June 18, 2006:
A side benefit of killing al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi on June 7th, was the capture of many of his working documents. Much of what these documents contained had been obtained in earlier raids, and from interrogations. But this time, American intelligence officers had an up to date record of what al Qaeda was thinking, what their plans were and, perhaps most importantly, how they thought they were doing. Zarqawi believed al Qaeda's situation was bleak, and getting worse. The main reason for that glum assessment was the growth of the Iraqi security forces (army and police), and the movement of these forces into Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq during the past year. The battle of Fallujah last Fall was the beginning of the end, and the constant pressure since then has made it more difficult for al Qaeda to plan and carry out terror attacks. The mass media found nothing newsworthy in al Qaedas declining fortunes, but Zarqawi and his lieutenants were certainly paying attention.
Interestingly, Zarqawi mentions unfavorable media coverage of al Qaeda with in Iraq, without admitting that the deaths of thousands of Iraqis by terror attacks might have anything to do with it. According to Zarqawi, those deaths would not be so harmful if it wasn't because of the way the Iraqi government propaganda made al Qaeda look like a bunch of unfeeling butchers. Zarqawi was also dismayed at the number of Sunni Arabs who were turning away from al Qaeda, and supporting the government. Zarqawi was also feeling the financial pinch, apparently from the American and Iraqi operation to shut down the smuggling across the Syrian border, and international efforts to reduce foreign funding of al Qaeda operations in general. Zarqawi was also unhappy with the growing number of foreign countries that were setting up embassies in Iraq, which made the government appear more legitimate.
Zarqawi had a plan for a comeback, which depended on increased recruiting, establishing more bomb workshops, having more of his people join the army and police (to spy, and recruit new terrorists) and to improve discipline within the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq. All of these ideas are indicative of an organization that was falling apart.
But it gets worse, at least for Zarqawi. His "victory plan" involved instigating battles between Shia factions, between Shia and Kurds and, best of all, between the U.S. and Iran. With all of his enemies thus distracted, al Qaeda would unify the Sunni Arabs and take over Iraq. That was the plan, apparently it still is. Zarqawi believed that he could depend on media in Moslem countries, as well as anti-American media in the West, to help get the al Qaeda version of reality out. There was evidence at the June 7 bombing site, that Zarqawi kept up on Iraqi and foreign media. But he apparently didn't notice that al Qaeda was not popular at all. Zarqawi was still popular to the hard core al Qaeda fanboys, but was rapidly losing traction in the rest of the Islamic world.
Zarqawi, and his strategies, had become a liability to the other al Qaeda brass. For them, Zarqawi's death was timely, and quite useful. Zarqawi's successor faces a pretty grim situation. While the new guy appears to be another foreigner, most of al Qaeda in Iraq is staffed, and run, by Iraqi Sunni Arabs. These fellows are the radical fringe of the Iraqi Sunni Arab community, which is now largely seeking to make deals with the Iraqi government. So the new al Qaeda leadership in Iraq has to first deal with dissent within the Sunni Arab community, before turning to the larger issue of democracy and majority rule in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Iraq's population. Actually, given the many (over a million) Iraqi Sunni Arabs who have fled the country in the last three years, that's probably closer to fifteen percent these days.