The results of the U.S. interim elections last Tuesday resonated with the mujahideen and their supporters online. Discussion centered around a theme of victory for the Iraqi mujahideen and an inevitable U.S. military defeat in Iraq, demonstrated by the Republicans’ resounding loss.
The election results and the subsequent resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were addressed in an audiotape from al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The tape was released on the site of “Dawlat al-‘Iraq al-Islamiyya” (The Islamic State of Iraq) at http://islamiciraq.modawanati.com, among other sites, on November 10. In it, al-Muhajir praised the American public for recognizing its president’s failure in Iraq. He said, “The American people have put their feet on the right path by…realizing their president’s betrayal in supporting Israel…So they voted for something reasonable in the last elections.” Al-Muhajir also claimed that his group’s fighters had now reached 12,000 strong in Iraq, a sign of their growing influence in the insurgency. While the numbers cannot be verified, the message was clearly one of victory and growing strength for al-Qaeda juxtaposed with the United States in retreat.
The tape was issued under the Ministry of Information of the Islamic State of Iraq, which was first called for under the auspices of the Mujahideen Shura Council on October 15, which is itself dominated by al-Qaeda. Al-Muhajir argued for all the Muslim forces fighting under him to pledge allegiance to Amir al-Mu’minin Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the new Islamic State of Iraq. The title Amir al-Mu’minin, Commander of the Faithful, is of great importance in the militant Salafi vision of the Islamic state—it is reserved for the caliph of the Islamic state. It was also the former title of Taliban leader Mullah Omar when he ruled Afghanistan.
Two immediate points of analysis rise out of this message: al-Qaeda in Iraq sees itself as an even stronger force after the death of its previous leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and it is actively working toward the establishment of a structure in Iraq to replace the safe haven that the group lost in Afghanistan.
The fact that al-Muhajir taunted the United States to stay in Iraq—calling Bush the “stupidest” president in U.S. history and prodding him to stay the course in Iraq as “we haven’t had enough of your blood yet”—suggests that al-Qaeda is waiting to capitalize on the U.S. withdrawal for propaganda and recruitment efforts. In the tape, al-Muhajir also called for Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army of Iraq and other militant groups to come under the newly declared caliphate, as well as other Muslims and Muslim governments who have opposed them in the past.
Discussion on the jihadi forums also picked up on the mood of victory for the mujahideen and their success in affecting the U.S. elections toward a pullout of U.S. forces in Iraq. The results of the elections and Rumsfeld’s ouster were seen more in terms of the Republican defeat—and a public failure of their policies in Iraq and on the war on terrorism—than in terms of the Democrats’ victory. Forums like tajdeed.co.uk and alfirdaws.org posted various analyses of last week’s events framing them as the mujahideen’s victory over Bush and his party in Iraq, carried out by the American people themselves.
One posting on alfirdaws.org read, “Rumsfeld resigns…this is the first sign of victory [for the mujahideen].” Another on tajdeed.co.uk read, “Praise God, the head of the infidel war has fallen. To the dustbin of history, Rumsfeld; and witness history—the mujahid soldiers of God are the ones who caused your fall and that of your criminal endeavors.” The exuberant responses were followed by an analysis of events and the Iraqi resistance’s strength and perseverance in bringing them about, saying that the Iraqi resistance had forced the resignation—and public admission of failure—of the “head of the largest military in the world.”
Another posting containing links to “News Analysis” by Sawt al-Khilafa (Voice of the Caliphate), under the Global Islamic Media Front—an organization that has long represented al-Qaeda and the mujahideen—provided further details on the establishment of the new state structure in Iraq (see http://cvc-online.blogspot.com). Beneath it, respondents posted flags taken from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the text of the “Islamic State of Iraq” above them.
Numerous analysts have stated that al-Qaeda is at war with the United States over its policies, not its values. Now that the American public has spoken against Bush’s “crusader” policies—and al-Qaeda in Iraq’s latest message has clearly framed the struggle as against the Bush administration rather than against Americans or the United States—it remains to be seen how al-Qaeda’s senior leadership will respond. It is clear, however, that al-Qaeda is the leading force in the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq. As such, it may well be the case that al-Qaeda would shift its focus from attacks against Americans in the event that a new administration changes the current “war on terrorism” policy—but at the cost of governing an Islamic Iraqi state in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal.