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January 26, 2006

West Bank

Palestinian Democracy and the New Iranian Annex

By Steve Schippert | January 26, 2006

The electoral victory handed to Hamas by the Palestinian voters will serve to isolate the Palestinian Territories from the West and its resources while likely transforming it into a de facto annex of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Without US and (potentially) European fiscal support, effectively amounting to cash donations, a rapid domestic collapse of a resource-anemic Hamas-run Palestinian Authority can only be averted (or forestalled) by an influx of funding from another source.

Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered no nuance in her direct, matter-of-fact response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian polls.

"As we have said, you cannot have one foot in politics and the other in terror. Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed."

Precisely. The US position on Hamas continues to be to correctly recognize them as a terrorist organization coupled with a standing commitment to cut of US fiscal support and aid to any PA government run by Hamas.

While Hamas was elected in a rejection of al-Fatah, they will be expected to provide solutions for domestic Palestinian problems including but not limited to unemployment and public sanitation. But it will be nearly impossible to successfully tackle such domestic problems with even fewer resources than Fatah had available as the US cuts off PA funding. Even EU leaders are now reconsidering their 350 million Euros in annual payments to the PA, and others are likely to follow.

The Palestinian people have rejected the corrupt Fatah, but were forced to vote into power an aggressive terrorist organization, and in so doing, leapt from the pan and into the fire. It is simply a matter of time before this realization becomes stridently evident to the Palestinian people.

Expect Hamas to keep a low public profile with regards to public support for terrorist attacks and increasingly muzzled vitriolic threats against Israel, while behind the scenes and under the table, fully supporting the same. The trick will be to sniff out the mechanisms of terrorist support that they will now try and keep concealed.

Hamas may ultimately be rejected as ineffective by the Palestinian people, but will it come to pass before Hamas has sparked open warfare with Israel, which, given Hamas’ new-found position of governance, would bring even more destruction to the Palestinian Territories in the form of an Israeli offensive with a ferocity as of yet unseen by the Palestinians?

As Austin Bay puts it,

Is Hamas prepared to fix the potholes (there are many) and pick up the garbage? Nope– Hamas is prepped to fight an insurgency, with friendly powers footing the bills. Fatah now becomes the opposition and is free to criticize.

The answer to that question came last week in Syria. It cannot be forgotten that the leader of Hamas was meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Damascus just last week in order to take part (along with Hezbollah, PFLP-GC, Assad's Syria and others) in the new terrorist version of the 'Coalition of the Willing'.

The Palestinian Authority under Hamas will find at least some of the lost resources from the US and the EU replaced by none other than the mullahcracy in Iran, still determined to fight Israel right down to the last Palestinian. But Iran cannot replace all of the lost resources with sacrificing much domestically themselves, and they already find themselves with sizable opposition. The mullahs know that every dollar Iran sends Hamas for internal consumption costs the mullahcracy a dollar's worth of internal stability with an already flagging economy and a restive populace only held at bay by the use of force. They are not likely to sacrifice greatly internally and hinge their futures purely on an adequately-funded PA that still faces the teeth of the IDF. They will, however, sacrifice just enough to keep the Hamas government afloat long enough to serve Iranian aims. Just how long that is remains the question of the moment.

If the PA had any economic resources of their own, after the Hamas victory they could have been considered a State Sponsor of Terrorism. However, lacking any such resources with which to 'sponsor' (other than human resources), the Hamas-run PA is now officially a State Client of Terrorism, and an active (and founding) member of Ahmadinejad's Coalition of the Willing.

Also to be considered is conflict internally, as the bubbling conflict between Fatah factions and Hamas, briefly center-stage after the handover of Gaza following the Israeli pullout, will only get hotter. Will Hamas try and co-opt and absorb the various Fatah factions? Will this be forcefully rejected? The more realistic question appears to be, will Hamas inspire the conflict internally to erupt into a full-blown civil war before they inspire an Israeli offensive? Without considering the will of Fatah, it is worth noting that Hamas will be greatly influenced by their principle financier’s wishes, and Iran surely prefers they look outward rather than inward.

The future of the state of the Palestinian Territories is now as much in the hands of the Iranians as it is in the hands of Hamas.

The Palestinian people had their say. They chose Hamas. Now, only the consequences await them.

Can Iran stave off a Palestinian civil war long enough to trigger a wider Israeli War?

Such is the state of the fate of the Palestinians, a fate freely and democratically chosen.

January 24, 2006


Full Text and Analysis of bin Laden's Audiotape

By Dan Darling | January 24, 2006

My message to you is about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way to end it.

I had not intended to speak to you about this issue, because, for us, this issue is already decided on: diamonds cut diamonds.

Praise be to God, our conditions are always improving and becoming better, while your conditions are to the contrary of this.

This message, like bin Laden's October 2004 video, is addressed to the American public, though its true audience is not the people of the United States but rather his supporters and fellow travelers within the Middle East and Islamic world. While some observers have suggested that this audio is somehow different from its predecessors due to a lack of Qur'anic invocations, the opening benediction is actually quite in keeping with bin Laden's style. Moreover, the absence of references to either the Qur'an or classical Arab or Islamic texts should be understood as keeping with the form of the message, namely that its intended recipients are the American rather than the Islamic world.

However, what prompted me to speak are the repeated fallacies of your President Bush in his comment on the outcome of the US opinion polls, which indicated that the overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of the forces from Iraq, but he objected to this desire and said that the withdrawal of troops would send a wrong message to the enemy.

There is no reference here to what specific opinion polls bin Laden is referring to here and public opinion on the issue of Iraq is a rather fluid subject, but based on other comments within the message we can assume that he is referring to polls from circa October-November 2005, or immediately following the events of Hurricane Katrina. Both the hurricane and the events that followed led to a great deal of political controversy within the United States and once the immediate disaster had ended President Bush initiated a whole series of campaign-style speeches in an effort to rally support for his policy decisions with regard to Iraq where he made a semblance of the argument that bin Laden is caricaturing here. This message should then be understood at least in part as an attempt to "rebut" Bush's campaign to win support for his policies in Iraq and to establish bin Laden as his opposite number if not equal on the opposing side. This is by no means a new tactic - numerous al-Qaeda leaders have directly challenged statements made by US officials in the past, Ayman al-Zawahiri has issued his own "rebuttals" to the American State of the Union address in the past, and bin Laden attempted to present himself in his October 2004 video as a kind of mirror image from what many viewers might expect to see from a head of state.

Bush said: It is better to fight them on their ground than they fighting us on our ground. In my response to these fallacies, I say: The war in Iraq is raging, and the operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favour, praise be to God.

While this presentation of Bush's position is rather caricatured (as it is in other parts of bin Laden's presentation), bin Laden is also presenting an interesting style of response to what is popularly known as the "flypaper theory" for the war in Iraq which, in its crudest form, argues that there is a finite number of jihadis in the world and that it is necessary for the United States to establish a location in the Middle East where they can be drawn in, prevented from attacking the US homeland, and ultimately defeated through application of superior firepower and technology. Most critiques of the flypaper theory generally argue that there is neither a finite number of jihadis and that if there are not all of them will go to a set location, but bin Laden is not adopting that position. Rather, he is arguing that the flypaper theory is incorrect because al-Qaeda, not the US, is winning or at least holding its own in Iraq and Afghanistan, a claim that should be understood as being similar to the argument that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased terrorism.

The Pentagon figures indicate the rise in the number of your dead and wounded, let alone the huge material losses, and let alone the collapse of the morale of the soldiers there and the increase in the suicide cases among them.

So, just imagine the state of psychological breakdown that afflicts the soldier while collecting the remnants of his comrades' dead bodies after they hit mines, which torn them. Following such situation, the soldier becomes between two fires. If he refuses to go out of his military barracks for patrols, he will face the penalties of the Vietnam butcher, and if he goes out, he will face the danger of mines.

So, he is between two bitter situations, something which puts him under psychological pressure - fear, humiliation, and coercion. Moreover, his people are careless about him. So, he has no choice but to commit suicide.

What you hear about him and his suicide is a strong message to you, which he wrote with his blood and soul while pain and bitterness eat him up so that you would save what you can save from this hell. However, the solution is in your hand if you care about them.

There are a lot of different themes that are touched on briefly here, so many in fact that it is nothing short of impossible that bin Laden is not actively familiarizing himself with the most extreme elements of US or at least Western anti-war discourse. While he certainly follows Pentagon figures in an effort to learn as much as possible about his enemy (materials recovered from Afghanistan certainly support the belief that al-Qaeda actively believed in open-source research, albeit sometimes from dubious sources), arguments such as the current psychological state of the US soldier, the current war on terrorism as being analogous to Vietnam, and that those who really support the troops should also support their withdrawal could only have been pirated from Western and quite possibly American sources. Particularly this can be seen in the comments over concern about the current state of American troops, which is widespread in the more extreme American anti-war circles but far rarer abroad, where US troops are regarded as some kind of monolithic stormtroopers in the service of an evil empire.

The news of our brother mujahideen, however, is different from what is published by the Pentagon. This news indicates that what is carried by the news media does not exceed what is actually taking place on the ground. What increases doubts on the information of the White House's administration is its targeting of the news media, which carry some facts about the real situation.

The exact identification of "news of our brother mujahideen" is difficult, since his references below would seem to suggest that he is referring to the British tabloids - a source rather far removed from jihadi outlets. Al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda supporter websites regularly carry extremely dubious propaganda claims, whether purporting to be from Afghanistan or Iraq, of hundreds upon hundreds of US troops being killed in daring raids or in some cases conventional skirmishes with al-Qaeda fighters. The reference to news being "published by the Pentagon" or the White House "targeting" the media may just be a general denunciation of the fact that these reports do not receive attention from mainstream media outlets or it may be a more subtle jab at the activities of the Lincoln Group in Iraq, a story that surfaced at around the same time as the tape is believed to have been recorded in late November or early December.

Documents have recently showed that the butcher of freedom in the world [US President Bush] had planned to bomb the head office of al-Jazeera Space Channel in the state of Qatar after he bombed its offices in Kabul and Baghdad, although despite its defects, it is [Al-Jazeera] one of your creations.

The documents in question first surfaced in the British tabloids on November 22, enabling us to place a cap on the earliest possible date in which this audiotape could have been recorded. The reference to al-Jazeera being a "creation" of the West may strike some readers as bizarre, but al-Jazeera is regarded as every bit as reprehensible by bin Laden as the US itself because of its close relationship with the Qatari government. "Defects" in this case refer to al-Jazeera's often-criticized editorial line towards the US, which from bin Laden's perspective is one of its features.

Jihad is continuing, praise be to God, despite all the repressive measures the US army and its agents take to the point where there is no significant difference between these crimes and those of Saddam.

Here again, we can see that bin Laden is adopting yet another anti-US cliche to bolster his argument, namely that Iraq today is no better than Iraq under Saddam Hussein because of incidents like the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib.

These crimes include the raping of women and taking them hostage instead of their husbands. There is no power but in God.

The torturing of men has reached the point of using chemical acids and electric drills in their joints. If they become desperate with them, they put the drill on their heads until death.

If you like, read the humanitarian reports on the atrocities and crimes in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Most of these descriptions, as I understand it, are distorted characterizations of items that have actually occurred in either official military reports or those filed by human rights groups like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, with the general thrust of bin Laden's statement suggesting the latter. This suggests that he is at least passingly familiar with the latter items, which are quite lengthy and indicate that he has spent at least some of his time since October 2004 reading them.

I say that despite all the barbaric methods, they have failed to ease resistance, and the number of mujahideen, praise be to God, is increasing.

This remark is somewhat similar to the argument put forth by Pape and others that foreign occupation and the inevitable abuses resulting from it is actually the source of terrorism. While bin Laden does not cite Pape and would angrily argue against his thesis, he does appear to accept the end-result of his ideas. There is also a desire to rhetorically establish a sense of inevitability to his victory in Iraq by arguing that the US will only create more enemies there the harder it fights.

In fact, reports indicate that the defeat and devastating failure of the ill-omened plan of the four - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz - and the announcement of this defeat and working it out, is only a matter of time, which is to some extent linked to the awareness of the American people of the magnitude of this tragedy.

This is not the first time that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have singled out specific US officials for blame - one recalls his November 2002 remarks in which argued that Rumsfeld was responsible for atrocities in the Vietnam War - but it does indicate that he continues to follow Beltway politics at least peripherally. His belief that the US will leave Iraq as soon as the American public comes to the conclusion that continuing to fight there is a lost cause is strikingly similar to the arguments invoked by many advocates of immediate withdrawl and once again establishes a sense of rhetorical inevitability for al-Qaeda's ultimate victory there.

The wise ones know that Bush has no plan to achieve his alleged victory in Iraq.

This comment mirrors some of the 2004 election rhetoric of Bush "not having a plan to win the peace" in Iraq and it should be understood that bin Laden is not quoting it because of his concerns over the proper execution of Phase 4 operations but rather because (as with a number of other topics) it is a convenient rhetorical hammer for him to attack the head of the US government with.

If you compare the small number of the dead when Bush made that false and stupid show-like announcement from an aircraft carrier on the end of the major operations, to many times as much as this number of the killed and injured, who fell in the minor operations, you will know the truth in what I am saying, and that Bush and his administration do not have neither the desire nor the will to withdraw from Iraq for their own dubious reasons.

As with criticism over not having a plan to achieve victory in Iraq, these comments concerning Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech mirrors the rhetoric of his political opponents and is part of a calculated effect by bin Laden, just as his invocation of a desire by President Clinton to deflect attention from the Monica Lewinisky scandal following the August 1998 US missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan mirrored those of Clinton's opponents. The comment that the administration has "neither the desire nor the will to withdraw from Iraq for their own dubious reasons" would seem to be an acknowledgement that the administration has painted itself into a rhetorical box with respect to Iraq and hence is unable to withdraw because of it, so bin Laden is calling on its detractors to do the grunt work for them.

To go back to where I started, I say that the results of the poll satisfy sane people and that Bush's objection to them is false. Reality testifies that the war against America and its allies has not remained confined to Iraq, as he claims.

This would seem to be a reference to polling data concerning Iraq following Hurricane Katrina. The reference to Bush's detractors as "sane" and being acquainted with reality also mirrors some of the post-2004 arguments by Democrats (pioneered by Eric Alterman?) that they existed in a "reality-based" community in contrast to the "faith-based" community in which Bush and his supporters subsisted. His argument that the war between al-Qaeda and the US has not been confined to Iraq is a clear argument against the "flypaper theory."

In fact, Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.

On the other hand, the mujahideen, praise be to God, have managed to breach all the security measures adopted by the unjust nations of the coalition time and again.

The evidence of this is the bombings you have seen in the capitals of the most important European countries of this aggressive coalition.

The argument that Iraq now serves as a magnet for terrorism in contrast to its Saddam-era state and that surviving members of al-Qaeda in Iraq or allied groups will one day return to their home countries to carry out terrorist attacks has been of major concern to both terrorism analysts and US government officials. That bin Laden is aware of and indeed confirming such sentiments indicate that he is either familiar with counterterrorism literature on the subject and/or is not nearly as isolated from the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda as many have argued - a claim that I would argue was always difficult to prove given that he is still in possession of courier network so loyal, secretive, and elaborate that he has been able to relay messages to al-Jazeera and back for over 4 years without compromising his own location.

The reference to bombings in European capital is a clear reference to both the 3/11 bombings in Madrid, Spain and the 7/7 bombings in the London, United Kingdom. While both attacks have been attributed to members or allies of al-Qaeda, it is important to note that bin Laden characterizes both as attacks on "this aggressive coalition" - i.e. those European nations that supported the US invasion of Iraq. This is not altogether surprising, as numerous al-Qaeda publications as well as the master strategy laid out by its military commander Saif al-Adel have made reference to the need to evict the US and its allies from Iraq as soon as possible. Such remarks are also likely intended to bolster arguments that it was participation in the war in Iraq that has brought Islamic terrorism to Europe.

As for the delay in carrying out similar operations in America, this was not due to failure to breach your security measures. Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.

Some regard these comments as little more than bluster given the widespread misreporting concerning this statement was that bin Laden was offering a truce. In fact, this is nothing more than a refutation of the claim that heightened US security since 9/11 has thwarted any further attacks as well as a statement of intent that such attacks will come. If bin Laden is indeed to be taken at face value that preparations for another major attack are underway, this would here again serve as further evidence that he continues to operate in some type of a command and control capacity.

Based on the above, we see that Bush's argument is false. However, the argument that he avoided, which is the substance of the results of opinion polls on withdrawing the troops, is that it is better not to fight the Muslims on their land and for them not to fight us on our land.

We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect.

We are a nation, for which God has disallowed treachery and lying.

In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.

There is no defect in this solution other than preventing the flow of hundreds of billions to the influential people and war merchants in America, who supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars.

These remarks were widely interpreted in the Western and international press as calling for a long-term truce between the US and al-Qaeda, but this is in fact a mischaracterization. Rather, what bin Laden is saying here is that if the US is willing to take the initiative and offer him a truce (perhaps parallel to full US withdrawl from Iraq and Afghanistan?) that he would be open to accepting it. It should be noted that the idea of a truce between the US and al-Qaeda does not represent a significant shift in policy from either bin Laden's stated objective or al-Qaeda's grand strategy, so long as one understands that is a truce rather than an armistice that is being discussed here. Bin Laden has been willing to offer truces before, most recently to Europe, and it should be understood that these offers serve three ends. The first is that in the unlikely event they are successful, bin Laden will have limited the number of enemies he has to fight in order to achieve his short-term objectives of establishing a caliphate in the Middle East. The second is that it enables him to argue, particularly to his fellow Islamists, that he has offered the West a way out of the carnage and therefore cannot be held accountable for any of the bloodshed that follows. Finally, it once again enables him to take up the mantle of a pseudo-head of state by demanding that standing governments negotiate with him and his representatives despite his status as a private citizen rather than a legitimate government. Most striking, he is claiming to speak on behalf of the entire Islamic world, a dignity traditionally associated with the office of caliph.

The allegations of war profiteering and the presumably veiled references to Halliburton once again indicate that bin Laden is familiar with political accusations towards the company and indeed he referenced Halliburton in his 2004 truce offer to the European governments as well as pseudo-Marxist claims of corporations secretly controlling the actual mechanics of American democracy in his October 2004 video statement.

Hence, we can understand the insistence of Bush and his gang to continue the war.

If you have a genuine will to achieve security and peace, we have already answered you.

If Bush declines but to continue lying and practicing injustice [against us], it is useful for you to read the book of "The Rogue State", the introduction of which reads: If I were a president, I would halt the operations against the United States.

First, I will extend my apologies to the widows, orphans, and the persons who were tortured. Afterwards, I will announce that the US interference in the world's countries has ended for ever.

Finally, I would like to tell you that the war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever as the wind blows in this direction with God's help.

If you win it, you should read the history. We are a nation that does not tolerate injustice and seek revenge forever.

Days and nights will not go by until we take revenge as we did on 11 September, God willing, and until your minds are exhausted and your lives become miserable and things turn [for the worse], which you detest.

Interestingly enough, the quotation here is not actually from William Blum's anti-US work Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower but is instead from Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire, another anti-US work by Blum. This indicates that bin Laden is not only familiar with Rogue State, which has been published in Arabic in Egypt and Lebanon, but that he may have Blum's works in their entirety, once again indicating that he has been doing a great deal of reading since his disappearance in December 2001.

The argument that bin Laden's jihad is one of reprisal rather than one of aggression is a common theme in al-Qaeda literature, particularly because it enables the organization to argue that any action, no matter how horrid, is justified as a reprisal against the US. One can easily find such themes as early as June 2002 in Suleiman Abu Ghaith's declaration that "We have the right to kill 4 million Americans - 2 million of them children - and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons, so as to afflict them with the fatal maladies that have afflicted the Muslims because of the [Americans'] chemical and biological weapons." Under such a rationale, any terrorist attack, no matter on what scale, is easy enough to justify.

As for us, we do not have anything to lose. The swimmer in the sea does not fear rain. You have occupied our land, defiled our honour, violated our dignity, shed our blood, ransacked our money, demolished our houses, rendered us homeless, and tampered with our security. We will treat you in the same way.

You tried to deny us the decent life, but you cannot deny us a decent death. Refraining from performing jihad, which is sanctioned by our religion, is an appalling sin. The best way of death for us is under the shadows of swords.

Do not be deluded by your power and modern weapons. Although they win some battles, they lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are better than them. What is important is the outcome.

We have been tolerant for 10 years in fighting the Soviet Union with our few weapons and we managed to drain their economy.

They became history, with God's help.

You should learn lessons from that. We will remain patient in fighting you, God willing, until the one whose time has come dies first. We will not escape the fight as long as we hold our weapons in our hands.

This argument sounds somewhat bizarre to most Westerners, so it is necessary that it be understood that he is referring both to his understanding of the current state of the Middle East as well as to a rather long view of history. Bin Laden, like any number of others including the renowned intellectual Bernard Lewis, seems to accept the argument that the current inhabitants of the Middle East are essentially still living within the confines of the failed civilization of the Ottoman Empire. Unlike Lewis, however, bin Laden attributes this and all other real or perceived failures of the region squarely at the feet of the United States and its allies, a view that anti-US tracts like Rogue State written by American authors do everything to reinforce that presupposition. Because bin Laden sees the Middle East as having nothing to live for, he has no problem whatsoever with giving them something to die for.

With respect to his argument for a long year of history, this is a rather common way of looking at the world in many societies that Americans would do well to acquaint them with. Simply put, many Arab nationalists and Islamists believe that they can defeat Israel because, as the argument goes, Israel has only been established for about 50 years while the Crusader states existed for more than a century. All that is lacking, according to this view, is a Saladin to unite the Middle East, which is one of the reasons why declaring oneself a new Saladin is a favored means of establishing legitimacy in that part of the world. Similarly, bin Laden is arguing here that just as the Afghans and their Arab allies were losing for the overwhelming majority against the USSR in Afghanistan, they ultimately prevailed against one superpower and hence can be expected to do so again. Here again, we can see him arguing that the triumph of al-Qaeda is a matter of inevitability and that the only question remaining is when, not if, it will occur.

I swear not to die but a free man even if I taste the bitterness of death. I fear to be humiliated or betrayed. Peace be upon those who follow guidance.

This is probably the clearest declaration from bin Laden himself that he has no intention whatsoever of being taken alive by the US and fits with rumors and reports that he has given his bodyguards instructions to kill him rather than allow him to be captured so that he will never have to know the humiliation of imprisonment or the knowledge that he might have been betrayed by one of his subordinates.


Much of this material does not represent a significant departure from bin Laden's previous statements and there can be little doubt that the tape was genuine and recorded between November and December 2005. Contrary to media reports, he did not offer a truce to the United States but instead argued that the US should offer a truce to him if we want to see a short-term end to the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. These statements, like his clear declaration of intent to attack the US homeland again, should be understood within the perspective of al-Qaeda's warning cycle and despite being directed at the American people were at least partially aimed at covering his bases to his Islamist supporters in addition to the usual bluster and threats. The view that this message should be regarded purely as an admission of weakness from bin Laden ignores the attacks that al-Qaeda was able to successfully perpetrate following the 2004 truce offer to Europe as well as the broader complexity of the statement.

Some have argued that the mere fact that bin Laden was able to get his message out is in of itself a victory. While this is arguably true in as far as his courier network remains intact, what is far more apparent is that this message was intended once again to catapult him to the forefront of the international media and to reestablish him as the public head of al-Qaeda and to project himself to the rest of the world as the spokesman and leader of Islam to the West. Thus, the message should be understood as building on earlier themes even while matter-of-factly stating his intentions to attack the US in future. Bin Laden is nothing if not an adept politician, so his effort to frame his statements in US political rhetoric sometimes obscures his resolute determination in attacking the United States in the future as well as his willingness to sacrifice the entire Middle East to achieve these objectives. Those who regard the failure to capture bin Laden to date as a sign of the war on terrorism's failure should instead recognize that it is precisely his survival that makes the prosecution of the war such a critical issue.

January 19, 2006


bin Laden's Message

By Marvin Hutchens | January 19, 2006

After his longest period of silence since the US declared the War on Terror following the September 11 attacks, Usama bin Laden has released an audiotape of his thoughts on the war. The audio has been broadcast by al-Jazeera television and US analysts are reported to believe that the voice is that of bin Laden. The tape refers to events as late as the November 22 claim that President Bush wanted to attack al-Jazeera , and while it doesn't offer a specific date, al-Jazeera reported it as being recorded in December (Dhu al-Qi'dah).

Before looking into the implications of the tape itself, if any, we might consider the circumstances that led to its release at this time. Foremost – the successful attack in Damadola, Pakistan which has reportedly resulted in the death of at least five members of al-Qaeda's upper echelon of thugs – Midhat Mursi al-Sayyid 'Umar, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, Abu Ubaydah al-Misri, Marwan al-Suri and Khalid Habib. Knowing that the US was aware of and not all that short of killing Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his supposed safe zone would have certainly played a role in the release of this tape. Additionally bin Laden, as we'll see in his message, is not isolated from reports on the progress of the War on Terror, from the internal barometer of the American public opinion on the war as reported in polls or by politicians aiming to influence public opinion. bin Laden must be aware of the success of Iraq's election in December and the failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq to establish local support among Iraq's people – even those who oppose the US led coalition. And bin Laden also would be aware of the impending replacement of US forces in Southern Afghanistan with NATO forces.

bin Laden's message is to address, in his words “the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way to end it.” By containing his commentary to the war as it is fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, bin Laden acknowledges, perhaps without knowing it, that al-Qaeda is not determining the fronts in the War on Terror. al-Qaeda has had successful strikes in other countries but the US and coalition allies have determined the primary fronts in the war, and al-Qaeda is forced to operate primarily in those environments.

bin Laden goes on to note that it wasn't his intention to speak about this issue.

"I had not intended to speak to you about this issue, because, for us, this issue is already decided: diamonds cut diamonds.

Praise be to God, our conditions are always improving, becoming better, while yours are the opposite."

bin Laden then explains that the “repeated fallacies of your President Bush” are behind his current message. It is unlikely that the president is the politician most likely behind bin Ladens's latest comments as many have supplied, at least in spirit, a message similar to bin Laden's view of American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. bin Laden believes that the American public is no longer supportive of the war in Iraq and therefore, after noting that the war in Iraq is “raging” and Afghanistan rising in the favor of bin Laden's allies, he offers a cessation of activities with us. A truce. Bin Laden claims that he'd be supportive of a truce with the US so that he, and his followers, can build Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, bin Laden's argument is as dubious as similar arguments offered here in the US and abroad. bin Laden is losing the war in Iraq, he's lost Afghanistan and while he is likely to attempt to regain prominence there, his options are increasingly limited. So a cease fire would serve him well. What value it would provide the American people is not apparent. Ah... bin Laden offers an answer to that – it would be in “preventing the flow of hundreds of billions to the influential people and war merchants in America, who supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars.” Now from bin Laden's perspective – trying to see why the American president and his supporters might not like his option or better yet, echoing the anti-war zealots in the public arena – that is the only flaw in the plan.

It is also worth pointing out that bin Laden notes that no attacks have occurred in the US since 9/11. His reason for this is that their planning continues - not our increased security measures. While he may like to believe our anti-terror activities have had no impact, that his planners deaths, redirection to efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and efforts to avoid capture aren't significant in the lack of a successful attack in the US for over four years – he isn't capable of providing an argument to support his view. But then who could?

What this message most strikingly does is shine the light on the real difficulties bin Laden and al-Qaeda face. Rather than an adamant message of his impending victory, or of our eventual doom, this message makes arguments based on a inflated belief that the American will to succeed in the War on Terror is waining while where it matters most the opposite is more true. bin Laden recognizes that a truce would improve al-Qaeda's ability to recruit in the increasingly less supportive Sunni population in Iraq. Afghanistan does present an opportunity for al-Qaeda – if – and only if, you believe that NATO forces set to replace US forces in Afghanistan are less capable and that the US will not increase activities in Afghanistan should the security situation worsen.

What bin Laden has done by releasing this message is to announce that he is alive, perhaps signal his supporters to carry on, and once again appeal to the president's detractors in hopes for a political victory where his forces are incapable of giving him one on the battlefield.

January 15, 2006


Zawahiri, and al-Qaeda's Future Plans

By Bill Roggio | January 15, 2006

The fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri is still unknown after an airstrike in the Pakistani town of Damadola, near the Afghan border in the province of Bajaur. An Al-Arabiya source close to al-Qaeda states Zawahiri is still alive, and Pakistani intelligence sources claim he escaped the attack. American intelligence officials are still eager to see the results of the DNA tests, and are unusually optimistic on the possibility Zawahiri was indeed killed in the strike. The fact that a team was able to gather remains indicates a certain level of sophistication and coordination in the strike, as Bajaur is a hostile and remote environment unfriendly to American forces and the central Pakistani government.

The Washington Post states the strike was “based on timely intelligence about Zawahiri's whereabouts early Friday. Zawahiri had been under surveillance by the CIA for two weeks.” And Pakistan is reported to have been intimately involved in the intelligence gathering and operation. The Daily Times reports “the attack was planned and executed by a combination of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers in Pakistan and Pakistani officials. 'This would not have happened unless they had pretty precise information that the right target was at that location.'”

Riots have broken out in Bajaur, and two Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) offices were attacked, and thirty riotors were detained. Pakistan's Information Minister condemned the attack and the U.S. ambassador has been summoned to explain the event. Based on Pakistan's permissiveness in the past to allows such strikes and its involvement in the Zawahiri attack, the summons is for domestic consumption only.

The strike against Zawahiri comes at a transitional stage of the war. There are reports al-Qaeda is reallocating resources from Iraq, which Zawahiri himself referred to as "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era." Their destination is reportedly Afghanistan, where the Coalition is currently conducting operations during the winter months, and the Taliban has yet again vowed to step up attacks. Other evidence points to al-Qaeda expanding operations in Lebanon, with the end target being Israel.

Based on the importance that Zawahiri himself placed on Iraq, the shift of operation focus is curious. Zawahiri has described Afghanistan, along with Chechnya, Kashmir, and Bosnia and other theaters as the "far-flung regions of the Islamic world", and considers these areas as secondary in al Qaeda's plans for the formation of the Islamist Caliphate. Yet there is the distinct possibility a drawdown is occurring in Iraq.

The failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq to gain real traction with the Iraqi people may very well be the reason for this shift. There have been numerous cases of red-on-red fighting between al-Qaeda and the insurgency. Mohammed at Iraq the Model provides even further anecdotal evidence:

Al-Qaeda is apparently being chased down and confronted by Iraqis in Anbar and Samarra according to a report from al-Sabah. Mohammed al-Ubaidi is a citizen of Anbar who took part in a battle against al-Qaeda fighters said that people were enraged by the attacks that kill civilians in Anbar and other provinces and therefore have decided to form squads from the residents to rid Anbar from the foreign terrorists. The reports mentions that several tribes’ sheikhs had a meeting in the home of a sheikh of the Dulaim tribe where they pledged to fight al-Qaeda and throw them out of the province. There are also news that some 120 al-Qaeda members have already fled outside Iraq after a series of battles between their cells and the residents of Ramadi and other towns and suburbs of Anbar. According to the same report, similar measures are being taken by the residents in Samarra and have succeeded in forcing foreign terrorists out of their city.

al-Qaeda's operations have been impacted by the successful offensive this summer and fall in northern and western Iraq. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines states "al-Qaeda is increasingly in disarray and we have pursued, captured and killed a large number of them." And al-Qaeda recruiting cells continue to be rolled up in Europe. The latest round of arrests in Spain netted a senior operational leader and twenty of his cell members. These efforts, over time, place a strain on al-Qaeda in Iraq's ability to keep up a steady operational pace.

In his letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Zawahiri outlined al-Qaeda's plan for waging jihad in the heart of the Middle East:

The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.

This coincides with Saif al-Adel's strategy doucment. The timeframe laid out by al-Adel is specific, with “definitive victory” set for the year 2020.

Zawahiri's first and second stages have not been accomplished: the Americans have not been ejected from Iraq, and an Islamic Caliphate has not been set up within Iraq's border. There is no rump Islamic state in Iraq. The closest al-Qaeda came was during the summer of 2005, when they declared the Islamic Republics of Qaim and Haditha, but these regions were contested no-man's lands at best. Anbar province has been denied to al-Qaeda.

The obvious question is: why has al-Qaeda jumped their strategy planning, and bypassed the most crucial elements: U.S. defeat in Iraq and the establishment of Islamic states in Iraq? Does al-Qaeda actually believe they accomplished these goals? Or do they recognize the Iraq enterprise has failed and are cutting their losses.

Zawahiri is the pragmatist and strategic commander of al-Qaeda. His letter to Zarqawi, and Zarqawi's letter to Osama bin Laden provide a window into the way they view the state of current battles. You can see the need for urgency in their actions. If al-Qaeda withdrawal from Iraq is really in the works, Zawahiri's recent statements declaring U.S. defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely cover for withdrawal.

al-Qaeda may believe it has a greater chance at achieving a victory against the West in Afghanistan. The United States is removing 4,000 troops from the Afghan theater, which are to be replaced by NATO forces. The Dutch are debating providing their alloted contingent of forces, which threatens the foreign policy of the European Union and NATO's commitment to Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is likely trying to cleave the Afghanistan Coalition, and attacks such as the suicide strike against Canadian soldiers in Kandahar are designed to achieve such a split.

Perhaps al-Qaeda believes the buffer in the Tribal areas of Pakistan will provide it the protection needed to conduct a successful counteroffensive against Coalition forces. But many high-level al-Qaeda leaders, operatives and an estimated 1,000 footsoldiers have been captured or met their end in Pakistan. And the strike against Zawahiri, whether successful or not, demonstrates al-Qaeda is not free to operate without a response.

January 11, 2006


A Look Ahead: Fighting the Insurgency in Iraq

By Bill Roggio | January 11, 2006

The future fight in Iraq requires constant maintenance on all three fronts: political, military and economic. Yesterday, the White House issued a document titled Progress and the Work Ahead in Iraq. The fact sheet provides a clear, concise and honest look at the challenges in all three arenas for the year ahead. This document can be considered the summary of the “short term” goals of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

In the political realm, the emphasis is placed on the formation of a new Iraqi government. The desired outcome is the creation of a national unity government and how they will tackle the “tough decisions on issues such as security, reconstruction, and economic reform.” The Coalition can provide limited assistance in the area of governance, and specifically “help Iraqis build an impartial system of justice, combat corruption by strengthening the Commission on Public Integrity, and build effective government ministries.” The political decisions are for the Iraqis to make.

In the economic realm, the focus is on economic reforms, rebuilding critical infrastructure, and restoring energy independence in the oil and electricity sectors. The document is quite clear there are serous deficiencies in the energy sectors; “since liberation, terrorists have targeted these areas for destruction. As a result, oil and power production are below pre-war levels.” Calls for international donors to honor their pledges and for debtors to release Iraq from Saddam’s debt are also made.

In the security arena, the focus is on building the local and national Iraqi police forces. The upcoming year has been referred to in many military circles as “the year of the police”, as the goal is to stand up local police forces to work in conjunction with Iraqi Army units and Coalition forces. For this reason, the Iraqi police are the target of a concerted al-Qaeda campaign.

There are three areas the Coalition is working to improve the police forces: at the federal level with the Interior Ministry's Special Police; the border police; and the local level. As in the economic section, the problems are not glossed over, as problems with forming police units are clearly stated. Training, human rights, and corruption are major concerns. At the local and national level, Coalition forces will pair up with Iraqi police units. The situation with the local police bears special notice:

These local Iraqi police forces need the most work. There are now over 80,000 local police officers across Iraq - a little more than halfway toward the goal of 135,000. To improve the capabilities of these local police, the Coalition is partnering local Iraqi police units with teams of U.S. military police and international police liaison officers, including retired U.S. police officers. These officers will work with provincial police chiefs and focus on improving local police forces in nine key cities that have seen intense fighting with the terrorists - Baghdad, Baquba, Fallujah, Kirkuk, Mosul, Najaf, Ramadi, Samarra, and Tal Afar.

The selection of the nine cities above highlights where the Coalition and Iraqi government predict to be the strong points of the insurgency. Each of the cities, with the exception of Najaf, are in North and Central Iraq, the Sunni heartland regions which we predicted early in December (and followed up in further detail at the end of December) would become the focus of the insurgency and joint Iraqi and Coalition operations.

Najaf is singled out as it was the nexus of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's failed uprisings in the spring and fall of 2004. The rest of the cities lay at the heart of the Sunni seat of power, or maintain critical oil infrastructure which insurgents are targeting. The success and failure of the Iraqi police in this cities bears close watching during “the year of the police.”

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