Some observers of al Qaeda believe the global terrorist organization is on the move, transferring its operations, including its headquarters, from the Afghan-Pakistan border area to Iraq after a falling out with the Taliban.
Indications of this came with the CIA’s announcement at the end of March that it had in its custody Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, a top al-Qaeda operative, since late last year. Al-Iraqi was captured after he had moved out of Pakistan’s rugged and nearly inaccessible Waziristan tribal area and was apparently making his way to Iraq.
According to Pakistani writer Syed Saleem Shahzad, the falling out between the Taliban and al-Qaeda occurred over a deal the former made with the Pakistani government. In the accord, Pakistan will allow the Taliban unhindered use of its territory to funnel men and supplies into the conflict in Afghanistan. What Pakistan receives in turn is a presence again in Afghanistan via the Taliban against the India-friendly Kabul government as well as a disruption of relations between the Taliban and the anti-Islamabad al-Qaeda.
After five years fighting the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban, Shahzad notes, realized it was not going to win unless it got the support of a state behind it. The military alliance with al-Qaeda against NATO had reached its limit, hence the accord with Pakistan, which the Taliban now calls “a Muslim state with a Muslim army.” Moreover, it is in the war in Afghanistan that the Taliban wants to invest its energy and resources and not against Pakistan.
However, in its unrelenting mission to set up a worldwide imamate, Al-Qaeda wants to topple all the current governments in Muslim countries, since the terrorist organization regards them as not truly Islamic. As a result, it does not look favorably upon anyone who treats with them, especially with the Pakistani government.
Al-Qaeda has special reason to dislike the government in Islambad. Since 9/11, it has handed over 700 Arab fighters to the United States. In 2003, the Pakistani army was also sent, for the first time in its history, according to another Pakistani observer, into Waziristan where it destroyed al-Qaeda training camps. As a result, in a 2003 broadcast by the Arab news channel al-Jazeera, al-Qaeda threatened Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, saying “Muslims in Pakistan should unite to oust ‘this traitor’…”
This threat, Shahzad noted, “rattled” the Pakistani intelligence service, since it regarded the al-Jazeera broadcast as a call to Pakistanis to rise up against the Musharraf government. It was also about this time that al-Iraqi was sent to several Pakistani cities to arrange for terrorist strikes against government targets, which, it is believed, also involved assassination attempts against Musharraf himself. As a result, Shahzad says it was probably Pakistani intelligence that tipped off American intelligence as to Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi’s move to Iraq that resulted in his apprehension and current unwilling stay in Guantananmo Bay.
In leaving Pakistan, al-Qaeda will lose Waziristan’s protective terrain where, as one Pakistani writer put it, “large groups of al-Qaeda and Tailiban could move in and out without detection” and bin Laden “…could swim like a fish in the ocean”, hence helping him greatly to avoid capture so far. It will also bring the extremist Muslim terrorist organization into conflict with other Sunni Muslim groups in Iraq who do not want it there, as some believe has already happened.
But a move of operations to Iraq will also provide al-Qaeda with some distinct advantages. Intelligence analyst Michael Scheuer, in an interview with National Interest Online, says al-Qaeda has, since the American invasion, always viewed Iraq as an opportunity to push its operations one thousand kilometers westward. Al-Qaeda, Scheuer said, sees Iraq “…as contiguous territory from which to launch attacks and infiltration to the Arabian Peninsula, into Turkey and into the Levant, and eventually into Lebanon and Israel.” Scheuer notes that bin Laden has always said he could not attack Israel because he did not have contiguous territory.
In addition to the areas Scheuer mentions, in Iraq al Qaeda will also be better positioned to organize attacks in Europe and in North African countries as well as to acquire new recruits. One of al-Qaeda’s goals, observers say, is to disrupt European alliances with the United States in the War on Terror. Bin Laden hopes to do so with more terrorist strikes against European countries, causing them to abandon the fight like Spain did in Iraq after the Madrid commuter train bombings.
However, with a more exposed al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Iraq, Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi should expect company in Guantanamo, as more its top-level cadre should fall into American hands.
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