June 12, 2008


Papers give peek inside al Qaeda in Iraq (Michael Ware, 6/12/08, CNN)

Al Qaeda's folder on Operation Desert Shield expresses the depth, structure and measure of its military command. It is perhaps the most compelling illustration of how al Qaeda works.

Yet the Desert Shield folder is but one found among the thousands of pages of records, letters, lists and hundreds of videos held in the headquarters of al Qaeda's security prince for Anbar province, a man referred to in secret correspondence as Faris Abu Azzam.

After he was killed 18 months ago, Faris' computers and filing cabinets were captured by anti-al Qaeda fighters from a U.S-backed militia, or Awakening Council (the militias made up of former Sunni insurgents, now on the U.S. payroll and praised by President Bush for gutting al Qaeda in Iraq). The Awakening militiamen handed the massive haul of al Qaeda materials to both their U.S handlers from the Navy, Marine Corps and Army, and to CNN.

In all, these Anbar files form the largest collection of al Qaeda in Iraq materials to ever fall into civilian hands, giving an insight into the organization that few but its members or Western intelligence agents have ever seen.

Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, the American military's spokesman in Baghdad, says the document trove is unique, "a kind of comprehensive snapshot" of al-Qaeda during its peak.

"It reveals," Driscoll said, "first of all, a pretty robust command and control system, if you will. I was kind of surprised when I saw the degree of documentation for everything -- pay records, those kind of things -- and that [al Qaeda in Iraq] was obviously a well-established network."

That network is now under enormous stress, primarily from the more than 100,000 nationalist insurgents who formed the Awakening Council militias and initiated an extremely effective assassination program against al Qaeda, but also from recent U.S. and Iraqi government strikes into their strongholds.

As a result, says Lt. Col. Tim Albers, the coalition's director of military intelligence for Baghdad, "al Qaeda in Iraq is fighting to stay relevant."

So, what do these captured documents from 2006 tell us about al Qaeda in Iraq today? A lot, according to a senior U.S. intelligence analyst in Iraq, who cannot be named because of the sensitivity of his position.

"We're still finding documents like these throughout the country, but I would say that's starting to lessen in amount as the organization shrinks," the analyst said.

The al Qaeda command mechanism and discipline seen in the documents, he said, persist.

"The hard-core senior leadership is still trucking along, and there are always going to be internal communications, documents and videos," he said.

With as many as six suicide attacks and three car bombings in the past 10 days in Iraq (including one attack that killed a U.S. soldier and wounded 18 others), Driscoll agrees the picture the documents paint of a well-oiled, bureaucratic organization is relevant today.

"Certainly, we see that in several different ways how they communicate ... as they've got to be able to talk to their troops in the field to maintain morale, especially when we're pursuing them very aggressively," Driscoll said.

Be it then, in 2006, or be it now, al Qaeda in Iraq is nothing if not bureaucratic.

...it's fairly hard to argue that defeating al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2008 9:59 AM
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