U.S. spotlights Al Qaeda in Iraq weakness
The US military released four pages of a 39-page, typewritten Arabic document believed to be from a top Al Qaeda in Iraq leader.
BAGHDAD — Of the 39-page, typewritten Arabic report by an Al Qaeda chief, the US military released only four pages Sunday. It's enough, they say, to show that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is struggling to overcome major setbacks in Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold where tribesmen rebelled against the organization, says a military spokesman.
Rear Adm. Greg Smith says the document was found among the possessions of Abu Maysara, a former adviser to AQI's presumed leader, Abu Ayub al-Masri, after he was killed by coalition forces in a Nov. 18, 2007, raid on his safe house near Samarra.
"We have lost cities and afterwards villages.... We got away from people and found ourselves in a wasteland desert," read Admiral Smith, quoting from the document.
The release of this and other documents in recent days is part of a stepped-up US military media campaign against AQI to highlight the organization's state of disarray and desperation, says Smith.
It's a battle for hearts and minds against the militants. While AQI has shown diminished capacity in recent months, it has proven it can strike throughout Iraq.
"We do understand the impact of having an aggressive communications effort as part of the battle here in Iraq.... I will not apologize for being aggressive," says Smith. "We have lots of material ....It takes a long of time to sort through it."
He says countrywide military operations against Al Qaeda have yielded a treasure trove of documents, computers, compact disks, thumb drives, and other intelligence-worthy material that has been piling up at a central undisclosed location in Iraq where it's being analyzed and declassified as deemed appropriate.
On Sunday, Smith revealed to reporters in Baghdad excerpts of the document from Abu Maysara, saying the "analytical" document was written in the summer of 2007 by a mid- to high-level leader and intended for the circle of leadership as a critical assessment of the organization.
He said the document was undated and unsigned, leaving doubt as to whether it was authored by Abu Maysara, who according to Mustafa al-Ani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, is an Iraqi known previously to be AQI's spokesman.
The document speaks of "disillusioned" foreign fighters stuck in the vast Anbar Province desert with diminished funds – unable to carry out attacks or suicide bombings because of US-supported and largely tribal groups of anti-Al Qaeda fighters known as Sahwa (Awakening).
The Samarra document recommends relocating the foreign fighters to other provinces, according to Smith. Earlier this year, the US military posted on the Internet extensive documents found last fall in the northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar, detailing AQI's recruitment and transport of foreign fighters.
A second document released Sunday by Smith was described as a "diary" that belonged to an Al Qaeda "sector leader" in the villages of Mashahda and Layin captured during a Nov. 3 raid last year.
But Abu Tariq says this is his will, according to segments of the handwritten 16-page document posted online by the military.
The most striking revelation in the document is that it provides further evidence that many of the current members of the mostly Sunni US-backed anti-Al Qaeda militias, known as Sahwa and Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs), were in fact Al Qaeda foot soldiers previously.
In the document, Abu Tariq, who remains at large, laments the death and capture of the commanders of his five battalions and the defection of scores of his soldiers to the CLCs.
"The Al Qaeda foot soldiers are there working for the Sahwa now. The big questions: Where are their loyalties and what will happen tomorrow?" says Joost Hiltermann, an Istanbul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Mr. Hiltermann says he's puzzled by the decision to release the documents, as well as a video of training child soldiers, now when Al Qaeda has been already weakened and after Iraqis have witnessed its brutality firsthand in the massive bombings it perpetrated particularly against Shiites since the start of the war.
"Child soldiers we find worldwide, why should Al Qaeda be any different and the use of women [suicide bombers] is old and not new," he says.
This past Wednesday, Smith released footage of a video seized in December by Coalition forces in the town of Khan Bani Saad, north of Baghdad. It shows children possibly as young as 7 wearing black masks and brandishing heavy weaponry being coached by an off-camera adult on how to kidnap people and storm buildings.
Smith says the video, which is intended by Al Qaeda as a propaganda tool for recruitment, is aimed at demonstrating especially to Iraqis the callousness of the organization. "We want to be transparent with Iraqi people, who are our primary audience."
The Dubai-based analyst Mr. Ani, who is of Iraqi origins himself, says visual tools like the video could be very effective with Iraqis. "You need to show the average man that Al Qaeda is recruiting kids and that most of its fighters are foreign."
Ani disputes, though, US assertions that this propaganda video may be used by Al Qaeda to garner support, particularly from wealthy Gulf Arab sympathizers. "Al Qaeda in Iraq is a very clever organization, and a video like this will in fact loose you credibility. What's going to give you outside support is the number and nature of your operations inside the country."