July 8, 2014:
History often repeats itself and in the case of Iraqi Islamic terrorists there is, for the second time since 2007, a major dip in al Qaeda approval ratings because of the brutality of Iraqi Islamic terrorists. Back in 2007 it was the "Al Qaeda In Iraq" leadership that was out of control. Opinion polls in Moslem countries showed approval and support of al Qaeda plunging, in some cases into single digits. Thus after the 2003 invasion of Iraq al Qaeda managed to take itself from hero to zero in less than four years. Al Qaeda since recovered somewhat but that kinder and gentler approach did not last and by 2013 the Iraqi al Qaeda (ISIL or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was again losing popular support. That was quite visible when ISIL recently seized control of parts of Iraq and promptly slaughtered captured Iraqi soldiers and police, mainly because these men were Shia. Then ISIL declared the parts of Syria and Iraq it controlled were the new Moslem caliphate. Naturally the ISIL leaders are running this new caliphate and are calling on all Moslems to follow them. Most Moslems have responded, according to recent opinion polls, by expressing greater fear rather than more admiration for Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL. In the meantime (earlier in 2014) al Qaeda leadership condemned ISIL as completely out of control and not to be trusted or supported. In the last year opinion polls show Moslems becoming more hostile to Islamic terrorists, seeing them as a cause for concern not as defenders of Islam. The same thing happened back in 2007.
The Iraqi Islamic terrorists are really out there, at least in terms of fanaticism and extremism and have been since the Sunni dictatorship of Iraq was overthrown in 2003 (with the help of two divisions of American and one division of British troops). This eventually led the local al Qaeda branch of make several bad decisions. The first one was to killing lots of Moslem women and children in terror attacks. Then they declared the establishment of the "Islamic State of Iraq" in late 2006. This was an act of bravado, touted as the first step in the re-establishment of the caliphate (a global Islamic state, ruled over by God's representative on earth, the caliph.) The caliphate has been a fiction for over a thousand years but still resonated with Islamic radicals.
The original caliphate came apart because the Islamic world was split by ethnic and national differences and the first caliphate fell apart after a few centuries. Various rulers have claimed the title over the centuries, but since 1924, when the Turks gave it up (after four centuries), no one of any stature has stepped up and assumed the role. So when al Qaeda "elected" a nobody as the emir of the "Islamic State of Iraq", and talked about this being the foundation of the new caliphate, even many pro-al Qaeda Moslems were aghast.
When al Qaeda could not, in 2007, exercise any real control over the parts (mostly Anbar province in the West) of Iraq they claimed as part of the new Islamic State, it was the last straw for many Moslems. The key allies, battered by increasingly effective American and Iraqi attacks, dropped their support for al Qaeda and the terrorist organization got stomped to bits by the "surge offensive" a year later. The final insult was delivered by the former Iraqi Sunni Arab allies, who quickly switched sides, and sometimes even worked with the Americans (more so than the Shia dominated Iraqi security forces) to hunt down and kill al Qaeda operators.
Over the last seven years al Qaeda in Iraq slowly rebuilt and received a major boost in 2011 when the Sunni Arab majority in neighboring Syria rose up against the decade’s old Shia dictatorship. While the Sunni Arabs are a minority in Iraq (20 percent of the population versus 60 percent Shia) it is quite the opposite in Syria (15 percent Shia and 75 percent Sunni). The Sunnis are most numerous in eastern Syria and western Iraq which the Sunnis see as one entity divided by artificial political boundaries imposed by Turks and the Western nations that replaced the Turks after 1918. This “Sunnistan” is the northernmost concentration of Sunni Arabs and long subjugated by non-Sunni or non-Arab powers. Turks and Persians (Indo-European Iranians) have long fought over the area, with the Turks largely in charge since the 16th century. The Turks were Sunni and what is now called Iraq has long been, not surprisingly, a center of the long religious battle between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.
Ever since al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s they were popular to Moslems in proportion to how far away the al Qaeda violence was. Once al Qaeda began killing people nearby Moslems tended to change their mind and dislike the Islamic terrorists. Thus a year ago 37 percent of Turks were concerned about Islamic terrorism while now it is 50 percent thanks to increased ISIL violence on the Syrian border and some inside Turkey itself. A year ago 54 percent of the people in Jordan were concerned versus 62 percent for the same reason. In Lebanon, where the Syrian violence spilled over quickly after 2011 last year 81 percent were concerned about Islamic terrorism versus 92 percent today.
The hostility towards al Qaeda in the region has tainted all forms of Islamic radicalism, including the Shia ones (especially Hezbollah in Lebanon). Yet once Islamic terrorism disappears again (as it does regularly) many Moslems will get nostalgic for those legendary warriors seeking to defend Islam. This is a cycle many Moslems would like to break, but so far the cycle of violence persists.