovations of the 20th century. To quote Tyler in Fight Club, after hearing the narrator explain how he never really knew his father because he'd left and only knew him by the fact that he traveled around a lot, leaving behind women who subsequently had children in different cities, "the fucker's setting up franchises."

Which is exactly the method that al-Qaida is using to further scare the citizens of the West, who go into spasms of terror on hearing of the latest bombing claimed in their name wherever in the world.

The first, inevitable franchise that al-Qaida has managed to set-up is in Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, originally in Iraq prior to the invasion with the Kurdish-based Ansar al-Islam group, first split from them (Ansar al-Islam was eventually to become Ansar al-Sunnah) and set-up his own terrorist group, which went through various names, eventually settling on Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, or the Group of Monotheism and the Holy Struggle. Quickly becoming both notorious for its brutality, such as the suicide bombing on the UN's headquarters and the beheading of various Western hostages on video, subsequently distributed on the internet, al-Zarqawi, having formerly been believed to have been a potential rival to bin Laden, apparently swore allegiance to him, and his group subsequently became known as al-Qaida in Iraq, or the Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers. While the name has not stayed the same, with al-Qaida subsequently becoming a "coalition", first in the Mujahideen Shura Council and currently within the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, the die was cast. That the original group was never Iraqi-based, and still now relies heavily on foreign jihadists, has made little difference to those sympathetic towards the Salafist militant ideology, with the group being by far the most popular
terrorist/insurgent/resistance group in Iraq among the online jihadist community.

Apparently seeing a good thing going on, partly because it suits both the United States, the Iraqi government and al-Qaida itself to blame/claim almost all the insurgent attacks on/for bin Laden's original organisation, it's recently been an idea that has been expanded. Back in May, the previously unheard of al-Qaida in al-Sham (the Levant region, containing Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) released a video of a man wearing a suicide vest and a khaffiya, who delivered a typically bloodcurdling speech of threats against the region's Christians:

“we will tear out your hearts with traps and surround your places with explosive canisters, and target all your businesses, beginning with tourism and ending with other rotten industries... We warn you for the last time, and after it there will only be rivers of blood.”

That would be quite something, coming from a group that previously hadn't existed, and which probably actually really doesn't exist as of yet, except for propaganda purposes. While Fatah al-Islam, recently defeated after the Lebanese army almost completely destroyed Nahr al-Bared refugee camp was an apparent believer in the takfirist ideology, there's little to suggest that there are really any existing groups that AQiAS will be built around, at least as of yet.

The situation is entirely different in Algeria however. While most of the fighters who took part in the civil war have put down their weapons, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has continued the fight to the present day. A group cut down to its very base, estimated to have around 300 active members back in 2003, it serves both their and al-Qaida's purpose, sharing an ideology and an enemy, to harmonise their wars. Following contact with al-Zahawiri last year, the group formally swore allegiance to bin Laden back in January, and since then has carried out its most deadly attacks in years, all with al-Qaida's name attached to them. While it's true that this has likely increased both the numbers of potential recruits and funding, it's giving al-Qaida far too much credit, and the media, including the Guardian, which does at least mention the group's past in its report, really ought to know better than just give bin Laden's group the "honours".

Just like corporations and their franchises inspire boycotts and opposition though, the same is true of bin Laden's. Up until early 2006 the insurgency in Iraq, despite being both takfirist and nationalist in nature and with many disparate groupings, was mostly united against a common enemy: the Americans and what they considered as the illegitimate Iraqi government and its police and army. Since then, the continued murderous nature of al-Qaida in Iraq's attacks on civilians and its ridiculously harsh interpretation of Sharia law in the places where it had control, often with tribal backing, has finally led to the long predicted backlash, both from the tribal groups themselves, with the setting up of savior councils both in Anbar and in Diyala province, and also from its once erstwhile allies, especially from the Islamic Army in Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, both of which have now set up their own "umbrella" groupings with other insurgent groups, opposed to the "Islamic State". The 1920RB itself split in half after its leader was killed by al-Qaida; one section, calling itself "Hamas in Iraq" has aligned completely with the American forces in an attempt to drive them out.

If al-Qaida is to become a truly global phenomenon, there are going to have to be a lot more setting up of these franchises. The thing is, while al-Qaida is by no means universal, the ideology behind it most certainly is. At the moment, there's no real need for the formal formation of al-Qaida in Europe or al-Qaida in North America; individuals, not necessarily connected to "the base", as established by both by the attacks in Madrid and Kamel Bourgass, neither of whom have ever been proved to have a link to al-Qaida, have acted under their own steam or with the help of other sympathetic groupings. That, and of course the fact that whenever anything so much as pops the media are screaming "AL-QAIDA" means for the moment that bin Laden has no need to bring the base of jihad to either these or American shores.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007 

Bin Laden fetishism.

Out of all the well-known figures to make reference to your work, one of them you perhaps wouldn't choose to do so would have to be Osama bin Laden. In a previous video he made reference to Robert Fisk, who he said he regarded as impartial, having previously been interviewed by him. This time round he mentions Noam Chomsky, who perhaps won't see the same boost in sales as when Hugo Chavez praised his work, and Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent and ex-head of the search for bin Laden himself, author of a couple of excellent books on how the current approach to the so-called "war on terror" is failing.

Then again, if there was any sense or justice it wouldn't make any difference. Bin Laden is a complete irrelevance, and has been since the failure to capture him in late 2001 in Afghanistan. His latest lecture to America (PDF), focusing on the evils of capitalism, and urging the world to convert to Islam, isn't exactly going to change minds. The only real significance of the video is that despite all the rumours, he is most certainly still alive (if he was dead he'd have been instantly hailed as a martyr by a group not afraid to admit when its "heroes" are killed), and in tune as always with world politics and international developments, despite supposedly being a fugitive with a massive bounty on his head. Embarrassing as this is to the Bush administration, it makes very little difference either to the international jihadist movement, or indeed to almost anything else.

Bin Laden's only real remaining purpose is as the figurehead and inspiration of that movement. While Ayman al-Zawahiri, the spiritual leader of al-Qaida and also most probably the real leader due to bin Laden's evident failure to get any new messages or video released since January 2006 up until now has released half a dozen videos this year, he lacks the charisma and romance associated with the Saudi-born 50-year-old. While Zawahiri is respected, his moniker of the Doctor says it all: his coldness, rather than his theological background makes him a far lesser potential leader of men.

In any case, the very fact that bin Laden has failed to release a steady stream of messages has meant that his own star has somewhat faded. While most jihadists are focused on the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere, his distance from that conflict, and indeed, the failure to address it, kept up in this newest message by only stating that the war will continue, has done little to engage those less interested in bombastic propaganda against America and more fascinated by what he has to say to them. In fact, the failure of al-Qaida in Iraq to gain mass support in that country is surely the biggest signifier of his own inability to influence things there. Yesterday saw the establishment of another coalition of jihadist/resistance Sunni groups, the "Front for Jihad and Change", the most notable groups within the front being the 1920 Revolution Brigades and Jaish al-Rashideen. The "Islamic State of Iraq", while responsible for the vast majority of suicide bombings and for some of the most spectacular attacks, relies heavily on foreign fighters, especially as the "martyrs" themselves. It's also now highly rumoured that the supposed Iraqi "emir" of the group, Omar al-Baghdadi, is one and the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the successor to al-Zarqawi as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, an Egyptian protege of al-Zahawiri, undermining the supposed Iraqi base to the group. With three different coalitions of resistance groups now operating, two of them increasingly opposed to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State", the possibility of an Algerian style conflict between them looms ever larger.

Bin Laden's bloody legacy was assured as soon as that first plane hit the twin towers on the 11th of September. His awakening and spreading of the message of extremist, militant Salafist Islam has probably succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, but even so, it has not the slightest hope of ever achieving its self-proclaimed goals, liberating Jerusalem and eventually establishing a caliphate. If he was to die tomorrow, it would make no difference whatsoever either to the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or to the possibility of further attacks here or in America. He's served whatever purpose he had; it's now time to stop treating him as if he has any control whatsoever over anything.

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