Monday, September 10, 2007

Overestimating al-Qaida in Iraq

Gen. Petraeus characterized al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) as a major adversary whose potential neutralization through opposition by tribal leaders in Anbar province is viewed as one of the true successes of the "surge" (though the surge per se seems to have had little to do with it). In recent speeches President Bush spoken of little else when speaking of Iraq. But this article, by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, raises serious questions about just how significant AQI really is.

Tighman notes the military spokesmaen have been known to attribute about 15 percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq to AQI. The first reports about the bombing of the "Golden Mosque" in 2006, generally credited with sparking much of the violence of that sad year attributed it to AQI, though later evidence calls the claim into question.

A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analysis of who took "credit" for terrorist attacks found AQI claiming 10 percent (probably inflated). The highest estimate of AQI membership is "more than 1,000," which is less than 5 percent of the estimated 20,000-30,000 Sunni insurgent fighters. One knowledgeable author gives AQI 2 percent to percent of the Sunni insurgents.

But both Bush -- who can claim an Iraqi connection to the overall Global War on Terror -- and Osama bin Laden -- who is made to look more important and influential -- benefit from having the importance of AQI overestimated, underlining their curiously symbiotic relationship.

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