Al-Qaeda Completes its Organizational Mission in Iraq

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 3

This is the second of two articles assessing the content of Osama bin Laden’s December 29 statement.

Since 2003, al-Qaeda has had dual but independently achievable goals in Iraq—the two can be termed “Islamist” and “organizational”—and each is assessed in bin Laden’s December 29, 2007 statement [1]. Al-Qaeda’s Islamist goal in Iraq is to assist in the creation of an Islamic emirate, a goal that now appears quite distant, and perhaps infinitely beyond reach (see Terrorism Focus, January 8, 2007). Assuredly, however, al-Qaeda and its allies take solace from the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the growing chance that a Taliban-like emirate eventually can be re-established.

Al-Qaeda’s second goal in Iraq—its organizational goal—has been to secure safe havens that are contiguous to regions to which it previously has had little or no access; namely, the Levant, Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula. In that endeavor, it must now be judged to have succeeded. Whenever the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq ends, it seems unlikely that a stable central government capable of controlling the entire country will exist. Whether the various Iraqi provinces are left with substantial autonomy or a general Shiite-Sunni civil war commences, Iraq’s border regions will remain imperfectly controlled and al-Qaeda will maintain a presence there. In the event of a civil war, moreover, al-Qaeda’s possession of effective safe havens would be assured. In that scenario, Iraq’s greatly outnumbered Sunni tribes would need to secure aid and manpower from any source available and—even if reluctantly—would have to at least temporarily forget any grievances they hold against bin Laden’s organization.

In his December 29 statement, bin Laden displays confidence that al-Qaeda has built a durable base in Iraq from which it can spread its influence, organization and support for insurgent/terrorist operations to adjacent nations. This is especially true regarding the Levant states. Bin Laden speaks more frankly and ominously about Lebanon and Palestine now than he ever has in the past, explicitly stating that al-Qaeda can and will seek to champion the liberation of Palestine because Hezbollah and Hamas have failed.

Hezbollah

Revoking the support al-Qaeda gave the Lebanese Hezbollah and its Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah through Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement [2] during the summer 2006 war with Israel, bin Laden now accuses Hezbollah of turning its back on Palestine and doing the bidding of the United States and its agent rulers in the Arab world. “The [Muslim] people have openly witnessed this thing happening in Lebanon,” bin Laden said.

Following the resounding [2006] speeches about [Muslim] pride and dignity and about Palestine and its support, and following [Nasrallah’s] challenge that the entire world cannot impose its will on him, Resolution 1701 was accepted, which was adopted by the United Nations, a U.S. tool. The core of this resolution is the entry of Crusader armies into Lebanese territories. Are people unaware that these armies are the other face of the U.S.-Zionist alliance? Nonetheless, Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah is deceiving people. He welcomed these armies in public and promised to facilitate their mission even though he knows they were coming to protect the Jews and seal off the borders in the face of the honest mujahideen.

Bin Laden concludes that Nasrallah acted in this manner “to accommodate the wishes of the states that [were] backing him,” preferring to protect his own organization rather than make the necessary sacrifices in the struggle for Palestine’s freedom. Bin Laden describes Nasrallah’s actions as hypocrisy equal to those of the “traitors”—Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein—who signed “treaties that stipulate the closure of [their countries’] borders” in order to prevent the mujahideen from conducting “operations against the Jews.”

Hamas

As he did regarding Nasrallah, bin Laden accuses the leaders of Hamas of “cooperating indirectly [with] America’s agents in the region” and thereby becoming one of the “parties and groups that are affiliated with [religious] knowledge, [Islamic] call, and jihad to participate in this high treason [against the Islamic community].” Some Hamas leaders, bin Laden says, were successfully “tempted” by the “ruler of the land of the two holy mosques [Saudi Arabia],” and thereby damaged their organization and betrayed the Palestinian people.

The sane people [among Muslims] should learn a lesson from the fate of the Hamas Movement’s leadership. It relinquished its religion and did not achieve worldly gains when it obeyed the ruler of Riyadh and others by entering the national unity state and respecting the unjust international charters.

Bin Laden wonders if “the honest ones in Hamas will change course,” but suggests it may be too late for the organization as a whole in the wake of the recent multilateral conference held in Annapolis where, at the Saudis’ insistence, the Palestinians agreed to “sell Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the blood of the martyrs” to please Washington and Israel. His assertion that “honest ones” remain in Hamas, however, hints that al-Qaeda will be looking to recruit Hamas members dissatisfied with the current status quo in Palestine.

Enter al-Qaeda

After damning Hezbollah and Hamas, bin Laden unleashed a fierce attack on the “agent [Arab] rulers,” re-emphasizing that al-Qaeda and its allies are “seeking to topple them and to refer them to the Islamic judiciary.” In particular, bin Laden explained, the Levant’s Arab rulers must be destroyed so that “the path to the broadest front for the liberation of Palestine” can be constructed “through the lands under their control.” Then, speaking not only to Palestinians but to all Muslims, bin Laden declared in an unprecedented manner that al-Qaeda intends to directly assist the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel, and clearly implied that it has the military capability to do so.

I assure our kinfolk in Palestine in particular that we will expand our jihad, God willing, and we will not recognize the [Anglo-French] Sykes-Picot [Treaty] borders or the rulers appointed by the colonialists. By God, we have not forgotten you after the 9/11 events. Will anyone forget his own family? … We will not recognize a state for the Jews, not even on one inch of the land of Palestine, as did all the rulers of the Arabs when they adopted the initiative of the ruler of Riyadh years ago… Nor will we respect the international conventions recognizing the Zionist entity over the land of Palestine, as the Hamas leadership did, or as stated by some Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It will be a jihad for the liberation of all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, God willing, joining hands with the sincere mujahideen there from the cadres of Hamas and other factions, who denounced their leaders for deviating from righteousness.

Bin Laden concludes by prescribing the same kind of martial reciprocity against Israel and the Arab rulers that he called for when declaring war against the United States. “Blood calls for more blood and demolishing calls for further demolishing,” bin Laden said and then promised—in a historically evocative phrase for all Muslims—that al-Qaeda will fight alongside Palestinians to “restore Hittin to us” [3].

What Next?

Past tends to be prologue with bin Laden: if he says al-Qaeda will do something, the odds are it will be done. It seems prudent to assume, therefore, that al-Qaeda’s chief laid down a marker in his December statement indicating that, at long last, his core organization has, from safe havens in Iraq, built the ability to stage or support attacks in the Levant states and, through them, against Israel. To be sure, bin Laden does not promise major attacks are imminent; indeed, he stresses that the mujahideen “are now busy fighting [the United States] and its agents, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia.” That said, Israeli officials have claimed that al-Qaeda is now present in Gaza and Lebanese officials have declared that al-Qaeda is tied to the Lebanese Sunni militant group Fatah al-Islam. The media is suggesting that Fatah al-Islam is responsible for the January 15 bombing of a U.S. Embassy vehicle in northern Beirut [4]. If true, these claims mean that al-Qaeda is now using a trans-Iraq highway capable of securely moving and then basing fighters far to the west of the organization’s traditional base in South Asia.

Notes

1. Osama bin Laden, “The Way to Foil Plots,” al-Sahab Media Production Organization, December 29, 2007. All quotes from bin Laden in the text are from this statement unless otherwise noted. The video is accessible at: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8296133601473842530.

2. Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Zionist-Crusader Aggression on Gaza and Lebanon,” al-Sahab Media Production Organization, July 28, 2006.

3. Hittin is the site of Saladin’s final and decisive victory over the Crusader forces in 1187 during the Second Crusade.

4. AFP, December 31, 2007; Sada al-Balad, January 13; Daily Star [Beirut], January 17.