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Archive: December 2007
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The Future of Iraq, Terrorism and the Middle East Seem To Be More Fractured
12/28/2007 1:03 PM ET
Screen Shot of Zawahiri From Video Press Release
Getty Images
Screen Shot of Zawahiri From Video Press Release

by Derek Flood

On December 5th, the Jamestown Foundation hosted a major conference at the Capital Hilton in Washington entitled “The al-Qaeda Triangle: Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia”. The thrust of the conference was a frank and detailed discussion of al-Qaeda’s ideology, its aims both strategic and tactical and prospects for the group’s future and whether that future was seen as in decline or gaining momentum.

A range of experts from the United States and Europe as well as Iraq and Pakistan were brought together by Jamestown’s President Glen Howard to present their varying approaches to this necessarily nuanced subject matter. The primary focus of the event was al-Qaeda in the ultra violent present tense rather than past such events which tended to focus on its history and formation.

Much of the difference of opinion was centered on whether bin Laden’s organization was still driven by its ideological and theological roots or whether it had devolved into an amorphous, tactically driven movement in a leaderless, unjust war.

Marc Sageman presented the case that al-Qaeda had morphed into what he termed a “leaderless jihad” in the post-Iraq generation of militancy where its original organizational aspects had declined in importance. Iraq, Sageman said, has replaced the causes in the Balkans, the Caucasus and conflicts in South Asia as the unique symbol of the militant Islamic struggle. His focus was on the nuts and bolts elements of al-Qaeda’s operational methods and the recruitment of its foot soldiers in Europe and throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Jane’s Stephen Ulph approached the conflict from a top-down theological perspective citing the massive intellectual depth of the sources that al-Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere uses to justify its actions and intentions. Al-Qaeda is flourishing in the absence of any central Islamic authority such as the Abassid Caliphate in ancient Baghdad or the Ummayad one in Damascus. It seems that in Iraq, both theories are at work and are not mutually exclusive. Zarqawi is the preeminent example of both strains of thought by being described as both a “thug” and a crude, irredentist ideologue.

Most in attendance agreed on one pivotal point: the American and British invasion of Iraq has greatly metastasized the War on Terror and endangered regional governments friendly to U.S. interests and those at least somewhat cooperative of them.

Many of the panelists pointed to the 3/11 Madrid and 7/7 London attacks as the inklings of blowback to come for the European Union that has only Turkey standing in the way of itself and Iraq’s myriad failures. Jamestown’s Michael Scheurer pointed out that the American policy of late has been to destroy our “allies”. By hanging President Saddam Hussein, constantly humiliating President Bashar al-Assad and inadvertently escalating tension between Ankara and the Kurds near the point of no return, the United States has acted to greatly degrade the region’s most relatively stable state actors. Meanwhile, Scheuer stated that al-Qaeda’s positions have advanced greatly despite the tactical and ideological blunders of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While Zarqawi helped to greatly expand al-Qaeda as a franchise and demonstrated its ability to openly confront first world militaries, his legacy was greatly divisive in al-Qaeda’s vision of uniting disaffected Sunni populations throughout the Middle East and beyond. The coordinated suicide attacks alleged to Zarqawi and carried out by a group of Iraqi militants at a set of Amman hotels in the fall of 2005 is one of many examples. There is a palpable feeling amongst analysts and intelligence experts alike that there was a relief among al-Qaeda’s senior leadership along the Durand Line at Zarqawi’s inevitable violent demise in June of 2006.

The most notorious aspect of Zarqawi’s legacy is the fitna or intra-Islamic violence in which he vigorously advocated fomenting against both the indigenous Shia and the silent majority of moderate Sunnis. In his death, it does not seem that he is a widely admired martyr as it is often posited bin Laden would be if eventually killed, but rather the end of his personal reign of terror in Iraq helped to actually consolidate al-Qaeda’s “Grand Strategy”. Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted that bin Laden appeared regretful about events in Iraq and that al-Qaeda in Iraq had been so extreme in its measures as to alienate the indigenous Sunni tribes and push them into the arms if the Americans. Being that one of the primary aims of al-Qaeda was to drive the Americans and their allies out of the Middle East, many of Zarqawi’s al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad (later AQI) actions helped to further entrench the United States in the nihilistic maelstrom that is Iraq’s civil war.

In Norwegian researcher Reider Visser’s view of Iraq’s historic religious and ethnic relations, the “soft partition” plan proposed by Senator Joseph Biden and Council on Foreign Relations Emeritus President Leslie Gelb is actually antithetical to Iraq’s past and likely its future. While Iraq may never have been a cohesive nation-state on the Westphalian sense of the term, it did exist an aggregate geographical entity where populations with differing ethnic, linguistic and religious affiliations coexisted with a degree of respective peace. While Iraq does have a history of sectarian atrocities, reconciliation was still an achievable goal. Visser’s primary concern was that the actions of a minority in the insurgency led by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the corresponding counterinsurgency methods employed by the U.S. and its Iraqi clients may have helped to inextricably divide Iraq. The Biden-Gelb plan could help to accelerate the re-territorialization of al-Qaeda in western or central Iraq after the loss of its permanent Afghan camps and safe houses in the fall of 2001. While al-Qaeda may be a fluid movement that is rapidly adaptable and able to regroup and retrofit it stated aims, Iraq, indeed, may never be put back together again.

Full Report PDF
Appropriations Debate Continues as Report Advises DOD Where to Look for Money
By WINSLOW WHEELER 12/07/2007 3:07 PM ET
In a report just now beginning to circulate on Capitol Hill ("How Long Can the Defense Department Finance FY2008 Operations in Advance of Supplemental Appropriations," December 6, 2007), the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has endorsed the Defense Department's assertion that existing appropriations will enable any planned military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until February 2008, at least. CRS adds that other measures, some of them quite extraordinary, can be employed to provide funding even beyond that date.

By "cash flowing" appropriations Congress made available in the "baseline" Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which became law in November 2007, the Pentagon can switch funds intended for ongoing expenses for peacetime operations later in the fiscal year to pay for war expenses now. While Congress is yet to enact the Pentagon's war expenses requested by President Bush for the current fiscal year (a total of $189.3 billion) beyond just $16.8 billion it provided for "MRAP" vehicles, Congress also imposed no bar in the 2008 Department of Defense Appropriations Act to prevent various transfers and funding shifts to support war operations until February for the Army and March for the Marine Corps.

As CRS states, "The Defense Department has warned that money available to sustain Army and Marine Corps operations will run out in February or March, and CRS calculations are consistent with this projection." (See p. 11.)

War operations can be extended beyond February and March by exploiting other authority Congress has granted the Defense Department, such as the extraordinary "Feed and Forage Act," which permits DOD to obligate funds not appropriated to it, by using Operation and Maintenance funds intended for the Air Force and Navy for the Army and Marine Corps, or by slowing the rate of obligations thereby extending their availability. Each of these actions has various disadvantages, as explained by CRS, but they are nonetheless available.

The CRS report notes, and does not take issue with, the statement by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that he may have to notify as early as December up to 100,000 civilian Pentagon employees and another 100,000 contract personnel of possible layoffs in February, unless Congress acts on the war supplementals the president has requested.

The CRS report is important reading to understand how the Pentagon can legally support war operations that Congress has not appropriated funding for - a situation that has repeatedly occurred during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in previous conflicts).

The availability of war funding until February notwithstanding, the president and Secretary Gates have successfully applied significant political pressure on the Democrats in Congress to provide unencumbered funding to pursue the wars. It appears extremely likely that the Democratic leadership in Congress will comply with this pressure and provide the requested funding long before there is a real threat that any existing funding will run out.

Read the full CRS report here: dodfundingcrs.png
Winslow Wheeler is the director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information and author of Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages US Security.
Full Report PDF
Report: Categorizations of Iraqi Security Force Progress Unhelpful to Congress
12/03/2007 4:34 PM ET
Iraqi police commandos show off their skills during a ceremony to mark the end of a four-week training period 25 October 2007 in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq.
Qassen Zein/AFP/Getty
Iraqi police commandos show off their skills during a ceremony to mark the end of a four-week training period 25 October 2007 in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq.

"As a result of DOD’s lack of clarity, Congress and other decision makers may not obtain a clear picture" of the rate of progress Iraqi security forces are making towards independence, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

Regarding their own assessment of the ISF's progress towards independence, the GAO's conclusion comes as no surprise:

While the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, with Coalition assistance, made some progress since August 2006 in developing their respective logistics, command and control, and intelligence capabilities—for example, the MOD has formed most of its lower echelon logistics units and the MOI has established an intelligence organization—persistent violence and sectarianism, along with immature ministerial capacity, continue to impede this progress.

GOA warns that since these critical functions have yet to be fully developed, leaving Iraqi security largely reliant on American troops for support, Pentagon claims that Iraqi units are either “independent” or “fully independent” are "confusing and misleading."

"Although we are not discounting DOD reports that there are some ISF units that are more capable than others from an operational standpoint, we do not find sufficient evidence for an assessment of “independent” or “fully independent” for any ISF unit," GAO says.

"Moreover, without clarity regarding the criteria according to which ISF units are assessed as independent, especially with regard to their logistical, command and control, and intelligence capabilities, Congress cannot have clear visibility over DOD’s role in assisting the ISF in becoming independent of Coalition support."

GAO recommends DoD clarify its manner of readiness classifications for the ISF, and make the process it uses to arrive at the determination more transparent.

The Pentagon partially concurred with both recommendations, writing in a response from Brig. Gen. Robin Rand that DOD "will evaluate the assessment terminology to more clearly describe progress in capability development for the Iraqi forces."

Operation Iraqi Freedom: DOD Assessment of Iraqi Security Forces’ Units as Independent Not Clear Because ISF Support Capabilities Are Not Fully Developed d08143r.pdf

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