Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Atwan's view: Bin Laden responding positively to Al-Dhari

Abdulbari Atwan, for his part, thinks the Bin Laden message in fact has the meaning that was implicitly attributed to it by the AlJazeera excerpts of Monday, namely the admission of important mistakes and excesses by members of AlQaeda in Iraq, along with a request [implicit in the text, according to this reading] of the other resistance factions that they forgive these errors, turn the page and begin again. That, says Atwan, was the meaning of the lengthy passages in the tape about how the people who committed these errors are only human, and so on.
The errors, writes Atwan, which Bin Laden did not itemize clearly, including cutting off of hands and fingers, declaring takfiir on others, imposing a designated [religious] practice and rejecting those who opposed it, these errors were exploited by the enemies of AlQaeda, and by the Americans in particular, who were able to buy the protection of some tribal leaders, and to form the so-called awakening forces, and to make it so that the [AlQaeda] organization seemed to be the primary enemy, and not the occupation forces and their collaborators...
Moreover, he says this weakening of AlQaeda has spilled over into a weakening of the Sunni resistance in general and in all its factions. Thus, he says, the importance of this latest Bin Laden message, in which for the first time he goes to the root of this crisis. (First time for Bin Laden, says Atwan, but he reminds readers that already three years ago Ayman al-Zawahiri was writing to Zarqawi warning him against killing Shiites and executing foreign hostages in barbaric ways and so on. Atwan says Bin Laden has been slow to grasp the meaning of this danger.)

The American invasion of Iraq and their sectarian approach to occupation gave AlQaeda a new lease on life, following the destruction of their infrastructure in Afghanistan and the death and arrests of many of the AlQaeda leaders and members in connection with that. But now, writes Atwan
It appears that the US, with the cooperation of neighboring and regional countries, and with the cooperation of some Iraqi groups that have been involved in their plans, has succeeded, if only partially, in isolating the [AQ] organization, and in inciting Iraqis or some of them against it, and to wear it down in internal struggles against those who were until very recently its allies. And this is reflected very clearly in the diminution in the number of its operations and those of other resistance groups, as has been the case for at least a year now.
This is reflected in the relative calm in Anbar and the Sunni triangle and in the fact tribal leaders are not afraid to sit with Bush, or Maliki to visit Tikrit "as if he were the lawful leader of Iraq". The Crocker-Petraeus team were able to exaggerate and exploit AQ mistakes, says Atwan, (echoing here the language of the Bin Laden tape where he said those with a sickness in their heart will exaggerate the mistakes and attribute them to devotion to Jihad under the rubrics of violence and terror); and at the same time buy off tribal leaders. Atwan lists some of the others contributing to the current crisis of AQ, for instance the Islamic Party of Iraq led by Tareq al-Hashemi, who was a leader in setting up communications between tribal leaders and the Americans, providing them with the necessary money, and eventually "linking them with the Americans directly, sometimes by exaggerating the threat of AlQaeda, and sometimes by exaggerating the Shiite/Iran threat to control of Iraq". Other cooperators include the Saudi religious authorities, led by Al-Sheikh who recently declared going to fight in Iraq was not jihad. These fatwas, says Atwan, came at the same time as a drying-up of Gulf-region funding for all the resistance groups, and AQ in particular, suggesting this was something also orchestrated by the Americans.

Atwan says Harith al-Dhari was right in his recent open letter to the resistance factions, when he said that 90% of the AQ fighters are Iraqi, that "we are of them, and they are of us", and that differences and errors could be corrected. He says the Bin Laden tape appears to him to be a response to that, and a response that implicitly recognizes the scale of the crisis as Atwan has just outlined it.

If Atwan is right, then it would seem that the AlJazeera presentation of the excerpts on Monday was essentially an attempt to highlight what could be regarded as the positive and urgently necessary aspect of the Bin Laden message, namely the need to unite across group-differences. And the bitter protest by the AlQaeda media arm against that very attempt, highlighted in Marc Lynch's post, would seem to suggest there isn't unanimity in the AQ leadership ranks on this, and that could certainly account for lack of clarity on this point in the actual Bin Laden message.

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