General Odierno: Al Qaeda in Iraq faces serious financial crunch
General Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in a Monitor interview that US and Iraqi forces have broken large Al Qaeda in Iraq rings that extorted millions of dollars a year from companies.
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Gen. Ray Odierno, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor on Friday, said US and Iraqi operations have arrested or killed dozens of AQI leaders and broken large AQI rings that extorted millions of dollars a year from Iraq’s oil distribution network and major companies.
“Major cellphone companies, for example – they would threaten them, if you don’t pay us we’ll go after towers and networks,” he said, crediting intelligence gained from those arrests and killings for cracking the extortion network. “It’s more difficult for them to get funding, so they’re turning to outward criminality in order to fund their operations.”
In a wide-ranging interview in one of Saddam's former palaces, Odierno said AQI appears to have become increasingly disconnected from Al Qaeda's central leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan – and fighting to remain influential. To him, Al Qaeda's lack of announcement regarding new leadership in Iraq after top AQI figures Abu Ayub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi were killed this spring indicates that Al Qaeda headquarters considers the weakened organization here to be much less relevant.
“You have decentralized [AQI] cells that are attempting to continue to execute the last orders given – I think bank robberies and other things are a sign that the funding has been cut,” he said. Odierno, in some of the first detailed comments on AQI's operations, said extortion fees from truck drivers and other parts of the oil distribution network had provided a major part of the organization's revenue, along with payments from major companies such as cellphone carriers.
“What they’re trying to do is reorganize themselves so they can garner more attention, more support to continue, so our goal is to continue to work with Iraqi security forces so they’re not able to do that,” he said.
A change in tactics
AQI has either taken credit or is believed to be behind a string of attacks last month, including a suicide raid on Iraq’s central bank, another suicide car bomb attack on the Finance Ministry’s trade bank, and a string of armed robberies of gold stores – all of them marking a change in tactics. The attacks have prompted comparisons with high-profile Taliban operations aimed at getting the attention of potential financial backers.