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Zarqawi in Context: Is He al-Qaeda?

| 26 Comments | 5 TrackBacks

Over the last several months, there's been a great deal of discussion with respect to Abu Musab Zarqawi and whether or not he's ally of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network.

Originally there was no real question about this - nor is there still among actual governments, a point I'll get to later in the post. Recently, however, the issue has become politicized in the United States by people inside the intelligence community who do not agree with the conventional characterization being put out by the administration. Some have chosen to air those disputes to the press. This is augmented by the fact some intelligence-security officials in Europe, particularly in Germany, adopt a similar view of the man.

In this piece, I'm going to try to put up and the evidence for and against Zarqawi being an al-Qaeda leader... and why I believe that the body of evidence swings decisively in favor of the al-Qaeda conclusion.

So who believes what?

This is an important question, since most of the people who talk about Zarqawi aside from the usual grouping of intelligence personnel tend to be anonymous when quoted in the media. Finding out who believes what is extremely important if you want to weigh credibility on these types of issues. I should also add that the current conflict between the administration and various folks at the CIA is a somewhat of a unique phenomenon, though it unfortunately complicates these matters greatly as far as figuring out what the truth is now that we're in a political season.

Finally, note that my knowledge of what various foreign governments believe on these subjects is somewhat dated and only extends to August 2004 at the absolute maximum:

  • US - Most of the US intelligence community refers to Zarqawi as either an al-Qaeda leader or an "al-Qaeda associate," the latter being the same term used within government to describe the leaders of al-Qaeda satellite organizations like Jemaah Islamiyyah or the Algerian GSPC. There are people in the State Department and the CIA analysis section who give more credibility to the German stuff than others, but they tend to be in the minority view which is why they're the ones doing much of the leaking.

Alternatively, there are some people who know damned well that Zarqawi is al-Qaeda but choose to leak dissenting opinions on the subject for political reasons. Al-Qaeda's refusal to assist Zarqawi in stirring up a sectarian conflict inside Iraq also raised some eyebrows when it first occurred, but now the general consensus is that this was done more to retain al-Qaeda ties to Iran than any kind of a true break between the two organizations.

  • UK - As in the US, there are some dissenting views within the British intelligence community, but the Milan wiretaps among other things seem to have even more persuaded the British authorities that Zarqawi is, as he is described in the Lord Butler report, a "senior al-Qaeda figure." To the best my knowledge, the British don't have anywhere resembling the kind of problems within their intelligence infrastructure that the US does, so if disagreements do exist with respect to this conclusion, they certainly aren't being made public.
  • France - Initially the French were extremely skeptical of Abu Musab Zarqawi's ties to al-Qaeda, in large part because their thinking was heavily influenced by the German opinion and they tended to disregard most US intelligence on the subject of Zarqawi because of it.

Since the disruption of the al-Qaeda infrastructure in southern France and the succession of Zarqawi lieutenant Abu Hafs al-Urduni to the leadership of the Arab al-Qaeda fighters in Chechnya, the French have done a definite 180 on Zarqawi and successfully identified the connections between him, al-Tawhid, al-Qaeda, the Chechen Killer Korps, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Ignoring the Chechen connection to al-Qaeda is becoming more and more difficult for European governments post-Beslan, but with respect to noticing the LeT connection the French are probably ahead of the US on this one.

  • Germany - Germany was the first Western government to get a hold of some of Zarqawi's minions, in particular Shadi Abdallah, who appears to be the ultimate source of most of the claims that Zarqawi and al-Tawhid are rivals rather than allies. The Germans also have Zarqawi speaking to his flunkies on a satellite phone telling them that the money raised by al-Tawhid cells in Germany were supposed to go only to al-Tawhid, not to the larger al-Qaeda network. As a result of this evidence, the Germans regard Zarqawi as a rival rather an ally of al-Qaeda and cite those findings as evidence against cooperation between the two. There have also been some reports that the German al-Tawhid cells refused to assist Ramzi Binalshibh in getting out of Germany, but I've never seen any hard evidence on that point.
  • Jordan - Jordan has the largest single file on Zarqawi of any intelligence agency and they say that he's an al-Qaeda leader, citing the interrogation of his over 100 al-Tawhid members, phone conversations between Zarqawi and Abu Zubaydah, and most recently Azmi al-Jayyousi and his attempt to carry out mass murder in Amman this last spring.
  • Other Arab intelligence agencies - While other Arab intelligence agencies believe that Zarqawi is an al-Qaeda leader but don't think that he actually carries out half of the attacks attributed to him by the US or that he claims responsibility for. The general opinion among most Arab intelligence agencies is that the majority of the Iraqi insurgency is composed of native Iraqis fighting back against the US occupation and that Zarqawi is just a way to scapegoat them all as being terrorist in character.

So there you have it.

The evidence in favor ...

Here, near as I can tell, is the evidence in favor of Zarqawi being an al-Qaeda leader that is available to the general public. Please keep in mind when reading this that I have always been of the opinion that Zarqawi is an al-Qaeda leader:

  • The initial Jordanian court indictment against Zarqawi for his role in the Millennium Plot refers to collaboration with at least two known al-Qaeda figures, Abu Zubaydah and Raed Hijazi.
  • Zarqawi's top deputy, according to Spanish court documents, is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the leader of al-Qaeda's Syrian "family."
  • In addition to his own Herat infrastructure, Zarqawi administered a bonafide al-Qaeda training camp near Kabul.
  • Bin Laden provided Zarqawi with at least $30,000 to finance terrorist attacks against Israel in 2001.
  • Moroccan authorities believe that bin Laden provided $70,000 of "seed money" to the Salafi Jihad organization through Zarqawi.
  • One of Zarqawi's top lieutenants in Germany, Abderrazak al-Mahdjoub, was involved in the financing of the Hamburg cell that carried out the 9/11 attacks.
  • Zarqawi fled to Iran after the bombing in Afghanistan with Saif al-Adel and bin Laden's son Saad (among hundreds of other upper and mid-level al-Qaeda leaders) and like them was protected by the IRGC.
  • While in Iraq, Zarqawi ordered the assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan. One of the assassins, Salem Saad bin Suweid, was a known member of the Libyan al-Qaeda affiliate FIG according to Jordanian authorities.
  • Zarqawi sought refuge with Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq, which was unquestionably an al-Qaeda affiliate group.
  • The 3/11 bombings in Spain involved members of al-Tawhid, al-Qaeda, the existing Algerian GSPC network in Spain, and members of the Moroccan Salafi Jihad who forced to flee Morocco following the Casablanca bombings. The key masterminds behind the attack were Amir Azizi, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, and Rabei Osman Sayyid Ahmed. One was an al-Tawhid member, another is Zarqawi's second-in-command, and the third is a senior member of al-Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The most obvious conclusions that one can draw from all of this is that there was either a joint operation between the four groups or that the four groups are part of the same terrorist coalition, which bin Laden referred to in his 1998 declaration of war as the International Islamic Front (IIF).
  • In the Milan wiretaps, al-Tawhid members speak quite eloquently about what a great man "Emir Abdullah" (i.e. bin Laden) is and refer to Zarqawi as the man who is close to him. That doesn't quite jive with the idea that Zarqawi is some kind of rival or enemy to bin Laden, or if he is at the very least his subordinates don't seem to think so.
  • The courier for Zarqawi's now-famous letter was none other than Hassan Ghul, a known mid-level al-Qaeda leader. In the letter, Zarqawi addresses bin Laden with obvious deference and respect, not from a superior-subordinate perspective, but rather from a perspective which might be compared to that of a corporate board member addressing a CEO.
  • Copies of Zarqawi's letter found their way to the homes of lesser members of the "Golden Chain" in Saudi Arabia. I very much doubt that their identities are all that well publicized, even in the world of international terrorism. Certainly they aren't things that al-Qaeda is just going to casually slip ...
  • In the most recent Amman plot, the perpetrators delivered their confessions on Jordanian national TV. In them, Azmi al-Jayyousi stated quite clearly that Zarqawi told him that their attack was going to be the first chemical weapons attack perpetrated by al-Qaeda, not al-Tawhid.
  • In both his latest audiotape in which he offered a truce to Europe, bin Laden praised al-Tawhid for its activities against American forces in Iraq. Given that bin Laden almost never claims responsibility for the attacks perpetrated by his jackboots but instead praises them, I strongly suspect that this is as close as we're going to get on this point to him claiming Zarqawi's group as his own.

The evidence against ...

This is the most complete listing that I've been make to find of the alleged reasons why Zarqawi and al-Tawhid are not tied to al-Qaeda:

1. Zarqawi did not swear an oath of allegiance to bin Laden.

2. Zarqawi had his own independent training infrastructure in Herat, separate from that of al-Qaeda's.

3. Zarqawi ordered his German minions not to support their al-Qaeda counterparts there with money.

4. The testimony of Shadi Abdallah.

5. The somewhat bizarre belief (at least in my view) that just because Zarqawi sought aid from bin Laden via Hassan Ghul meant that he had not done so in the past.

6. Zarqawi's views towards the Shi'ites in his letter are/are not consistent with those of bin Laden's, nor are his views towards attacking the "near" rather than the "far" enemy.

7. Al-Qaeda turned down Zarqawi's request for assistance, likely in deference to their current IRGC backers.

8. A Zarqawi lieutenant was recently quoted in al-Hayat as denying that Zarqawi was an al-Qaeda member.

Keep in mind that in cases like this, you can't just dismiss all of this evidence off-hand. As a result, I'm going to try and do my best to harmonize them to show why none of these counter-claims are inconsistent with the position that Zarqawi is both a leader of al-Tawhid as well as an al-Qaeda leader. All in all, I think that the weight of the evidence shows that he is only as much of a rival of bin Laden's as Zarqawi was.

Harmonizing all the data

To deal with the counter-claims specifically:

1. Neither did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, or Hambali, though I very much doubt that anyone is going to make the serious case that any of these guys aren't al-Qaeda leaders. Read the sainted 9/11 report, it's all quite clear on these points. Ultimately, I think that arguments about whether or not x is an al-Qaeda leader or to what extent y group is tied to al-Qaeda is something of a red herring that boils down to little more than a matter of semantics. Al-Qaeda didn't even refer to itself as such prior to 9/11.

2. That "independent training infrastructure" existed in Herat, which was unquestionably under Taliban control. No Islamist organization was allowed to operate inside Afghanistan that didn't join bin Laden's International Front, no matter how similar their ideologies might have been to that of Mullah Omar's. Ask Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, for example. Bin Laden wasn't the type of person to tolerate rivals and if he had viewed Zarqawi as such he would have almost certainly had him eliminated.

Instead, what Zarqawi ran in Afghanistan was his own autonomous training infrastructure for al-Tawhid, the Great Islamic Eastern Raiders' Front, and Turkish Hezbollah among others. There are certainly precedents for this with the autonomous training camps in Afghanistan that had formerly been managed by Abu Zubaydah and JI.

3. This was likely little more than a dispute over money, which was and is quite common within terrorist organizations that don't rely on official channels to transfer funds. If Zarqawi was concerned about whether or not the money being raised for jihad in Germany was going to line the pockets of the local cell leaders, it would have made perfect sense for him to order such a move.

Similiar difficulties have emerged from a number of al-Qaeda e-mails recovered on computer hard drives from Afghanistan in which the organization attempted to ensure that the many thousands of dollars that were being sent back and forth overseas was actually going to its intended destinations. See al-Zawahiri's dispute with the Yemeni cells for more on this.

4. I've learned a lot more about this since the original piece on the subject appeared in a Newsweek web exclusive some months ago. Suffice it to say that a lot of what Abdallah confessed to was apparently true, which was why the Germans were as firm as they were in accepting what he had to say about Zarqawi. On the other hand, he may not have known all the facts, as by his own admission he was only working for both bin Laden and Zarqawi directly for a very short time and may not have had a chance to learn all the information on the interplay between the two men.

5. The letter found on Hassan Ghul was not sychophantic, but is certainly deferrential in nature. I myself have noted that because al-Qaeda (or more specifically the International Front) is a coalition of groups rather than a military-style organization, this makes perfect sense. Zarqawi's position in al-Qaeda could easily be compared to Joe's with respect to my own here on WoC.

6. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's views on Shi'ites aren't consistent with al-Qaeda's either, but that doesn't keep the group from using them as cannon fodder. And the available evidence, including Shadi Abdallah's testimony, certainly indicates that Zarqawi has ties to Iran, suggesting that he may be a little more ecumenical than the letter let on. The alleged near/far enemy difference between bin Laden and Zarqawi is a red herring; al-Qaeda encourages its members and affiliate groups to think global and act local, which is exactly why al-Tawhid kidnapped Indonesians inside Iraq in an effort to secure the release of JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir.

7. And Zarqawi has since ceased anti-Shi'ite attacks. Anybody care to guess why that might be? On a further note, one of the groups operating inside the organization sent aid to Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army back in April.

8. That terrorist probably thought of al-Qaeda, judging from the al-Hayat article, as referring to only a small number of people who have sworn oaths of unconditional allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Or he could simply be lying. Either way, the alternative is to believe that there is a second international anti-US Islamist movement in al-Tawhid that just happens to operate in synch with and overlap on everything we know about al-Qaeda. Which do you truly think is more plausible?


If anybody wants to seriously argue these points, I am more than open to discussion. Also note that none of this relates to Zarqawi's ties to the former Iraqi regime, though I will note that the recent CIA report on the subject drew no conclusions, which is the bottom line in terms of the document.

However, to argue that Zarqawi isn't an al-Qaeda leader in my view dangerously serves to under-estimate the scope and nature of a very dangerous and determined killer. He has already killed more Iraqis than the number of Israeli civilians who have died during the entire course of the Intifada.

He is not to be taken lightly.

5 TrackBacks

Tracked: October 15, 2004 2:51 PM
Zarqawi: Is He Really al-Qaeda? from Backcountry Conservative
Excerpt: Dan Darling has an excellent roundup of all the various schools of thoughts in Western and Arab intelligence communities. He does a very good job of laying out all the different positions before analyzing the aggregate evidence in both directions...
Tracked: October 16, 2004 12:46 PM
Weekend Update - 10/16/04 from the fourth rail
Excerpt: Here's the roundup of news related related to the war and other areas I neglected to cover this week. If you have any tips, please email me with a link to the article and a quick summary. World War IV:...
Tracked: October 18, 2004 5:41 AM
Why They Deny from the fourth rail
Excerpt: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Is he a member of al Qaeda, as the United States government claimed prior to the Iraq war, or is he an independent, freelance terrorist working in competition with Osama bin Laden? The question is not merely...
Tracked: July 25, 2005 5:13 AM
Wounded Z, Revisited from The Fourth Rail
Excerpt: Rumors that al Qaeda’s Commander in Iraq Abu Musab al Zarqawi has been wounded prior to and during Operation Matador are beginning to resurface. When Zarqawi’s lap top was seized, it was believed he was taking painkillers while recovering "from...
Tracked: March 13, 2006 5:50 PM
Unwelcome in al-Anbar: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from Good News from the Front
Excerpt: Mao used to say the guerilla has to swim among the population as a fish in the sea. In al-Anbar, it looks like al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi has managed to pull the plug on the bathtub. Something noted by Army Maj....


It's a tangential issue, but I'm curious about your views on the 1994 Mashad bombing. As I understand it, Iran officially blamed this on the MKO, but floated the idea that Ramzi Yousef was involved as well, and now B. Raman has even thrown Zarqawi into the mix as a possible co-conspirator, although he should have been in jail in Jordan at the time. It's conceivable he played a role like the blind sheikh, who even while in jail in New York managed to have communications passed on to the outside world. But I'm wondering if this is all just Iranian blarney.

I've tried to track down the source of the allegation that the Mashad bombing was the work of Iranian intelligence itself. The closest I've come is a 1999 briefing by NCRI, the US representative of the MKO, which quotes the imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji. Ganji was a former intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guards who joined Khatami's faction, and exposed a series of murders in late 1998 as the work of professional assassins. The deputy intelligence minister, Saeed Emami, was ultimately blamed, and he either killed himself or was murdered while in captivity; then Ganji's main source, Khatami's deputy Saeed Hajjarian, was almost assassinated, and finally Ganji himself was sent to jail (along with many other journalists) for insulting the Supreme Leader, or some such crime. I believe Ganji's problems were also precipitated by an article in 1998 hinting that Rafsanjani was involved with Emami's clique, just as Rafsanjani was preparing to stand in an election.

As I understand it, even the intelligence minister conceded that the 1998 murders were committed by regime agents. However, this allegation that the regime also carried out the 1994 bombing is a rather dubious one. Why would they bomb the shrine of the eighth imam? It could be that Ganji really believes this; or that he's just playing politics; or perhaps he's being quoted out of context.

I'm unclear on why he's a member of "Al-Qaeda" or not is particularly relevant. If he's a vile murderer, as seems likely, and he's operating in an area controlled by the USG, which, sadly, he seems to be, then a rational USG would try and kill him, right?

Whether he's Bin Laden's drinking buddy or not would seem to be rather less important.

I agree with T. J.

It's not like they get membership cards or that they can belong to one and only one group.

It sounds a bit like he leads his own offshoot, semi-independent group but with greater or lesser frequency links up with the wider "Al Qaeda" network.

A bit like some local/regional charity organization that gets a lot of grants from the Red Cross. Or whatever.

If so, whether he's "in" Al Qaeda is pretty much semantics. Is the local charity "part of" the Red Cross if 30% of its funding comes from the Red Cross? Maybe not. 70%? Maybe. Where do you draw line? And, who cares?

The point is that people who simultaneously (1) insist on a minimally-drawn definition of "Al Qaeda" AND (2) adhere to a this-war-is-only-against-Al-Qaeda philosophy are seriously misguided and most likely are tailoring their rhetoric mostly for the sake of avoiding wars (US-initiated). You argue against them by arguing against (1) and (2) not by proving that Zarqawi is "in" Al Qaeda, which such a person will never accept if he can at all possibly help it.

I think Blixa hits the point precisely. As some politician said recently, you don't care which crime family a guy is in, you go after him. Why is this anything other than a smokescreen problem for folks who would rather die than fight, and don't want to admit it? I think Dan should spend his considerable talents on pointing out the absurdity of the argument that Blixa has delineated, rather than wasting it on a sideshow.

Peoples' point here that we should go after Zarqawi regardless make sense to me.

As to why Dan spent the time.... Part of the issue is that Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war, pretty obviously with Saddam's blessing, so his connections to al-Qaeda assume a certain level of relevance.

Dan's points about Zarqawi issuing orders that are obeyed by Al-Qaeda members, and helping to kick-start al-Qaeda cells et. al., are pretty persuasive to me. If this stuff is true (the automatic caveat that goes with all intelligence), then Zarqawi is very obviously much more than an affiliate.

Which brings us to the next issue, and that is the importance of the battle of Fallujah in the overall War on Terror. That's Zarqawi's base, and so pressing on to victory there assumes an importance that goes beyond whatever one thinks of Iraq. Zarqawi's presence may also alter U.S. tactics - he's a slippery fish, and they may have to modify their plans in order to lower his odds of getting away.

Dan, fantastic work. Thanks.

Agree with TJ and Blixa.

BTW, Dan, I think you mean "as much of a rival as Zawahiri was."

In any case, I think the best way to think about Zarqawi is as a cannibalizing agent. He clearly collaborates with AQ when it helps him, but he's also competing for funding and recruits at the same time. He's trying to take over, but he needs Bin Laden's money and support during the transition period.

He's more hard-core than Bin Laden in his appetite for random ultra-violence, and he has less rhetorical appeal. I'd say that ultimately, he's less dangerous than Bin Laden because he isn't trying to speak to a broader Muslim audience (in terms of grievances against the West), he's just a pornographer of violence.

pretty obviously with Saddam's blessing

Actually, I think that is far more controversial than Zarqawi's links to Al Qaeda. Notice that the charge that the Ansar al Islam's #2 or #3 guy was Mukhabarat, which I believe came from the Kurds, has been dropped.

praktike--_he's just a pornographer of violence_
Do I need to remind you? Pornography sells.

TJ, Blixa, praktike-- the reason it's important is network theory, performance metrics, and emergent doctrine analysis.

Thank you Dan, awesome analysis. You do realize that you'd be worshipped as a god in the blackworld?


Fair enough but anyone willing to take a "network theory" approach to Greater Al Qaeda (unless they were an idiot) would not begin by drawing a minimally-circumscribed definition of Al Qaeda which one is either "in" or "not in", in the first place. In other words, to those people this question is moot (or, silly); they're already sold, they're ready to stipulate that Zarqawi has some nonzero "Al Qaeda coefficient", at most they'd haggle over what it is.

For the record, the purpose of my previous post was not to argue that Dan shouldn't have done this work or made this post. I welcome and respect Dan's efforts on these matters, if only because I'm way too lazy :)

"Fair enough but anyone willing to take a "network theory" approach to Greater Al Qaeda... "
Well, that's part of the New Terrorist War-- we need new paradigms and performance metrics, and it seems Dan's one person doing it, not mired in anachronistic tradional warfare metrics.

Hmmm, perhaps, we can use Fuzzy Subset Theory to calculate membership, and relative memetic distances between individuals-- jus kiddin' :)

TJ, Blixa, praktike-- the reason it's important is network theory, performance metrics, and emergent doctrine analysis.

Well, yeah, but from a "should we kill Zarqawi" perspective, it doesn't matter too much, does it? But yeah, if you want to roll 'em up, this is vital.

I agree with a couple of the above posters - this is useful only for trying to discern the shape of things. Belonging to some other terrorist group is no way to hide.

Which is one of the things John Kerry keeps hammering that is irritating. Osama is N_O_T the whole ball game. Al Queda isn't either.

Do we know where Zarqawi was 2002-March 2003 btw?


There are apparently a lot of different views about who carried out the 1994 Mashhad bombing and why. As far as the Iranians carrying out the bombing themselves, that is one school of thought. As far as why they would do such a thing, I don't even pretend to understand all of the complexities, in-fighting, and considerable overlap between domestic and international politics that goes on in Iran. There's also an entirely legitimate school of thought that the Iranians tried to use Sadr to stir up US action against the Imam Ali Shrine as a means of shoring up domestic legitimacy for the Iranian regime.

T. J. Madison:

I'm unclear on why he's a member of "Al-Qaeda" or not is particularly relevant. If he's a vile murderer, as seems likely, and he's operating in an area controlled by the USG, which, sadly, he seems to be, then a rational USG would try and kill him, right?

It's important and relevant because you need to get an accurate assessment of your enemies and if OIF proved anything it's that having accurate assessments are quite key to how you approach situations.

John Davies:

It's not like they get membership cards or that they can belong to one and only one group.

You're quite correct, which is why a jihadi can be an al-Tawhid, Ansar al-Islam, and al-Qaeda member all simultaneously. The divisions between the groups that make up the International Front are ultimately a matter of semantics.


I agree, but let me augment your points slightly:

1. The strict construction of al-Qaeda as encompassing only those terrorists who are personally sworn to bin Laden would exclude Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who masterminded 9/11. Anybody want to seriously argue that we should adopt such an inane standard?

2. I agree completely, which is very likely what I think the people who are leaking these views to the press have in mind. I don't think that they seriously want the US to adhere to a "this-war-is-only-against-Al-Qaeda philosophy" so much as they are attempting to undermine the rationale for the current Iraq conflict.

This doesn't change, however, the fact that Zarqawi is, objectively speaking, an al-Qaeda leader, which is why the US and British governments classified him as such in their pre-war intelligence inquiries. If you want to take issue with that, you can argue with them, not me.


In any case, I think the best way to think about Zarqawi is as a cannibalizing agent. He clearly collaborates with AQ when it helps him, but he's also competing for funding and recruits at the same time. He's trying to take over, but he needs Bin Laden's money and support during the transition period.

I don't think we have enough information available to assess that objectively. For example, aside from the 9/11 commission's surface views and a few anecdotes that have come over the years, we really have no idea as to how various al-Qaeda leaders relate to one another or see themselves through the perspective of their larger agenda. If he was really a serious competitor to bin Laden, why wasn't he eliminated in Afghanistan when he had the opportunity to do so?

He's more hard-core than Bin Laden in his appetite for random ultra-violence, and he has less rhetorical appeal. I'd say that ultimately, he's less dangerous than Bin Laden because he isn't trying to speak to a broader Muslim audience (in terms of grievances against the West), he's just a pornographer of violence.

That depends on your definition of "dangerous." The GIA under Antar Zouabri was "less dangerous" to the GSPC under Hassan Hattab during the same period in terms of actually toppling the Algerian government. They were still responsible for thousands of civilian deaths before their threat subsided.

Actually, I think that is far more controversial than Zarqawi's links to Al Qaeda. Notice that the charge that the Ansar al Islam's #2 or #3 guy was Mukhabarat, which I believe came from the Kurds, has been dropped.

Eh? Rohan Gunaratna, who opposed the war and doesn't regard US claims of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda, is firmly convinced that Abu Wael was a Mukhabarat agent. So are Jonathan Schanzer, Michael Rubin, and Ken Pollack, the first of whom is one of the few counter-terrorism experts to have actually interviewed captured Ansar al-Islam detainees on the subject. They also told him that Zarqawi was an al-Qaeda member, in case anybody's curious. The nature of the dispute is whether or not Abu Wael was a known Mukhabarat agent who acted as the group's liaison with the Iraqi regime or a Mukhabarat agent sent in by Saddam Hussein to take over the group and subvert it for his own nefarious ends.



Dan- the reason I brought up Abu Wael is because he wasn't mentioned in any of the reporting on this latest request to Cheney. Maybe, as you say, the discussion about how it doesn't make any sense for Saddam to affiliate himself with an organization that was dedicated to his overthrow gets at the Abu Wael question implicitly.


The reason that Abu Wael wasn't mentioned with respect to the request submitted by Cheney is because, according to both my own understanding of the document and people I've talked to, it zeroes in on the question of Zarqawi rather than Abu Wael. Rumsfeld gave a pretty candid summary of the document while at the CoFR: it goes back and forth on Zarqawi and provides a pro and a con side on whether or not he was involved with the Iraqi regime, but it refrains from drawing any hard conclusions.

To the bureaucrats (though I still maintain this is just a matter of semantics), whether or not Saddam Hussein aided Ansar al-Islam is a separate question to whether or not he aided al-Qaeda.

Like I said, Schanzer, who is the only person I know of who has interviewed Ansar al-Islam detainees on the subject, is pretty firmly convinced that the Abu Wael stuff holds up. So is Gunaratna, who is very highly regarded in the CT field, though as I noted he takes issue with US claims with respect to Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda. But even he doesn't dispute that Abu Wael was a Mukhabarat agent, he just disputes his capacity.

And the SSIC report said that the pre-war data on Abu Wael, which Powell mentioned (though not by name) at his UN speech was screened by all the relevant US intel agencies.

OK, so I read this, but I still don't understand why we wouldn't have heard more about it if it were true.

As for this ... "Colonel Saadan Mahmoud Abdul Latif al-Aani, aka Abu Wael, should be number 56."

... has that happened?

Out of curiousity, where would Gunaratna have gotten his information? He didn't even mention Zarqawi in his book.


I dunno, but then I haven't been in touch with Schanzer or anybody in a position to contact him since August. If that changes, I'll let you know.

As for Gunaratna, yes he does mention Zarqawi in his book on p. 229 as one of the al-Qaeda leaders still at large. He also works very closely with a number of governments, which means he'd be in a pretty good position to know such things.


"Anybody want to seriously argue that we should adopt such an inane standard?"

Of course not, but there are plenty who disingenuously advance such an inane standard, at least when they can, even if they do so inconsistently. And by inane standards ("didn't swear oath to OBL" for example) we may end up being forced to admit that, ok, if that's what AQ means, then Zarqawi "isn't in" AQ. What I'm trying to lay the groundwork for is saying, If that's your standard, then who cares?

"This doesn't change, however, the fact that Zarqawi is, objectively speaking, an al-Qaeda leader, which is why the US and British governments classified him as such in their pre-war intelligence inquiries. If you want to take issue with that, you can argue with them, not me."

Oh I don't take issue with that at all. I think what I take issue with is the idea that if there's someone out there with such a strict definition of AQ that Zarqawi doesn't qualify, that this discussion is worth having with that person. Such a person obviously has other priorities besides sincerely learning who's in AQ.

This discussion would be worth having with people who don't have a silly definition of AQ, or who are into that network-analysis approach, etc., but AFAIK all such people already buy Zarqawi-as-AQ anyway in which case this is preaching to the choir.


Jason Burke in his book about Al Qaeda is adamant that al-Zarqawi is not a leader of Al Qaeda but of a rival group. Most of his arguments however are the same as those that you present as the evidence against him being part of Al Qaeda. So after reading it all i have to conclude that Burke almost certainly is wrong about this. That makes me wonder about his other opinions expressed in his book of course. For example, he writes that the bombings in Madrid are very different in style from that of Al Qaeda and that the group resposible for it has very few links with Al Qaeda. He thinks they were operating autonomously.

>>It's important and relevant because you need to get an accurate assessment of your enemies and if OIF proved anything it's that having accurate assessments are quite key to how you approach situations.

Ok, that makes sense.

We all have to take our thinking up a few notches.

There are dozens of Jihadist groups in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and they're spreading to Europe and South America.

Al Qaeda translates as "the base," and needs to be thought of as such. The enemy is a network of Islamic fundamentalist groups and individuals and it matters not whether they attain formal membership in al Qaeda. Their goal of killing the infidels (us) both at home and abroad is all that matters.

Is Zarqawi a member of al Qaeda? I don't know and I don't care. He is part of the global jihad against the West and that's all we should care about.

Sadly, John Kerry has no clue about this reality and Bush was far from stellar in pouncing on him over this is the debates. I fear that the Bush administration doesn't get it either.

Well this ought to settle two things: Zarqawi pledges allegiance to Bin Laden. He must still be alive.

Why? Such a declaration could be made to rally the forces even if bin Laden is dead.

Am I missing something here?

Occam's Razor?

Understood ... in ordinary circumstances I might agree.

But I'm not sure that, given the thoughtworld of fanatics whose ideology explicitly encourages lying to the kaffir and whipping the faithful into a killing frenzy, the razor shaves in this case.

I haven't a clue whether bin Laden is alive or well, but I personally don't find the website reference very convincing as proof he is.

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