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Getting Orwellian: Al Qaeda in Iraq

(Quick heads up: We've updated the posts "Our Thoughts Go Out To New York Times Journalists" and "Michael C's WaPo Op-ed". Check them out.)

On Wednesday, I went over two words behaving badly, “military intelligence” and “interrogation”. Because of their political connotations, these words tend to get misused by journalists, pundits, politicians and bloggers. Today, I am going to describe a group almost as over-hyped as the Miami Heat: Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Here are three examples of the dreaded Al Qaeda in Iraq popping up news coverage:

- BBC, ”Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman, also known as Noman Salman, was a leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a branch of al-Qaeda.”

- ABC, “An Interior Ministry spokesman says the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been killed in an internal fight between insurgents north of Baghdad.”

- L.A. Times, a link to the original Michael Behenna story with references to Al Qaeda.

I imagine a silent critic saying, “Three examples doesn’t seem that bad”. Well, go to the Al Qaeda in Iraq wikipedia page. They have dozens of articles referencing Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some understand the group (most notably the reporters at the L.A. Times); others treat them like Al Qaeda-lite (most notoriously Fox News).

When someone sees Al Qaeda, they think of the World Trade Center. This often gets combined with terrorist to make the dreaded “Al Qaeda terrorist”. Calling someone an “Al Qaeda terrorist” sounds like someone with the wherewithal and inclination to attack Americans on our soil.

And that completely misses the mark with Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after the American invasion, the goal of Al Qaeda in Iraq was, initially, to form an Islamic state based on the tenants of Al Qaeda. They saw killing U.S. soldiers as a means to this end. To be clear, they had little intention of ever venturing to American soil as the vast majority of the group consisted of local fighters supported by local groups.

After the surge, Al Qaeda in Iraq mostly gave up the Al Qaeda moniker because of the horrible press. Sunni nationalist fighters didn’t want to be lumped in with foreign fighters who killed Iraqi civilians. They changed their name to the “Islamic State of Iraq” that more accurately described their goals and their scope. Iraqis in the know don’t even call them Al Qaeda anymore, unless they are talking to Americans not in the know, and they want to make a quick buck.

The worst part about Al Qaeda in Iraq? They exist because Americans wanted them to exist. As soon as we invaded, some Al Qaeda-types showed up to kill American soldiers and protect Baghdad, the historic home of the Islamic Caliphate. When commanders learned they could kill “Al Qaeda”, the people responsible for 9/11, they focused all their efforts on AQI. This gave them incredible street cred or wasta. As a result, the group grew in size and influence. Our informants knew they got paid more to report on AQI, so they gave their handlers what they wanted. AQI became a self-fulfilling prophecy while Shia groups completely destabilized the country and caused the civil war of 2006-08.

Check out this Country Report on Terrorism released by the State Department in 2007. It describes the center of Islamic terrorism as Iraq, mentioning Al Qaeda in Iraq specifically. This ignores the reality on the ground, a full-fledged civil war. It also ignores the fact that Shia insurgent groups caused as much if not more U.S. troop, Iraqi Army and civilian deaths than Sunni groups.

When reporting or writing on Iraq and Afghanistan, we should keep in mind the differences between inter-state terrorist groups (like Al Qaeda proper, what most Americans think of when they hear “Al Qaeda”) and insurgent groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Jaysh al Mahdi, Al Shabaab, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Tamil Tigers and whatever the Libyan rebels come to call themselves.

25 comments

Unserious comment – Wasta is my new favorite word.

Serious comment – Just a classic case of misunderstanding the culture we are at war with. I wonder how many Americans understand Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Scary.


What, exactly, are “the tenants of Al Qaeda” based upon?


Is that a trick question Harrison, or do you know the answer?

Because if I had to get technical, I’d say the writing and speeches of Sayyid Qutb, and the whole Islamist movement in 1980’s Saudi Arabia.


I know the answer but perhaps you don’t? I’ll give you a hint: it has two vowels in it and is spelled with either 5 or 6 letters.

Qutb is a good answer but on what did he base his ideas?

And I only bring this up because the “al Qaeda doctrine” would be contained in their training manual which clearly states that the first priority is “spiritual preparation … because it is necessary to attain victory.”

It’s okay to say it… Allah won’t strike you down.

It’s important to know that chocolate milk does not come from chocolate cows.


Yeah okay Harrison I get your point. Al Qaeda is based on…the Koran/Quran. Got it. So whilst we are throwing out babies with bath water, what terrorist attacked Atlanta in 1996? That would be an Islamic radical named…Eric Robert Rudolph. A fundamentalist Christian. Boom Christianity promotes radicalism just like Islam.

Wait I’m not finished. White slave owners were Christians, so that’s out. Hitler was inspired by Darwin, and Nietzche, read those and you are a radical.

Every religion has its whack jobs. Islam—excluding insurgencies—has about two hundred Al Qaeda people hiding in caves, and a few thousand in Yemen, who are still mostly insurgents. So a couple hundred out of like a billion and half people.

Stereotyping an entire religion gets this debate no where. That is why the Eric Roberts Rudolph example is so ridiculous and why the all Muslims are terrorists is so ridiculous. Extremist Islamic ideology is a problem, but the extreme part not the Islamic part.


Michael, Rudolph is a Fundamentalist Christian and his religious beliefs are what he used for justification for his murderous activities. In any statistical analysis there will be patterns and anomalies. The U.S. Department of Justice’s report says that:

“[m]ore than 80 percent of all convictions tied to international terrorist groups and homegrown terrorism since 9/11 involve defendants driven by a radical Islamist agenda.”

That quote was drawn from an analysis of all pending terrorism cases by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

In other words, that’s 186 of the 228 cases. Not insignificant.

Are all terrorists Muslims? No. My objection was not that you did not say “all Muslims are terrorists” which is not something I believe but more that I thought you subtly shaded the truth by referring to an “al Qaeda doctrine” when, in fact, it is an Islamist Doctrine and al Qaeda is but the most widely known subscriber of this doctrine.

One of the biggest handicaps, I think, this country faces is a Politically Correct view of Islamic terrorism. This mentality helped Major Hasan to fly under the radar.

We saw this with the Underwear Bomber, the shooting in Frankfurt, the gunning down of a U.S. soldier in Arkansas, and in the attempted bombing of Times Square.

Our own attorney general would not admit that “Radical Islam” causes terrorist actions by Muslims despite the numerous times “Allahu Akbar” has been screamed before gunning down Americans.

Again, it’s important to acknowledge that chocolate milk doesn’t come from chocolate cows. Currently, our government is looking for chocolate cows.

They won’t find any.

If “Islam” were replaced in my response by any other religion I would feel exactly the same way because that’s the conclusion the facts dictate.


@ Harrison – the answer you’re looking for is the Koran. AQ looks to the Koran to justify their actions in much the same way Christians looked to the Old Testament for decades to justify slavery in America. I could cite Deuteronomy which detail the rules and justifications for warfare if I were a Christian terrorist. It’s easy to twist dogma into something insipid. Look at the church group who protested the funerals of American soldiers.


I hate political correction. And by that I mean the people who decry political correction. What is political correction? It is a vague term intended to say, “I want to stereotype people and you won’t let me.” Political Correction doesn’t exist; racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bias and countless other legitimate prejudices exist. Political Correction doesn’t.

And your facts are wrong, something you haven’t admitted on any of our posts. The vast majority of Americans “gunning down” other Americans are Christians. Terrorism is extremely rare in America, you bring up the examples of Nadal Hasan and the Underwear bomber and 9/11. 16,000 Americans were murdered last year. Several HUNDRED thousand died by cancer, heart disease and others. And cancer strikes people of all ages. Address our issues: terrorism is exceedingly rare and we overreact. Once we admit that terrorism is rare, then acknowledging “Islamist Doctrine” whose writings you don’t cite, is unneccessary.


So calling “terrorism” “man created disasters” helps us understand the subject? Changing the term “War on Terror” to “Overseas Contingency Operations” allows people to grasp what that means? Calling a “janitor” a “sanitation engineer” allows us to understand their job functions? You might want to look up the Moynihan Report which, because of political correctness, was stifled for 40+ years even though time has showed this was a mistake and great harm was done because the subject was essentially blacklisted (no pun intended). This is but one example.

When someone wants to end a discussion of a certain topic they become Politically Correct and scream “racist” or “sexist” or some such other term. The other person is supposed to feel shamed and thus cower and walk away. Democrats tried this by calling people who used the term “Obamacare” as being racist.

And Political Correctness only works for the Left. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in 2001:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

The reaction? Nothing. Imagine had Chief Justice John Roberts said a similar thing but about a white male. The reaction? Bombs would go off, he would be branded a racist and thrown off the bench.

Gimme a break.

My facts are actually not wrong unfortunately I think your interpretation of them is askew. Out of the 16,000 Americans who were murdered last year, how many of them were killed in the name of god? Very few, I think. I would think that if there were a spate of murders happening where “God is great” was screamed prior to the violence it would be helpful to understand why.

You did write an earlier post, which I read, about the statistical insignificance of terrorism. It was very interesting however, respectfully, I believe that is a different topic from the one at hand is it not?

I can cite all of the “Islamist Doctrine” you’d like but a relevant piece is one of Osama bin Laden’s three fatwas against the United States:

My Muslim Brothers of The World:
Your brothers in Palestine and in the land of the two Holy Places are calling upon your help and asking you to take part in fighting against the enemy —your enemy and their enemy— the Americans and the Israelis. they are asking you to do whatever you can, with one own means and ability, to expel the enemy, humiliated and defeated, out of the sanctities of Islam. Exalted be to Allah said in His book: { and if they ask your support, because they are oppressed in their faith, then support them!} (Anfaal; 8:72)

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/in..

It is also important to understand that “al Qaeda” itself is “Islamist Doctrine” as in English it means “the cave” and the Prophet Mohammad went into a cave on Mount Hira for 6 months to meditate where, it is written, he received the first of many revelations from God. To a Muslim, “the cave” has a deeply religious significance and Obama bin Laden, who like his Prophet, retreated to a cave, is thus theologically significant.

The upcoming elections in Egypt will prove that society is very theologically engaged and wants their government to be a reflection of that which includes their support for stoning adulterers and cutting the hands off of thieves and all the other stuff which goes along with that.

As I’ve said all along, there are no chocolate cows and we need to acknowledge when something is what it is and not try and call it something else otherwise we will never be able to understand it.


I get the feeling Harrison just doesn’t agree with anyone to the left of his opinion, thinking them to be liberal, saying that word with such distain. He thinks the left is trying to steal his America and the left is winning without realizing that the left is just as American as he is.


How about the protesters who protest dead American soldiers funerals? There are about two hundred of them, and they clearly are doing it because of the bible.

I couldn’t think of a worst group, and they are religiously motivated. And if I were going to write about them, I wouldn’t say they had christian values, cause clearly they don’t. And clearly terrorists don’t represent Islamic values.


The Bible is open to interpretation while the Koran is not. This is a key difference most do not understand.

If there are two contradictory verses in the Koran (love thy neighbor or kill the Infidel for example) you are instructed to ignore the earlier verse:

‘None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou that God has power over all things?’ (2: 106).

Thus for the Bible you can have the fire and brimstone Old Testament next to the New Testament without theological issues. The Koran does allow Muslims to quote the older, more peaceful verses in order to deceive, however. In Islam this is known as “Taqiyya” and is to be used in order to lull your enemy into complacency.

I would not say the Jonesboro Westboro Baptist Church members are bad Christians or even perverting Christianity, it is simply their interpretation of a contradictory book. Even the Pope condemns homosexuality. I disagree with them but that’s their business.

The Koran is a different matter and thus you must follow it to the letter (ignoring earlier, contradictory verses). If you don’t believe me, study the text… it’s all in there.

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright explains much.


I feel like Galileo would disagree about the bible allowing different view points.

Also, Taqiyya means an Islamic person can deny their faith if they are in mortal danger. The modern conservative interpretation is wrong.


If by a “modern conservative interpretation” you mean going back 1,400 years then you’re right.

It is well established in the Koran that to lie to one’s enemy is part of the way to win.

For a complete understanding you may read this:

http://www.meforum.org/2538/taqiyya-isla..

As there is quite a lot here is an idea:

A more compelling expression of the legitimacy of deceiving infidels is the following anecdote. A poet, Ka’b ibn Ashraf, offended Muhammad, prompting the latter to exclaim, “Who will kill this man who has hurt God and his prophet?” A young Muslim named Muhammad ibn Maslama volunteered on condition that in order to get close enough to Ka’b to assassinate him, he be allowed to lie to the poet. Muhammad agreed. Ibn Maslama traveled to Ka’b and began to denigrate Islam and Muhammad. He carried on in this way till his disaffection became so convincing that Ka’b took him into his confidence. Soon thereafter, Ibn Maslama appeared with another Muslim and, while Ka’b‘s guard was down, killed him.


I’d rather go with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taqiyya The wikipedia version sounds harmless. I guess Islam isn’t an evil religion.


I never said Islam was an evil religion, did I?


You imply that Islam motivates its individuals to terrorism. There are terrorists who is Islamic, but there are also Christian terrorists and atheist terrorists and anarchist terrorists.

I don’t buy the Islam must be adhered to the letter of the law, because many Christians would argue the same thing, and many Muslims would argue against a rigid interpretation of the Koran.

But if you really want to believe in the Islamic boogieman, go ahead (he’s in line with NPR too!).


I tried this earlier and fell foul of your one link rule:(

Anyway, on topic.

There has been a small amount of conversation about the veracity of AQI reporting. Talking of which, anyone out there seen an actual interview with any of their leaders?

Here’s one of the links I put in the earlier post:
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/feature..

It’s interesting to note that the American military did not figure particularly high on AQI’s list of legitimate targets – their announced preference was Iraqi security forces and civilians.

When the ISI – the umbrella group of which AQI is a sub-unit – declared itself in 2006 (just after the Dems took congress….) even the hardline Ansar al-Sunna condemned condemned both their murderous practices and their grab for power.

Also worth noting is that after being promoted to “leader of the insurgency” by Washington (see WaPo’s Tom Ricks piece on the PsyOps campaign) Musab al Zarqawi began to attract more donations, resources and power.


@ Steve – I have your DVD at the top of my Netflix queue, I hope to review it soon.


Cool. I look forward to it.

BLATANT self promotion alert!!!!

For any readers in the Boston area, we’re doing a screening at BU next Tuesday (29th) from 6 to 9pm.

Boston University
Photonics Building, Room 206
8 St. Mary’s Street.

Entry is free and the event is being organized by an anti-war group – just so you know:)

Molly and I will be doing a Q&A.


If you do a screening in So Cal, give me a heads up.


Certainly will.

When we did the theatrical tour our very worst turnouts were in LA. We’d become quite used to doing 90 minute Q&A’s in front of packed houses and there was our audience: four people:)

We drove north lookin’ for some love……


Thanks for the link about AQI, perfect. And you brought up some good points about that group’s history. That is why I hate calling that insurgent group “Al Qaeda”.


Hi Michael,

I hate calling them an insurgent group. They’re a separatist terrorist group with a view of the country’s future that wouldn’t pass muster in an Iraqi high school discussion.

Other pieces out there include one on SWJ by Malcolm Nance, that formulates a feasible Ba’ath conspiracy, an early article in the Telegraph (UK) calling Zarqawi more myth than man (sourced to an intel cell in Fallujah) and then there’s the WaPo piece by Tom Ricks about the PsyOps campaign.

The latter reports Gen Mark Kimmitt as regarding it as the best PsyOps campaign to date.

The fact that there are competing theories as to the existence and allegiances of this group (and ISI) is testament to the their opacity and a reality that few know who they are and which master they serve.

The most rational I’ve seen is that they’re actually part of a regional competition – primarily between the Saudis and the Iranians. Hopefully, we’ll learn more some day.


a group almost as over-hyped as the Miami Heat: Al Qaeda in Iraq

I just spit a mouthful of coffee onto the keyboard and screen of my laptop. Thanks a lot, pal!

The Bible is open to interpretation while the Koran is not. This is a key difference most do not understand.

I do not understand it because it is not true. There is in fact a well-established tradition of Qur’anic interpretation.