December 2, 2012

Arrest of Iraq's al-Qaeda Commander Blurs Shadow With Shadow

In a seemingly triumphant intelligence coup, international media is reporting the arrest of al-Qaeda's ranking jihadist in Iraq. The information was first pieced together by several Iraqi officials and broadcast on al-Iraqiya state media, an unreliable method of dissemination. Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf subsequently reported that Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, al-Qaeda in Iraq's senior commander since mid-2010, was taken into custody after a 2-month counter-intelligence operation penetrated an al-Qaeda cell.

Details remain sparse due to the uncertain nature of intelligence work and the sensitivity  of classified information. Material that could lead to other members of the group, along with their foreign contacts, was supposedly gathered from the raid.

The capture of al-Badri, who operates under the alias Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, would yield a score for embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the U.S. administration that backs his dysfunctional regime. al-Maliki has survived oppositional challenges to his authority for the moment, but his energy has been redirected away from rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and civil society. Sunni actors remain isolated from the national instruments of power as tensions escalate with the Kurds. Specifically, al-Maliki has retained control over the Ministry of Defense and Iraq's security forces, in direct violation of the 2010 Irbil Agreement, amid al-Qaeda's campaign to reestablish itself in a post-U.S. Iraq.

Both al-Maliki and his American support network desperately need good news as the war continues in defiance of President Barack Obama's rhetoric. Iraqi Body Count recorded 244 fatalities and hundreds of wounded in November, figures similar to the last five months.

Al-Badri's loss could have a moderate impact on the group's trajectory. A player in Iraq since the American-led force landed in March 2003, al-Badri survived an air-strike before assuming control of al-Qaeda's offshoot and is well-motivated for his position. His operational command has been marked by detailed reconnaissance and systematic destruction of Iraqi targets, often detonating multiple bombs across the state. These attacks primarily target Iraqi security forces and sectarian flashpoints, a ploy that has yet to restart large-scale civil strife but successfully undermines the government's credibility. al-Badri's relatively mysterious persona leads Arraf to add that, "It's not known whether Abu Bakr actually Iraqi, or, in fact, even exists or is a composite of several people."

The same was said of Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq's (ISI) previous chief, but al-Badri is the type of individual that al-Qaeda in Iraq will miss.

Problematically, al-Badri's arrest is unlikely to result in a strategic coup. Many capable members stand ready to replace him; al-Badri followed ruthless and shadowy figures, demonstrating how easily the hydra grows its heads. Syria's war and the accompanying jihadist activity flowing through Iraq could also inject an unknown into the equation, perhaps the most dangerous scenario. Whatever the case, al-Qaeda is built to sustain losses at the top and the group won't stay leaderless for long. The most effective way to dismantle its Iraqi cells is transparent and representative government, something that al-Maliki is incapable of delivering.

This news has barely made headlines in the U.S. - the American people no longer wish to think about Iraq (not that they truly did) - for more than one reason. Citing two "senior security officials," CNN reports that Iraqi intelligence arrested "another senior leader of the group, which has been behind numerous attacks in the country."

So goes the asymmetric war in Iraq, a war that cannot begin to be considered "over" until al-Qaeda is kicked out of a country that it didn't exist in before 2003.

1 comment: