US draws new Iraq-Al Qaeda link
The US military says it caught the man who ties Osama bin Laden's network to Iraq.
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"Of course there's some communication back and forth, but as it's been described to me, Al Qaeda in Iraq operates as a franchise operation that's largely autonomous," says Evan Kohlmann, author of a book on Al Qaeda, who closely tracks the propaganda of the group and similar jihad organizations. "What Al Qaeda does for them is provide cross-pollination of ideas, but not command and control."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Kohlmann says that the group in Iraq has shown the ability to replace key leaders up until now, and doesn't expect that will change. On the question of whether this arrest has an impact on US or international security he said, "No, no impact at all" because Mashhadani would have been almost exclusively focused on operations inside Iraq.
News of Mashhadani's arrest came at a time when the US intelligence community has been warning that Al Qaeda has successfully regrouped and that its operational and training abilities are at their greatest height since 2001, creating fears that the organization is now able to carry out attacks in either the US or Europe.
Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, argues in a recent report on Iraq's Sunni insurgency that the direct links between Al Qaeda's foreign leadership and its network in Iraq are overstated.
He cites other US briefings that say 90 percent or more of the network's operatives are Iraqis and says the foreigners involved are not exclusively loyal to bin Laden.
"The foreign leadership listed has as many ties to the hard-line groups that have spun off [from] the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as to bin Laden per se," he writes. He also points out that most attacks in Iraq are not carried out by the group.
"None of this means that [the Islamic State of Iraq]-Al Qaeda does not play a critical role in the insurgency. Al Qaeda's attacks does make up a highly effective 15 percent and probably do the most damage in pushing Iraq toward civil war. It does mean that ISI-Al Qaeda's activities must be kept in careful perspective, and that it does not dominate the Sunni insurgency."
Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry says that Iraqi forces had nothing to do with the capture of Mashhadani. He says Iraqi military officials knew he was dangerous but did not know that he was as high-ranking as the Americans claim.
As for Al Qaeda's role in Iraq, General Khalaf says, "This organization has little influence in Iraq. It's falling apart. Their presence in Iraq is becoming negligible." He adds that "their connection to Osama bin Laden is by name only. They do not take instructions from bin Laden. They are just inspired by him."
"Since they are on the run, the communication between them and the Al Qaeda leadership outside is very difficult."
In Web postings, the Islamic State of Iraq has identified its leader as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, a name indicating Iraqi origin, with the Egyptian Mr. Masri as minister of war.
Bergner said Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Baghdadi is a "fictional role" created by Masri and that an actor with an Iraqi accent is used for audio recordings of speeches posted on the Web.
"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within Al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq," Bergner said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report
'Terrorist Threat to US Homeland': key points
• Al Qaeda will pose a heightened threat to the US in the next three years.
•Al Qaeda will intensify efforts to put more operatives inside the US.•
•Al Qaeda has found a haven near Pakistan's northeastern border.•
•Al Qaeda will continue to try to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons
• Lebanese Hizbullah could attack the US if the US poses a threat to it or Iran.
• A violent strain of Islam is growing in the US, although Europe faces a bigger threat in this regard.
Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence