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AQ's Leadership Struggle

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Heres the latest passdown from the intel analysts over at Stratfor on the power plays going on in al Qaedas leadership. Its interesting to note the analysis comes on the heels of our last post describing the stalemate in Iraq and other fronts in the GWOT as spoiling attacks.

Could the Shiia/Sunni sectarian struggle erupting in the Middle East be prompting AQs re-organization and outreach? Read on...

(Note: Photo is screen grab from latest AQ video posted on IntelCenter)

Iraq: Al Qaeda's Desperate Moves

In a new video posted March 22 on the Internet, al Qaeda leader Abu Yahia al-Libi called for an end to the schisms between Iraqi Sunni Islamist insurgents and jihadists in Iraq, and for Iraq's Sunnis to reject any Saudi involvement in the conflict. The release is a clear effort by the jihadist network to mend fences with the Sunni insurgents. Significantly, it also demonstrates an al Qaeda attempt to raise al-Libi's public profile in preparation for him to assume a greater role among the network's next generation of leaders.

This release, by al Qaeda's As-Sahab media branch, marks the ninth time al-Libi has appeared in an al Qaeda video statement since February 2006. Only al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri has appeared in more new videos, with a total of 12 over the same time period. The charismatic al-Libi, who has strong jihadist credentials, would indeed be a good choice to take on a more prominent role in al Qaeda. As an accomplished preacher, he has eulogized fallen jihadist leaders and called on jihadists to attack such prominent targets as the White House. In addition, he is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and was one of four prominent al Qaeda fighters who escaped U.S. custody while imprisoned at Bagram Air Base in July 2005.

In his latest statement, al-Libi specifically called on militant groups Ansar al-Sunnah Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of the Mujahideen to put aside their differences with the other Sunni insurgent groups in the country. This call for unity comes amid open conflict between Sunni tribes and al Qaeda in Iraq, as demonstrated by the March 23 attack against the Sunni deputy prime minister in Baghdad and the attacks against civilians involving chlorine gas in predominantly Sunni Anbar province.

Al Qaeda, which is facing a significant threat from Iraq's Sunni nationalist and Islamist militant groups, is trying to achieve three goals: First, to maintain its parallel power structure in the Sunni areas; second, to emerge as the vanguard of the Sunni resistance to the United States and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government at a time when Sunni political leaders are cutting deals; and finally, to embarrass the Iraqi Islamist militant groups by arguing that they are not following true Islamic teachings.

The latest attack against a moderate Sunni -- likely carried out by the jihadists -- clearly suggests these transnational elements are attempting to discourage Sunni leaders from following a moderate path and cooperating with the Iraqi government, or from accepting help from Saudi Arabia. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie was wounded in the suicide bombing attack, which occurred during Friday prayers at a hall near Baghdad's Foreign Ministry. A week earlier, suspected jihadist insurgents detonated three vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices packed with chlorine west of Baghdad in Anbar province, including one near a prayer hall used by a Sunni cleric who had spoken out against al Qaeda.

These attacks and al-Libi's appeal are signs of desperation on the part of the jihadists in Iraq. Al Qaeda realizes its influence in the country is waning and is appealing to Iraqi and foreign jihadists to concentrate their efforts on the common enemy, rather than on one another. That al-Libi made an appeal that normally would have come from al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden suggests he is being groomed to take on a more important role in al Qaeda.

(Gouge: CM)

-- Christian

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