As indicated by this report and a stream of others, Pakistan is increasingly being challenged in Waziristan by al-Qaeda and its allies, a situation that has been steadily building in momentum ever since the failure of Pakistani troops to defeat al-Qaeda and its IMU allies in the spring of 2004.
This poses a difficult question for the US since our favored policy since late 2001 has been to support the Musharraf government in Pakistan and assist them in fighting al-Qaeda as an internal Pakistani affair. But if the Pakistani military is more or less thrown out of Waziristan as is now looking more and more as may be the case, I think it's fair to raise the question of what we do then given our current problems with regard to US overstretch and the delicate nature of the political situation there. I certainly don't have the answer, but I sure as hell hope that somebody does.
Reuters and AP are reporting that an IRGC military plane has crashed, killing General Ahmed Kazemi, the commander of the IRGC's ground forces and former commander of its air force, and what looks like several other senior IRGC commanders. No word yet on whether or not Qassem Suleimani was among them, but I suspect we don't get that lucky.
In addition to the repercussions of General Kazemi's death, notably that this is going to be a lot more short-term power consolidated into the hands of IRGC's commander-in-chief Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi and his deputy General Mohammed Baqir Zolqadr (assuming that neither were on the plane, which I doubt since both are more prominent than Kazemi and would have been mentioned first), which seems to be part of a continuing trend in Iran. One thing I've noticed of late about the regime is that if you compare the frequency and prominence of current and ex-IRGC members in the current government to clerics you'll see that Iran looks less like a theocracy and more and more like a traditional military junta.
Oh, and it's worth noting what the US discovered the last time a plane full of IRGC crashed back in February 2003:
The tough line on Iran contemplated by the United States is partly driven by intelligence reports that Iranian revolutionary guards are sheltering al-Qaeda leaders at one of the former shah's hunting lodges, it has emerged. ... The trail of clues that led to a grand hunting lodge - now a military base - in the eastern highlands near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan surfaced after an air crash in February outside the city of Kerman killed 200 soldiers from the revolutionary guards. A Washington source claimed the crash produced intelligence that the revolutionary guards were "hosting" the al-Qaeda leaders.
Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
The other dead IRGC commanders killed in the crash have been identified as follows:
Initial reports suggested that Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani was indeed among those killed in the crash, but IRNA is now saying that he wasn't aboard the plane and that the dead Brigadier General was Saeed Suleimani, the commander of operations for the IRGC ground forces. All in all, looks like a major blow to the IRGC.
For those who are curious about Kazemi, he was active in southern Lebanon in the 1980s and helped to orchestrate successful terrorist attacks against US and French troops during that time. Prior to being appointed as the head of the IRGC's ground forces, he was the commander of its aerial assets and supervised the development of Iran's Shahab missiles, including the Shahab-4, which is almost certainly capable of hitting Europe. I expect that all of the other commanders have similar histories, which goes back to my earlier point in the comments that anybody holding a high rank in the IRGC isn't a particularly nice person to begin with.
As a general rule, I tend to be wary of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a wariness that I will happily justify on account of the fact that two of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world (Gamaa al-Islamiyyah and Egyptian Islamic Jihad) began their existence as offshoots of the Brotherhood. So it was with some interest that I listened to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's most statement (some of it narrated by American al-Qaeda member Azzam al-Ameriki, aka Adam Gadahn) that included yet another denunciation of the Brotherhood's participation in Egyptian politics. This denunciation itself isn't anything particularly new - al-Zawahiri once went as far as to publish a book called Bitter Harvest that more or less accuses the Brotherhood of betraying the goals of political Islam, though his letter to Zarqawi claimed that the version that reached the general public was only a rough draft that he believed had been circulated by the US to discredit him.
As I understand it, al-Zawahiri's opinion on the Brotherhood isn't so much that they're traitors as it is that he sees them as misguided fellow travelers that he hopes to convince to fully embrace al-Qaeda and its objectives rather than what he sees as half-hearted efforts regarding the establishment of an Islamic state. How al-Qaeda regards Islamic parties in general participating in the democratic process has always been somewhat murky, since despite their public denunciations of democracy they have no problem making common cause with the Algerian FIS, the Pakistani MMA, the Malaysian PAS, and so on. If I had to guess, I would say that they believe that it is acceptable to embrace democracy or at least the democratic process when they think they can win ("one man, one vote, one time") but are far more wary about allies or even potential allies like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood entering politics for fear that they will be compromised by the inherent moderating nature of democracy and gradually lose interest in their theocratic objectives.
The first is a defense of their involvement in Egyptian politics:
“Those opposing the participation in power of moderate Islamist movements are the Americans, authoritarian Arab regimes, radical secularists ... and Ayman Zawahiri. Isn’t that a strange alliance?” “It is in Al-Qaida’s interest to claim that our gains are useless because our movement does not believe in violence, but Zawahiri’s stance serves neither Islam’s interests nor the nation’s,” Erian added.
That's about as close to the usual pro forma denunciation of al-Qaeda as Essam al-Erian comes, however. Far more interesting is this statement, however:
'What's strange is that al-Zawaheri did not know about the warning from the European Union, the United States and (Israeli Premier Ariel) Sharon against Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections,' al-Erian continued.
The EU said in December that it might halt its aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas wins the elections.'We are waiting to see where al-Zawerhi stands,' al-Erian added.
The implication of that last statement, at least as I read it, would seem to be that if al-Zawahiri turns around and supports the Brotherhood on this one that they might be inclined towards some kind of informal quid pro quo. This is something to keep in mind as far as US policy towards Egypt is concerned - we definitely need to keep pressing for political reform there, but we do not need to embolden a movement flirting back and forth with al-Qaeda in the cultural center of the Arab world.
With respect to al-Zawahiri's claim that Bush needs to admit defeat in Iraq, we already saw hints of this in his instructions to Zarqawi to start making plans for after the US leaves so here again this isn't anything particularly new, nor is it being repeated simply for propaganda value. Regardless of whether or not al-Qaeda in Iraq under Zarqawi can take and hold Iraq (and I still maintain that this can't just be dismissed off-hand), the fate of the country after the US leaves was always a secondary consideration to their ultimate goal of defeating the United States.
Zarqawi helps to clarify this in his own recent audiotape:
"First, chase out the invaders from our territory in Palestine, in Iraq and everywhere in Islamic land. "Second, install sharia (Islamic law) on the entire Earth and spread Islamic justice there (...). The attacks will not cease until after the victory of Islam and the setting up of sharia," he swore.
One might recall that al-Qaeda regards "Islamic land" as stretching from Morocco to the Philippines and encompassing a number of decidedly non-Muslim regions (in addition to a lot of Muslim regions whose populations would probably not desire rule from al-Zawahiri and bin Laden), notably Iberia and much of the Indian subcontinent. I have expressed here and in other forums for my concern in that I believe there is a lot of pressure for the GOP to abandon Iraq before the 2006 mid-term elections for domestic political advantage and whether or not that fear has any basis in fact one of the things that al-Zawahiri's message makes clear and one that political leaders on all sides need to recognize is that the violence from al-Qaeda is not going to stop no matter what happens in Iraq - particularly if, as the critics allege, they now have a huge pool of new recruits with which to hurl against our interests and those of our allies. One other thing to be noted regardless of the events on the ground is that if we frame any US withdrawl or draw-down from Iraq out of a desire to remove our troops from harm's way that we have given the enemy an enormous propaganda victory that frankly I don't believe they've earned. Of course, no defeat is usually ever seen as such when it first occurs - US withdrawl Somalia, which was framed much the same way (a desire to remove US troops from harm), certainly wasn't seen as a defeat while the withdrawl was occurring back in 1993.
Having said that, it is worth noting that Zarqawi claimed in his audiotaped message that he had been personally ordered by bin Laden to carry out the recent rocket attack on northern Israel. ICT has a pretty good summary and background info on that particular attack, which notes that if it was al-Qaeda it seems that the Saif al-Adel's master strategy is still very much in force.
I would also think that this should be kept in mind for the future:
The Third Phase This is described as "Arising and Standing Up" and should last from 2007 to 2010. "There will be a focus on Syria," prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and -- even more explosive -- in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaida's masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.
This is something to keep in mind concerning al-Qaeda's continuing efforts to attack Jordan, Turkey, and Israel and is worth watching given the rather volatile nature of the Syrian government at present following the defection of former vice president Khaddam. Also, if the US efforts to seal the Iraqi border with Syria are as successful as the US military believes, preparing these cadres might be one reason why we haven't seen more action against Damascus at present.
The tragic violence in Iraq that has left more than 160 dead over the last 2 days may strike some as disillusioning in the wake of the success and reasonably non-violent elections on December 15.
As I noted at the time:
As long as Zarqawi is still out there, though, I think it's naive to think that he isn't going to make a renewed effort to destroy whatever government comes to power following the election, which is why as Cordesman and others have noted that the neutralization of his network must serve as an integral part of any strategy for stabilizing Iraq.
That, not the progress of the new Iraqi military, security forces, or government, is what Washington policy-makers need to consider when talking about troop withdrawl. Zarqawi sat out the Iraqi elections for a variety of reasons and has probably been planning this attack for awhile now with the goal of scuttling a new national unity government (see Hakim's remarks in the New York Times story that he almost certainly considers a sign of success at this point) and drawing as many Sunnis who believe that they were screwed out of the Iraqi elections and are now willing eschew political participation in favor of joining al-Qaeda in Iraq. Lest this be seen as an apocalyptic account, I want to be clear that I expect that the actual number of recruits that he is going to get out of this is going to be quite small but recall that his entire group, its allied groups, and the entire Iraqi insurgency as a whole was never a majority of the Iraqi Sunnis to begin with.
Several other points should be noted, the first being based on my conversations with Bill Roggio and others are that I suspect Zarqawi now has considerably more trouble getting his suicide bombers and additional foreign recruits in from Syria since the military operations in western Iraq in late spring and throughout the summer that appear to have successfully disrupted his supply lines. Irrespective of whatever actions the Syrian government claims (and I'm skeptical of most of the arguments that Damascus would never support the infiltration of jihadis into Iraq) to have taken against jihadis, such as the Majallah Minbar Suriyyah al-Islami claim in July 2005 that Syria had arrested 1,300 jihadis - maybe the ones who couldn't infiltrate themselves into Iraq? In any event, because of this disruption, Zarqawi isn't able to stage nearly as many suicide attacks as he might prefer to and was staging with a far greater regularity from the spring of 2004 to the late spring of 2005 when the US mounted a concerted campaign to disrupt the "rat lines" operating along the Syrian border. While most members of al-Qaeda in Iraq are Iraqis, numerous studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of suicide bombers are foreigners, generally Saudis.
As a result of this loss of a source of easily replaceable suicide bombers, Zarqawi is likely conserving those he is still able to infiltrate into Iraq or was able to get in before the rat lines were sealed for major mass casualty attacks like those that have unfolded today. If this trend holds, we may see a trend towards larger terrorist attacks aimed at inflicting a maximum death toll spaced out over a greater period of time. There isn't much of a quantitative difference between this and Zarqawi's earlier ling chi strategy as far as its ability to disrupt both the day-to-day life of Iraqis and the political process in addition to the high casualties his attacks generate, which is one of the reasons why Zarqawi and his network simply has to be eliminated before Iraq can stabilize.
Finally, for those who might otherwise forget that we are engaged in a global war of which Iraq is an aspect, it behooves me to note that more than 100 Jordanian Islamists attacked Swaqa prison (where Zarqawi was incarcerated through much of the 1990s) in an apparent effort to free the Zarqawi followers held there who were responsible for the assassination of a US diplomat in Amman in October 2002 - I think we can guess who the "Islamists" in question are. For those who are curious about why I was so pissed about ABC reporting the current location where senior al-Qaeda leaders are being held is that I can easily imagine the GSPC mounting a parallel operation in Algeria or Morocco. Now in the case of the Swaqa raid, the Jordanians were able to repel it, but does anybody want to guess what would happen were the GSPC able to rescue KSM, Abu Zubaydah, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, and the other members of the assorted villain's gallery that the US has rounded up over the last several years? Those who wanted to make their objections to the secret detentions known can do so in ways that don't involve revealing valuable intelligence to the enemy.
As an addendum, I should note that there was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan the other day. I don't think that it's all that unfounded to suppose that there might well be a connection between this and the attacks in Iraq given al-Qaeda's love for simultaneous operations.
I imagine this'll probably get noted by our own HateWatch, but am I the only one who was more than a little freaked to learn that Hugo Chavez seems to have revived the deicide libel?
In a televised Christmas Eve speech, Chavez, a left-winger and a former soldier, said that "minorities, descendants of those who crucified Christ ... have grabbed all the wealth of the world for themselves."
There aren't any further excerpts from the speech, but judging from that one I'm guessing that it went downhill from there. I haven't blogged hardly at all about Chavez, but based on what I have seen of the situation he's getting better and better at his Fidel impression as he systematically dismantles the democratic machinery of Venezuela and is intending to spread his more or less communist ideology throughout Latin America that so far he seems to be succeeding. Both the US News and World Report story from awhile back documenting his support for FARC combined with an encounter I had with Venezuelan dissidents seeking American support last summer while I was in DC was more than enough to convince me that the man was bad news apart from whatever sick beliefs he has about some international Jewish conspiracy.
The problem, of course, is that Chavez isn't too likely to pay for these remarks because he has all the right enemies. Because of alleged CIA involvement in the brief 2002 attempt to depose him, many of his Western and Latin American admirers believe nothing less than that he can do no wrong and that his anti-Western and anti-American attitudes are more or less a good thing, at least as long as he's against the Bush administration. For some people, I guess, that means his heart's in the right place.
As kind of a follow-up to my earlier post in response to William Dalrymple's thoughts on madrassas in the New York Review of Books, the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, as part of its ongoing and excellent coverage of the "Talibanization" of northern Pakistan over the last several years notes that Pakistani colleges like the Government Degree College in Mir Ali, North Waziristan are breeding grounds for al-Qaeda support and that a student from that university was among those fighters killed alongside senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia, an event that sort of raises some questions in and of itself.
This anecdote is particularly telling:
A senior teacher at the college said that at least one in four families had lost a member to ‘jihad’ and the youth were inspired by the tribesmen against forces fighting the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “The tribal youth are the biggest casualty of the war on terror in FATA. As you know the best education one can get is at home and there is no tribal family without pro-jihadi sentiments,” the teacher told Daily Times.
Now just to be clear, the Government Degree College in Mir Ali isn't a madrassa - I believe it focuses on the hard sciences, which fits with the documented trend in other parts of the world from Egypt to Indonesia on the appeal of Islamism among engineering students for reasons I leave to the sociologists to determine. Most of these guys are never going to carry out terrorist attacks in Western countries, but they are going to serve as the backbone for the next generation of recruits for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which I have long argued is all but impossible to disentangle from bin Laden's global network without a great deal of semantics and rhetorical hair-splitting - take a look at this article and try to say with a straight face that the LeT is just focused on Kashmir (with the implications of such a view being that it's okay for them to kill Indians). Unless the war on terrorism involves a comprehensive program, both military and non-military, to completely eradicate these organizations they are just going to regenerate and the conflict is going to be prolonged. A major part of that non-military aspect has to involve efforts to combat the radicalization that is known to occur at any number of Pakistani madrassas known to be under the control of al-Qaeda allies like the Markaz ud-Dawaa wal Irshad or sponsored by the political parties Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami, both of which are the most radical member groups (and that's saying something right there) of the pro-Taliban MMA coalition that controls the local governments of northern Pakistan.
I should mention, incidentally, that undercutting the influence of nasty NGOs like the Markaz ud-Dawaa wal Irshad was one of the reasons why I called for a major US commitment to humanitarian aid following the South Asian earthquake. Simply speaking, given the impotent and in many cases non-existing nature of the Pakistan health care system to accommodate the disaster, if the US and its allies didn't help the earthquake victims, the jihadi groups and their NGO proxies would, with the end-result being that al-Qaeda would be just as or perhaps even stronger than it was in Pakistan pre-quake, enabling it and its allies to easily recoup from the manpower and logistical losses suffered as a result of the disaster. All of which is, obviously, not in our national security interest.
Via Belgravia Dispatch, I see that Greg is taking a look at William Dalrymple's piece in New York Review of Books on the role that madrassas play in international terrorism.
I take issue with Dalrymple's analysis on a number of points as far as the 7/7 bombers are concerned, most notably being that the madrassa at Muridke that Tanweer stayed at, for instance, wasn't just a religious school, it's the undisputed headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the group's "civil service wing," the Markaz ud-Dawaa wal Irshad. Once you understand and accept the connections between the LeT and al-Qaeda, it becomes pretty easy how Tanweer could have gone from being an Islamist into being a terrorist.
More broadly, what I think both Dalrymple and Bergen (whom I think influenced his perceptions of the madrassas) do not understand is that al-Qaeda does not simply a single organization that is always and exclusively focused on attacking Western targets but is instead a network of Islamic terrorist groups pursuing local conflicts (like the "Kashmir jihad" that Dalrymple mentions in the passing) as well as international ones and that this network includes a number of Pakistani organizations including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat ul-Mujahideen, and so on and so forth. For all of those latter groups, madrassa graduates provide most of the manpower and the cannon fodder and one can only distinguish at great pains between members of the LeT in particular and those of al-Qaeda at their own peril. Other instances of madrassa students providing cannon fodder for terrorist organizations linked to al-Qaeda are that of Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, Basayev and Khattab's Chechen fighters, and most recently the terrorist groups that are carrying out their own bombing campaign in Bangladesh.
Dalrymple is quite correct to note that a lot of Islamic terrorists come not out of the madrassas but rather out of the hard science curriculums, many of them engineering graduates in the cases of the Egyptians. But I don't think that it's wise to adopt a mutually exclusive position with regard to where terrorists come from. The cannon fodder, particularly that used for guerrilla or at least paramilitary-esque style conflicts are usually made up of madrassa graduates, while many of the actual terrorists such as the bombmakers or the explosives experts tend to come out of the hard sciences. I also think that the US has a vested national security interest in minimizing the influence of or shutting down madrassas directly linked to groups like the Markaz ud-Dawaa wal Irshad if we are seriously interested in minimizing the pool of future al-Qaeda recruits.
One other thing I will say is that I think Marc Sageman's survey is being used far more broadly and authoritatively than I think he ever intended it to, particularly by people who are using it to "prove" that there was no major Iraqi component to international terrorism prior to the US invasion or that madrassa alumni are not a major component for al-Qaeda and its allies. It's a good book and an excellent study, but isn't the end-all be-all when it comes to al-Qaeda.
I see that this story on Louai Sakra (Loa'i Saqra) and his importance within al-Qaeda is finally making some serious rounds in English press, though I noted it back in August when he was captured. It's a pretty good summation of how Sakra managed to evade capture after bankrolling the November 2003 bombings, though I would contest labeling him a middle manager if he's as high-ranking as the Turks claimed at the time of his capture.
In addition to all of this, we get this wonderful anecdote:
Al-Saqa could also be extradited to Jordan, where a military court convicted him, al-Zarqawi and Jordanian-American Raed Hijazi in connection with the failed millennium terror attack. Jordanian prosecutors suggested in their indictment that al-Saqa was an agent coordinating between militants traveling through Turkey to Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Istanbul, Al-Saqa played host to Hijazi and two other militants, including a cousin of al-Zarqawi, helping to arrange their travel to Pakistan for training in neighboring Afghanistan, court documents said.
Now I've noted before, all of this presents major factual problems to all of the pundits out there who want to "prove" that the war in Iraq increased the threat of terrorism by claiming that Zarqawi wasn't involved with al-Qaeda prior to the US invasion of Iraq:
Amidst the reporting on the Amman bombings, the Associated Press noted this anecdote with regard to the Radisson SAS hotel, one of the buildings targeted by the suicide bombers: "U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi and bin Laden operations chief Abu Zubaydah were chief organizers of a foiled plot to bomb the Radisson SAS. The attack was to take place during millennium celebrations, but Jordanian authorities stopped it in late 1999." If this is the case, then the bombing of the Radisson SAS and the two other Amman hotels last week should not be seen so much as an outgrowth of the Iraqi insurgency as much as a tell-tale al Qaeda modus operandi: continuing to target a given location until the attack is carried out successfully (recall the 1993 World Trade Center bombing).
Moreover, Zarqawi's close collaboration with senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the 1999 plot is another problem for intelligence analysts, counterterrorism officials, and diplomats have claimed for three years--despite the evidence to the contrary--that Zarqawi operated separately of or in opposition to bin Laden prior to the fall of 2004.Some have gone even further, claiming that it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq which brought the two terrorists together. Yet such a position defies logic given that the first public mention of Zarqawi was his original indictment in connection with the 1999 plot, where he is listed in Jordanian court records under his real name, Ahmad al-Khalialah (Ahmed al-Khalayleh), alongside senior al Qaeda leaders Zein Al Abiddeen Hassan (Zain al-Abd Din Hassan, the real name of Abu Zubaydah), Omar Mahmoud Abu Omar (Sheikh Abu Qatada, later described by Spanish authorities as bin Laden's ambassador in Europe), and Louay al-Sakkah (Louai Sakra), who was arrested over the summer in connection with a plot to attack Israeli cruise ships in Turkey.
To put it another way, you can argue that the war in Iraq increased the threat of international terrorism by creating a larger pool of al-Qaeda recruits without indulging in this kind of bad argumentation, which is almost the exact same kind of misleading and factually inaccurate argumentation that critics of the administration hold that it engages in. And as long as I'm on the subject of factual errors, somebody please let the AP stylebook people know that "mujahid" doesn't mean "guerrilla." The Turkish press, which services an almost entirely Muslim population, had no problem labeling Sakra as a terrorist, a jihadi, and even a Salafist at the time of his capture. Somebody explain to me why the AP, which services a largely non-Muslim public, can't follow their fine example?
This is probably my last post before New Year's as I've been more than a little distracted over the holiday break but I noticed this article that 2005 is a good year for al-Qaeda and its allies and figured I'd post my own take on the good, the bad, and the ugly for 2005.
Sorry if this sounds somewhat depressing, but that's basically the year in review as I see it. A number of impressive gains have been made, but there is also a lot of work that is yet to be done in terms of dismantling the terror network that attacked us on 9/11, not all of which can be accomplished by the US alone. Feel free to add anything that you think I may have missed or overlooked and I'll try to touch on it in the comments.
CIA Director Porter Goss and FBI Director Mueller's visits to Turkey received extremely little attention in the Western press, but from the stuff that's leaked out in the Turkish press, there is reason to think that it might do well for all of us to pay attention to what's going on there.
According to this summary of Hurriyet's reporting, a major topic of the discussions centered around the PKK, which is currently subsisting in their Brave New World-style communes in northern Iraq and has launched a number of attacks into Turkey since the 2003 US invasion. Most Turks (correctly) regard the PKK the same way that most Americans do al-Qaeda, so this is understandably a big issue in Turkey and one that we have been trying to resolve together with them and the Iraqis for some time now, particularly because we do not want the Turks sending the several thousand troops and support personnel into Iraq that it would take to finally wipe out the PKK.
For those who are curious about this passage:
Turkey will warn that such a development would increase the influence of al Qaeda terror network.
What the Turks are referring to here is the various Kurdish Islamist groups that once banded together under the aegis of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan during the early 1990s but have since splintered into a number of different factions, one of which was Ansar al-Islam. I should stress that we are talking 5,000 Islamist fighters at the absolute maximum, as opposed to the 100,000+ peshmerga now fielded by the various Kurdish factions. With the exception of maybe Komala Islamiyyah (which jointly garrisoned Sergat together with Ansar al-Islam prior to the war), none of these other Kurdish Islamist factions have overt ties to al-Qaeda, but they are still a security concern for the Turkish government.
Then from Zaman we get a look at some of the Turkish pressure on the US to stop what they see as European tolerance for PKK activity in Europe, some of which more or less resembles the way that Israel criticizes the Europeans for drawing a distinction between the military and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah. It also seems that Mueller raised the issue of Louai Sakra, which suggests that the CIA agrees with the Turkish assessment of him as a senior al-Qaeda leader.
The most interesting details of the meeting seem to have appeared in Cumhurriyet, which states the following:
During his recent visit to Ankara, CIA Director Porter Goss reportedly brought three dossiers on Iran to Ankara. Goss is said to have asked for Turkey’s support for Washington’s policy against Iran’s nuclear activities, charging that Tehran had supported terrorism and taken part in activities against Turkey. Goss also asked Ankara to be ready for a possible US air operation against Iran and Syria. Goss, who came to Ankara just after FBI Director Robert Mueller’s visit, brought up Iran’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons. It was said that Goss first told Ankara that Iran has nuclear weapons and this situation was creating a huge threat for both Turkey and other states in the region. Diplomatic sources say that Washington wants Turkey to coordinate with its Iran policies. The second dossier is about Iran’s stance on terrorism. The CIA argued that Iran was supporting terrorism, the PKK and al-Qaeda. The third had to do with Iran’s alleged stance against Ankara. Goss said that Tehran sees Turkey as an enemy and would try to “export its regime.”
The implication here is that the US believes that it'll be using Incirlik in any aerial operations against Iran and wants to secure Turkish cooperation on that score - the visit of Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit to DC is likely related here. I would also note that the issue of Iranian support for the PKK has long been the official position of both the US and Turkish governments, as can be seen in this excerpt from the 1999 Patterns of Global Terrorism that was completed during the Clinton administration:
Tehran still provided safehaven to elements of Turkey's separatist PKK that conducted numerous terrorist attacks in Turkey and against Turkish targets in Europe. One of the PKK's most senior at-large leaders, Osman Ocalan, brother of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, resided at least part-time in Iran.
With the Turkish capture of Abdullah Ocalan ("Apo"), Osman is now the de facto head of the PKK. As for Iranian support for al-Qaeda, revelations that al-Qaeda leaders based in Iran helped to finance the November 2003 Istanbul bombings (the "Syrian" referenced in the article is Louai Sakra) in direct contradiction to Iranian claims that such individuals are in detention and unable to direct or support terrorist operations.
I would note that for Turkey, Iranian support for Sunni Islamist terrorism against the Turkish state is not nearly as controversial an issue as it is in say, Europe. Since 1979, Iran has deployed every means at its disposal in an effort to undermine or otherwise destroy the secular foundations of the Turkish state. Indeed, the unyielding Iranian hostility towards Turkey is one of the reasons that the country has no problems maintaining close military ties to Israel - the two nations share pretty much the same enemies. Whether it's recent events or past ones, Turkish military and intelligence officials will have no trouble believing the US on this one - it's simply been part of their daily lives for the last 25 years.
Please note that what the Turks think is a different issue altogether from whether or not airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities are prudent or even wise at this point. I should note that myself am skeptical of the idea that limited airstrike on Iran would deter their nuclear program. Rather, I think that most likely outcome of such an attack would be to push back the date nuclear program with the unintended consequences of shoring up domestic support for the regime, an event that would but ensure the emergence of a nuclear Iran a little further down the line.
I see that Mehran Riazaty, a former CPA analyst now blogging out of Regime Change Iran, has some thoughts of his own on Iranian support for terrorism in Turkey, which he ties back to the Qods Force unit of the Revolutionary Guards that we've mentioned before.
I see the New York Times review of Richard Clarke's novel The Scorpion's Gate is up and in it we find this wonderful tidbit:
In Clarke's novel, the United States has declared victory in Iraq and pulled out, leaving in place a Shiite government that's a puppet of Iran. Distracted by Iraq, America has ignored the far more serious threat posed by Iran and its little-known Qods (or Jerusalem) Force, "the covert action arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps," which Clarke asserts (here and in his nonfiction) has long been among Al Qaeda's chief backers. "Washington did Tehran's work for them," one of his characters explains. "While all the American attention was focused on car bombs in Baghdad, the Iranians secretly built nuclear weapons while denying it and tricking the Europeans and Americans into thinking that they were five years away from a bomb."
I seem to recall somebody else who was also raising the alarm bells on Qods Force back in October ...
Now Clarke, as I think even a cursory reading of Against All Enemies indicates, is about the last person to be in the tank for the Bush administration, so I just wanted to get rid of the canard that they're the only ones advancing this argument to begin with.
I'm becoming more and more convinced that this man doesn't actually exist and is instead a collective pen name for a whole think tank on his own right, but he has another update from December 9 on Iraq's Evolving Insurgency. I don't have time to go through all of it right now, but it looks very interesting and well worth reading, including stuff on public support for the war, a look at who's winning and losing as far as the insurgency is concerned, long-term projections, and lessons we can learn from the conflict.