Trend: Al-Qaeda Foretold Violence Increase, Target Changes in Iraq
In a Voice of America news report, Major General Kevin Bergner said that "Even though violence is dramatically reduced from 2006 and 2007, this has unquestionably been a tough few days and reflects what we have repeatedly said, that al-Qaeda Iraq is a resilient, barbaric enemy." The VOA report goes on to say without direct attribution that "the U.S. military says the increased attacks can not yet be called a trend and is merely an upswing in violence that they hope will go down."
Not yet. But it may well be a trend if one watches closely for long enough. Why ? Consider a MEMRI translation of a February 12 Qatari daily Al-'Arab interview with an al-Qaeda in Iraq commander. 'Abu-Turab Al-Jaza'iri' noted the trouble AQI is in, particularly his Mosul cells. But the end of the interview is the most telling as he described weeks ago a change in strategy that is unfolding now. The MEMRI translation was cited initially as another sign of al-Qaeda in Iraqs' dire straits, which is quite true. But the final graphs foretold a strategy shift that we are seeing in play now and is unlikely to 'come to an end' without our forces putting it to an end.
The Next Few Months Will Prove Decisive
On the change in Al-Qaeda's strategy and the continuation of attacks, Al-Jaza'iri said: "It is clear that the strategy [of capturing cities and turning them into Al-Qaeda bases] has failed, so today we are fighting a guerilla war, or, as some call it, 'street fighting.' The efficacy of this [strategy] has been proven in various contexts. We have been instructed to focus our attacks on targets that are strategically and morally important to our enemies, on the eve of the U.S. election campaign."
He continued: "...It is the type of attacks and the way they are planned that will be changed. Accordingly, we will be focusing on operations that cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy. This [shift] will open a new page in the fighting, which you will notice on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq..."Addressing Iraq's Sunnis, Al-Jaza'iri said: "The next few months will prove decisive, and by Allah! We have prepared for this - we have humiliated the Crusaders, and have made their blood flow in the streets... And what is to come will be even worse and more bitter. Therefore, I say to those who claim that we have failed, or are paralyzed...: You will receive our answer in the next few weeks..."
They (AQI leaders) "been instructed" to hit key targets "strategically and morally important to our enemies." This instruction comes from al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL), and "strategically and morally important" include a Catholic archbishop in Mosul, kidnapped approximately three weeks after the interview (fitting the timing that the AQI commander alerted to) and found dead yesterday.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is indeed in dire straits. But it is not dead. And it recognizes that, while tactically their condition is poor, the best way to improve this is to return to high profile strategic strikes to erode American public patience. If it can weather the storm, these strategic high-profile attacks aimed at the minds of Americans in an election season will be the most likely means to improving their tactical condition and position in Iraq.
Perhaps those who were prepared to declare al-Qaeda in Iraq defeated not long ago will quietly be recalibrating.
Likewise, perhaps American voters and news consumers will understand their intended role within al-Qaeda's psychological warfare strategy. The attacks are for you and your desired reaction - which they hope drives policy. The targets of the attacks (Christian clergy, US troops, etc.) are far less important than your perception.