Counter-Terrorism: The Baghdad Blues


November 25, 2007: A series of raids in the last three months has crippled the al Qaeda operation that smuggled suicide bombers into Iraq. As a result of all this, suicide bombings are down over 80 percent from earlier in the year.

Years of playing detective and "CSI: Baghdad" in Sunni Arab Central Iraq paid off when one tip led to a terrorist leaders hard drive, and then another, another and another. By the end of September, the smuggling pipeline that had been bringing over a thousand suicide bombers into Iraq each year, was in tatters. Many gigabytes of data was recovered from terrorist computers, providing many details of al Qaeda operations.

There were several key findings from this trove of information. First, al Qaeda is driven largely by the recruiting and fund raising performed by radical clergy, particularly in Saudi Arabia. This is apparently why Saudi Arabia has been cracking down harder on their radical clergy in the past few months. The Saudis have also been leaning on wealthy citizens believed to be major contributors to "Islamic charities" that are basically fronts for al Qaeda.

The source of most of the suicide bombers was interesting, with 80 percent of them coming from Saudi Arabia (41 percent) and North Africa (mainly Libya and Algeria.) That's interesting because all three of those countries have become very hostile to al Qaeda since the invasion of Iraq. Actually, Algeria had been suffering Islamic terrorist violence since the early 1990s, but Saudi Arabia and Libya had long been hospitable to Islamic radicals (as long as they did not criticize their hosts). While al Qaeda has been hostile to Saudi Arabia since the 1990s, the government left al Qaeda supporters alone if they did not participate in overt anti-government activity. While the Saudis won't admit it, they don't mind the fact that several thousand of their most rabidly Islamic young men have gone off to Iraq to get killed. But as Iraqi Sunni Arabs turned against al Qaeda and its relentless slaughter of civilians, the Saudi government tried to keep its young men out of Iraq. Not too successful with that, but once the Americans presented all those detailed al Qaeda records, which kept mentioning the same Saudi clerics who acted as recruiters and cheerleaders for al Qaeda, it became clear something had to be done.

While the U.S. Army has been successful in identifying, locating and shutting down terrorist operations in Iraq, these new techniques have not become a part of the official doctrine (the detailed protocols of how things are done). That's because the army got a lot of unofficial help from Special Forces, the Israelis and reservists who were cops and detectives in their regular jobs. Many army officers see this kind of "police work" as something the army will encounter again, and want it incorporated into official doctrine, so that it becomes a part of the "official memory." While this knowledge is retained by the reservists (informally) and Special Forces (as semi-official doctrine), the details of how this police type investigating and analysis is done by army units is important. Without making all this stuff part of doctrine, those critical details will largely be lost.

Most likely, this police type work will be featured in the histories of the Iraq war. But you shouldn't have to read a history book to find the details of how to fight a war.


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