National Security Watch: Iraq insurgency vital to al Qaeda
How important is the Iraq insurgency to al Qaeda? It is now "the central battle" being waged by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, according to a just-released report on al Qaeda's ideology by the Congressional Research Service. The study, as with other CRS reports, is distributed only to members of Congress (but is available here: CRS report). Titled "Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology," the 16-page work is an updated review of al Qaeda statements since 1991 and notes that recent statements by al Qaeda Iraq chief Abu Musab Zarqawi and military leader Sayf al Adl both point to Iraq as an opportunity to spread their movement deeper into the heart of the Arab world. In a December audiotape, bin Laden himself referred to Iraq as the key battle in a "Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation."
With much of its leadership killed or captured and bin Laden thought to be hiding along the Pakistani border, al Qaeda is not the threat it once posed. But these latest missives from its leaders, taken together, suggest that the terrorist group behind 9/11 remains a worrisome threat. They appear designed to broaden their movement's appeal, gain material support, and "inspire new and more systematically devastating attacks," says the report, written by CRS Middle East analyst Christopher Blanchard. The study stresses to members of Congress the importance of a May statement by al Adl that outlines a "detailed strategic framework for the jihadist movement." Al Adl, thought to be detained in Iran, advises followers in Iraq and elsewhere to steep their groups in Islamic thought, backed by "a circle of judicious men and scholars"; to perform fewer "random" actions; and to better integrate short-term acts into long-term strategies.
The varied statements make up what the report calls "a sophisticated public relations and media campaign" over the past decade, one that has grown in importance in recent years. All told, they suggest that the movement's key goals remain unaltered and uncompromising, notes Blanchard: the expulsion of foreign forces and influences from Islamic lands, and the creation of a pan-Islamic state ruled by Koranic law.