Al Qaeda weakness revealed around the world

Christian Science Monitor:

On Tuesday in Iraq's Anbar Province, where jihadi fighters once enjoyed sanctuary, Sunni Arabs turned out en masse to commemorate Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a leader suspected of having been killed for helping the US rout Al Qaeda from the province. He was hailed as a "martyr."

In Lebanon last month, the efforts of Al Qaeda-inspired guerrillas to take over a Palestinian refugee camp were crushed. And in his latest audiotape, Osama bin Laden adopted a rare contrite tone, admitting "mistakes" by some Al Qaeda militants in Iraq.

Across the Arab world, where Al Qaeda had sought to build influence and bases of operation on the back of widespread anger against the US over its war in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism, the movement is now showing signs that it is stalled, if not in retreat.

Experts say Al Qaeda's failures have largely come down to its brutal methods, which have turned off large numbers of Arabs. They say that Muslims from Iraq to Egypt may want their countries to adhere to strict Islamic law, but not at the price of suicide bombings.

This is not to say that the group is vanishing or unable to carry out attacks.

But even the US, which not long ago was warning that a withdrawal from Iraq could leave Al Qaeda with control of the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province from which to threaten US and regional interests, is now declaring the local movement a spent force.

"In Fallujah, Ramadi, and other parts of Anbar ... Al Qaeda simply is gone," the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, told reporters in Baghdad on Thursday. In Baghdad, he said Al Qaeda is on the ropes "but still present … Sunni militias are increasingly going out of the militia business and coming over to say we want to hook up with the coalition and indeed with the government of Iraq."

The Brookings Institution's Iraq index, which monitors security indicators in the country, appears to back up Mr. Crocker's assessment. In its latest report, the index found that the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq has dropped from about 85 to about 50 over several recent months. US officials say the number of suicide bombings in Iraq has fallen from more than 60 in January to about 30 a month since July.

"I think the generic radical ideas are still chugging along, but the organization is having a hard time finding safe harbor anywhere," says Marc Lynch, a political scientist at George Washington University who focuses on Arab countries. "They pop up with these little groups here and there, they cause trouble, there's a showdown, and then they lose."

...

"Iraq was Al Qaeda's greatest achievement and its greatest failure," says Evan Kohlmann, an author and consultant on jihadi movements who closely tracks Al Qaeda and aligned propaganda that is spread on the Internet. "At one time they were riding high from what was happening in Iraq, people were talking about [similar] movements popping up in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and that time has come and gone.

...

What looked a few years ago to be a fertile moment for Al Qaeda, moving from the initial defeat in Afghanistan to success via the Iraq insurgency and savvy use of the Internet and satellite television stations to create a base of operations in the heart of the Arab and Islamic world, has dried up.

...

What is missing from this story is recognition of the fact that the surge defeated al Qaeda and put it on the defensive everywhere. It was George Bush's determination to find a way to defeat the enemy in Iraq that accomplished this roll back of al Qaeda, and if Democrats had been in power, al Qaeda would very likely be in power in much of Iraq. While the article acknowledges the facts about al Qaeda's current situation, it does not give credit where it is due to the President and to Gen Petraeus.

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