Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Capturing the Man, Destroying the Idea

Fox reports that "the highest-ranking Iraqi in the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq has been arrested".

Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid, was captured in Mosul on July 4, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman. Al-Mashhadani is believed to be the most senior Iraqi in the Al Qaeda in Iraq network," Bergner said. He said al-Mashhadani was a close associate of Abu Ayub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Bergner said al-Mashhadani served as an intermediary between al-Masri and Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. "In fact, communication between the senior Al Qaeda leadership and al-Masri frequently went through al-Mashhadani," Bergner said. He added: "There is a clear connection between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda senior leadership outside Iraq."

Bill Roggio has more details, but the gist is this:

  • Mashadani was a long-time Salafist agent. He was al-Qaeda's man sent to direct the Sunni insurgency
  • Both the Islamic State of Iraq and its leader supposed leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were constructs of al-Qaeda too. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was the entirely fictional counterpart of Mashadani.

Roggio describes how the imposture worked:

Al Masri then swore allegiance to al Baghdadi “which was essentially swearing allegiance to himself, since he knew that Baghdadi was fictitious and totally his own creation,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. “The rank and file Iraqis in AQI believed they are following the Iraqi al-Baghdadi but all the while they have actually been following the orders of the Egyptian Abu ‘Ayyub al- Masri.”

Mashadani said the domestic insurgents groups recognize that al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq are fronts. “The idea of al-Baghdadi is very weak now because other insurgent groups have realized that the concept of al-Baghdadi is controlled by the al-Qaeda foreign fighters in Iraq,” said Mashadani to his interrogators.

Mashadani stated that al Qaeda in Iraq is operationally controlled by foreign fighters, not Iraqi insurgents. “Mashadani confirms that al Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he surrounds himself, not Iraqis, make the operational decisions for AQI,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. “According to Mashadani, in fact, al Masri increasingly relies only on foreigners, who make up the majority of the leadership of AQI. He does not seek or trust the advice of Iraqis in the organization.”

One of the most interesting aspects of these revelations is that they support the principal counter-narrative that MNF is trying to promote: that of Iraqi nationalist and tribal groups struggling against the "outsiders", i.e. al-Qaeda, out to rule their country by remote control. As pointed out in the post Empire of the Mind, an extensive analysis of Jihadi propaganda by Radio Free Europe analysts (first class, BTW, the RFE report should be read in its entirety) shows that the actual and principal ideological split in terrorist narratives as revealed from postings, statements and propaganda or their websites is precisely between the "locals" and the pan-Islamics, led by al-Qaeda. It is on this weak point that Bergner's revelations hammer on mercilessly. Belmont Club readers will remember the post, Zawahiri Tape, where al-Qaeda's number two was making an impassioned appeal for unity among the Iraqi Jihadis, saying disunity was wrecking everything. It was tacit admission of this particular ideological division. Zawahiri was especially bemoaning the lack of perceived legitimacy of his Islamic State of Iraq, not just among locals, but even among regional governments as well. Zawahiri, sounding almost like "a used car salesman" (in my words) made odious comparisons between Brand A, the "thugs" of Hamas, who were semi-prisoners of the Jew and yet accorded international respect and Brand B, his own Islamic State of Iraq, which was regarded as "unempowered" despite its magnificent achievements. Why, he asked, should the Palestinian Hamas receive so much support while no one heeded his commander's calls for recruits. He even played audio from his commanders with the chilling threat to gouge out the eyes of those who were deaf to his call for Jihad. Readers will also recall how Zawahiri, instantly forgetting his gouging threat, then went out of his way to characterize his fighters as blameless of shedding innocent blood, especially when contrasted with Hamas who he disparaged yet again. Then, after proclaiming al-Qaeda's innocence Zawahiri then makes the curious offer to refer any complaints about al-Qaeda in Iraq men to an Islamic judicial tribunal, thus acknowledging on the one hand what he denied with the other.

Bergner's remarks about the fraudulence of the "Islamic State of Iraq" -- that it it is simply an al-Qaeda front -- and about the fictive nature of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi are the first direct indication that MNF is not only learning how to play the meme game but that their operations are already having a powerful effect. Zawahiri's worry about the Islamic State of Iraq's legitimacy may be the effect of MNF counternarrative operations or perhaps reason they are harping on it. Bergner's revelations hammer directly upon the weakest point of al-Qaeda's narrative: it's legitimacy and standing not only in political, but religious terms.

Viewed in retrospect, MNF's focus on emphasizing al-Qaeda as the source of atrocities and highlighting it's "foreign-ness", brutality and Salafist religious affiliation may have been a brilliant move. Whether this achievement is accidental or intentional history will tell. Those who read the post Empire of the Mind may remember how, on Jihadi websites, al-Qaeda systematically characterized its rivals in sectarian terms. The Radio Free Europe researchers wrote:

The vast majority of the statements issued in March 2007 use religion-based, pejorative codewords for the targets of attacks.U.S. and coalition forces are called “crusaders”and “worshippers of the cross.” Iraqi police are “apostates.” Iraq’s National Guard is the “Idolatrous Guard.” The Shi’ite Imam Al-Mahdi Army—named after the Mahdi, or redeemer, whose coming is supposed to herald the end of the world—is referred to as the “Army of the Antichrist.” Shi’a are termed “rejectionists” for their supposed rejection of true Islam. Thus, insurgents’ rhetoric implies that they fight U.S. and coalition forces because they seek to impose Christianity on Iraq, government forces because they have turned their backs on Islam, and Shi’a because they are heretics.

Bergner is simply -- and very effectively -- paying them back in their own coin. Now the "Idolatrous Guard" is having a chuckle over the "fake" Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, as AQI's feared leader turns out to be no more genuine than Mickey Mouse. One can only imagine how the Shi’ite Imam Al-Mahdi Army, AKA the “Army of the Antichrist”, is reveling in confirmation that the Islamic State of Iraq is nothing more than a front organization for a bunch of Salafists holed up in a Pakistani cave.

Roggio is right in saying that Mashadani's capture is a victory for US Special Forces. Without those kinetic operators and the intelligence behind them no information operations will work. Words need bullets to back them up. But bullets need words behind them too, if they are to destroy ideas and not simply gunmen. So Mashadani's capture is also a victory for the shadowy warriors of the counternarrative. They are not only telling a story. They are writing one.


Blogger buddy larsen said...

Great stuff, Wretchard.

7/18/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Jimbo said...

Great post wretchard

7/18/2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff Kouba said...

One curious sidenote to this.

A tape attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi appeared around July 8 or 9. Four or five days after he'd been captured.

On the tape, the speaker warned Iran to "stop all forms of support to the rejectionists of Iraq... Otherwise, expect a fierce war that will annihilate you."

Who put that tape out, if al-Mashhadani was already captured, and why?

7/18/2007 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

In the film version of V for Vendetta there is this exchange:

"Why won't you die?"

"Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof"

After which V kills Mr. Creedy. Perhaps the MNF has finally figured it out that ideas can only be killed with other ideas.

7/18/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

An interesting addition to the concepts brought forth in the Empire of the Mind post.

I think that if I was assigned to counter the narrative being presented by the Islamic Facists, I would establish a website that looked just like one of theirs, but which exploited the fault lines brought forth here. Such as showing an IED attack on U.S. troops and then saying how the Mullahs of Iran will feel the weapon's lash next. Or by taking credit for a real attack and saying that it was not by the rejectionist Shia but instead the annointed Sunni - or vice versa.

And did anyone notice in the Michael Yon piece about the General Lee that it was reported destroyed and the crew killed in THE US NEWS MEDIA but in fact this was untrue? Just where do they get their information? I can only think of one source.

7/18/2007 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

Advances in digital technology have raised the prospect of long-dead stars like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe being brought back to life on-screen.

"It's possible to rig fights, but it hasn't been done," Regelous said. "In the first test fight we had 1,000 silver guys and 1,000 golden guys. We set off the simulation, and in the distance you could see several guys running for the hills."

For inspiration, Regelous didn't watch war movies as you might expect. Instead he experimented with artificial intelligence by growing digital plants, and studied how people avoided each other on crowded streets.

Massive is not just for making war. It was also used to generate doubles of the film's stars and to create flocks of birds. Regelous plans to sell Massive for $40,000 per single floating license.

The Lebanon photos debate has taken a new turn with an admission from Reuters that one of its photographers had altered images.

The agency issued the following press release today: "Reuters has withdrawn from its database all photographs taken by Beirut-based freelance Adnan Hajj after establishing that he had altered two images since the start of the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Hizbollah group.

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.

The jihad audience is not exactly composed of sophisticated media consumers, and the decentralized structure of their information operations is a vulnerability waiting to be exploited.

It would actually be pretty easy for an amateur cell to implement. Three or four carefully calibrated "FU Film Productions" would probably be enough to ensure that at least one gets amplified to Al'Jazeera.

A dedicated, secretive private initiative needs to get on the ball. Professional skill, $100,000 and tight lips could buy the biggest mind-job in history.

7/18/2007 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

"It's possible to rig fights, but it hasn't been done," Regelous said. "In the first test fight we had 1,000 silver guys and 1,000 golden guys. We set off the simulation, and in the distance you could see several guys running for the hills."

One of my favorite stories about the early experiments with the Massive software was the one involving the Helm's Deep Battle simulations in which a group of Orcs warrior sprites formed up on their own in the heat of the battle into a Roman-style wedge formation and then proceeded to battle their way across the battlefield to safety and away from the target of the Orc attack.

7/18/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Coach Mark said...

I read that this guy actually was arrested by Saddam's regime and then later assisted in running money to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood for them.

Saddam Hussein and terrorism ,the rest of the story...

7/18/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger RDS said...

(sorry for the re-comment, but it belongs here too rather than a dead thread):

We can't even begin the narrative until we have a good name for what's going on. "GWOT" and its various proposed substitutes come up short.

I propose humbly the term "Counterjihad."

It's directly to the point, names the opponent (jihadists), doesn't blanket all muslims but makes clear it's a response to something coming out of islam, and is broad enough to counter not only the hot war but also creeping sharia, and isn't so narrow as to focus on al-Qaeda but a whole umbrella of threats.

And it makes clear it's defensive and not imperialistic.

Sure I'd love to use Crusade instead but THAT'S a non-starter! :)

More developed arguments at my posting The Counterjihad.

Hey, it's an idea...

7/18/2007 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

FYI: Al Qaida's Loss is America's Warning

7/18/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Here's news from the Senate.

The Hill reports that "Senate Democrats surprised Republican leaders ... pulling a major defense bill from the floor" until a vote is forced on withdrawing US troops from Iraq. Jules Crittenden comments. Power Line was watching Vets for Freedom last night.

Whatever happens, with or without a withdrawal, the crisis will continue. Even Ed Koch, who wants to withdraw knows it.

"We should prepare for the battles that will take place on American soil by the Islamic forces of terror who are engaged in a war that will be waged by them against Western civilization for at least the next 30 years," says former NYC Mayor Ed Koch writing in Real Clear Politics.

But I think it will be interesting in more than the kinetic sense. It's a curious impression and I'm not sure I've got it right, but I think both the Republicans and the Democrats are somehow lagged behind the curve, maybe because they are taking fixes on the MSM and MSM pundits. But we shall see.

7/18/2007 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Tremendous post, reminds me of Wretchard's analysis of First Fallujah. Similar irreducible observations, but on a larger phenomena, another meta-level up.

Once Kerry came out yesterday and declared the surrender movement had more than 60 votes in the Senate, we knew it was bullshit. Funny thing about Kerry - his lies are exposed instantly. Wouldn't wanna be him.

And just think, this phantom enemy is the one that Kerry, Biden and the rest of the creep patrol insist that Bush created in Iraq. Ahistorical as always, they pretend no one knows of the 1998 federal indictment in NY of Al Qaeda that specifies cooperation with Iraq, or even the spectacular midnight Cruise missile attacks on Sudan later in '98 to break up AlQ and Iraq cooperation on nerve gas (WMD).

Tremendous analysis, professor.

7/18/2007 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

I think the Democratic leadership has decided to force Bush into what they believe is a possible impeachment trap. By withdrawing the defense spending bill they possibly think they have the President over a barrel in that if he expends money on the war without their authorization they have him violating the Constitution. Not so fast, argues
this paper from 1995:


Either way, I think we're headed for a possible Constitutional showdown.

7/18/2007 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

I'll note that the withdrawal of the Defense Bill has Congress now at 14% and Bush at around 35%. So even after the Amnesty Fiasco even Bush looks good against surrender to AQ in Iraq (or anywhere else).

Of course, to create the counter-narrative will require throwing out the current crop of leaders, that includes the media, hollywood, politics, and academia.

7/18/2007 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Marzouq the Redneck Muslim said...

May Allah bless the poopers and snoopers!

Salaam eleikum Y'all

7/19/2007 03:51:00 PM  

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