The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the surrender of an Al Qaeda big in Mosul.
US forces have arrested the leader of the Mosul branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a capture described by the spokesman for coalition forces as a major defeat for the terrorist group. Mohammed Khalaf, also known as Abu Talha, was arrested last Tuesday, said US Air Force Brigadier General Don Alston.
"Talha was one of al-Zarqawi's most trusted operation agents in Iraq. This is a major defeat for al-Qaeda terrorist organisation in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi's leader in Mosul is out of business," Alston said. He added that US forces found Abu Talha in a quiet neighbourhood in Mosul after a number of tips.
Abu Talha, he said, did not go through with a reported threat to kill himself rather than fall into American hands. "Instead, Abu Talha surrendered without a fight," Alston said. His arrest follows the June 5 capture in Mosul of Mutlaq Mahmoud Mutlaq Abdullah, also known as Abu Raad, who was Abu Talha's key facilitator and financier.
Michael Yon, a writer who has become the personal chronicler of the Battle of Mosul has described the struggle for this city. Mosul has been characterized as the strategic linchpin of the Sunni insurgency because on it depends any hope of insurgent control over the huge oil fields of Eastern Iraq. Abu Talha for one, may no longer believe in the victory of the insurgency in Mosul. And maybe he should know. Sixty years ago, Richard Tregaskis chronicled the Marine struggle in the Southwest Pacific in Guadalcanal Diary, a place later to become known to the Japanese as the "Island of Death". It was not American firepower that convinced the Japanese that they would lose; they knew that already. It was that they learned, for the first time, that the Americans wouldn't give up.
This article is best read alongside the interview with Dr. Saad al-Faqih, a Saudi who is on the UN terrorism list, and is said to be an expert on Al Qaeda. (Hat tip: MIG). In that interview, al-Faqih admits that the Al Qaeda had weakened greatly within Saudi Arabia because they had mistakenly attacked the state security forces and ordinary civilians. Henceforth, al-Faqih believes, the Al Qaeda will focus on attacking the Saudi Royals. But it is his comments on Al Qaeda's activities in Iraq that are germane.
the invasion and occupation of Iraq gave al-Qaeda a huge boost and the Saudi government has indirectly admitted (in a research paper highlighted by the al-Arabiya channel) that at least 2,500 Saudis are fighting in Iraq. ... Al-Qaeda has lost ground militarily, politically and ideologically. Attacking civilians proved to be a major blunder and it remains to be seen whether they can fully recover from it. Also by attacking the security forces they lost a lot of sympathy inside these organizations. The momentum in Saudi society today is not particularly sympathetic toward al-Qaeda. The situation was very different 2-3 years ago, when ordinary people were willing to give the jihadis shelter and other forms of support.
The solution lies in what is happening in Iraq, since many ordinary people and the security forces are supportive of jihad in Iraq. And of course the jihad in Iraq is strongly linked to al-Qaeda. ... I believe that Zarqawi is al-Qaeda in Iraq. ... Zarqawi is not simply a man of pure action, but a good strategist who has studied the situation in Iraq closely and concluded that the best way to defeat the Americans is to provoke a sectarian war in the country. ...
Al-Faqih clearly believes that Al Qaeda is looking to Iraq for a reversal of fortune. In consequence, they've dispatched a large number of their best Jihadis there, some 2,500 from Saudi Arabia alone. This is a major investment in strength. They fully intend to win a civil war after an American departure that will bring the Shi'ites to heel. The interview continues.
MA (interviewer) : But how does this square with al-Qaeda's avoidance of sectarian schisms in Islam?
Al-Faqih: This is an Iraq-specific strategy and it actually makes a lot of sense. It is important to note that it is easy to mobilize Iraq's Sunni Arabs into a coherent mass, since historically and culturally they are very powerful, much more powerful, in fact, than the Shi'as.
MA: Does this strategy of targeting the Shi'as have the blessings of bin Laden?
Al-Faqih: I can not say for sure, but I am inclined to think that it does have the blessings of bin Laden.
MA: Does this strategy look beyond the current occupation of Iraq?
Al-Faqih: Yes it does. One of the ultimate goals of this strategy is to sweep the Shi'as from power once the Americans depart the arena.
This point has been noted in the Belmont Club before: that the insurgents have no expectation of defeating the US outright on the battlefield, but are confident that a loss of American political will will eventually repeat the Vietnam withdrawal of 1972, after which a there will be triumphant Sunni return to Baghdad after an indecent interval. This envisioned success additionally depends on whether the Iraqi government forces (reviled by the Daily Kos as "fresh meat") will fold up and maintaining a foothold in Mosul, which is the geographical key to the eastern oilfields. If the Al Qaeda are banking on Iraq to save their global political fortunes they are playing long odds. It's difficult to see how Zarqawi can provoke a civil war with a numerically superior ethnic group, in control of the oil fields fighting to prevent re-subjugation and expect to prevail. If one of Al Qaeda's chosen representatives, Mohammed Khalaf a.k.a. Abu Talha has declined to fight to the death in Mosul, the wheels are falling off their wagon.