Al Qaeda's fragile sticks


Osama bin Laden's appeal for unity between Iraq's Sunni insurgent groups confirms what many have believed for some time: al Qaeda in Iraq is increasingly isolated and that splits in the insurgency may be its greatest weakness.

"Sticks refuse to break when banded together, but if they come apart, they break one by one," bin Laden said in his latest audio message, portions of which were broadcast Monday by the Al Jazeera television network. "There is no room for conflict between the Muslims who truly surrender to the order of Allah."


"He is trying to float above the fray," said Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant who tracks the public statements of Iraqi insurgent groups and has testified in federal terror prosecutions.

"I don't think the message was aimed solely at AQI," he said.

But Fawaz Gerges, an academic and author who recently returned from a year in the region, where he researched the insurgency, said the message was aimed squarely at bin Laden's own followers in AQI who had alienated their social base, the Sunni Arabs.


He said that the references to mistakes and how everyone makes them and how repenters are forgiven, was bin Laden "airing al Qaeda's dirty linen in a belated and desperate effort ... to rescue his besieged followers in Iraq."

He said bin Laden's talk about the need to submit to Islamic authority was "indirectly telling AQI [it] should defer to the Iraqi leadership" of other Sunni groups.


A U.S. intelligence official authorized to speak to the press said the bin Laden message was seen as just the latest manifestation of growing worries among al Qaeda's central leadership about the situation in Iraq.

"There have been long-standing concerns about the ability to unite Sunni insurgents," the official said. Last year, in an effort to give a more Iraqi face to al Qaeda's role in the insurgency and to head off looming rivalries and splits with other groups, AQI declared the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq.

But the U.S. official said it had "proved to be in most respects a complete failure in terms of the effort to unite" insurgent groups.

Recall that recent reports indicate that the "head" of the Islamic State of Iraq was fictional to make it look like a local organization. That facade has been stripped and the recent surge has brought former al Qaeda allies into the effort against al Qaeda and has led to the discovery and destruction of several units and the flight of other al Qaeda foreign leaders. We are witnessing a victory over al Qaeda's organization in Iraq which has led to a significant decrease in "sectarian" violence and has left Democrats who thought they saw a sectarian civil war looking cowardly and ignorant.


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