Analysts Speculate Al-Qaida In Iraq Has Regrouped
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne.
People fighting Islamist militants are in the middle of a troubling season.
INSKEEP: The U.S. is fighting a frustrating war in Afghanistan.
MONTAGNE: Militants are recruiting in East Africa, as we hear elsewhere in the program and at NPR.org.
INSKEEP: And in Iraq, a string of recent attacks suggests that al-Qaida may be coming back. The group's Iraq branch seemed defeated but a smaller version of it is still able to inflict a lot of damage.
NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.
KELLY MCEVERS: The recent attacks have included coordinated bombings in more than a dozen towns and cities on a single day, an attack on army recruits, a car bomb followed by suicide bomb attempts on a joint U.S.-Iraqi Army base, and assassination attempts on officials. Following such attacks, al-Qaida or groups affiliated with al-Qaida usually claim responsibility on sympathetic websites, like this one.
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Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: Abu Ahmed researches militant groups in Iraq and is writing a book about the Sunni insurgency. He doesn't want to give his full name because he maintains contact with some militants. He calls the most recent iteration of al-Qaida in Iraq the Third Chapter. The first one was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who led al-Qaida operations during some of Iraq's most violent years. He was killed in 2006.
The Second Chapter was headed by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi. They were killed in April. The Third Chapter, Abu Ahmed says, is made up of men who worked with Zarqawi, left Iraq for a time, and have now returned; and men who've recently been released from American and Iraqi detention centers after serving out short sentences. Abu Ahmed says this group is just as fiercely committed to waging jihad as Zarqawi was. But there are some key differences.
Mr. ABU AHMED (Author): (Through translator) For them, financially speaking, they don't have that financial sources to fund them just like Zarqawi before. And also for the recruitment of the Arab fighters, they don't have that much ability to recruit Arab fighters.
MCEVERS: By Arab fighters he means the hundreds or even thousands of militants from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere who were crucial to Zarqawi's success. Here in Iraq, Abu Ahmed says the group might still be able to recruit new members.
Mr. AHMED: (Through translator) The feeling of injustice: social injustice, economic injustice, and the factor of revenge - making your own revenge - these factors will lead many people to join this group, even though the motivation is not religious, purely religious.
MCEVERS: That need for revenge stems from the bloody sectarian fighting here between Sunnis and Shiites. But despite how this drive for revenge might bring new recruits, the group still needs to make due with less - less funding and fighters from abroad, which means less of a connection to the bigger al-Qaida network, headed by Osama bin Laden.
Iraqi and American commanders say al-Qaida in Iraq is now aiming for operations that will gain the most media attention.
Brigadier General Ralph Baker commands U.S. troops in Baghdad, which seems to be the focus of most attacks these days. He says the fact that Iraq held basically peaceful elections earlier this year meant Iraqis were confident in their government and their security forces, and they were more willing to share information with officials about al-Qaida activities.
But now it's been nearly seven months since those elections, and still the political elite has yet to agree on how to form a government. Baker says this will directly affect security.
Brigadier General RALPH BAKER (U.S. Army): The longer we have gone without seating a government, we see the level of confidence starting to wane amongst the citizens. I would argue that that level of confidence is not to the degree where they're supporting insurgent groups anymore, but that they're essentially fence-sitting, that they're sitting on the fence trying to see which way this is going to play out.
MCEVERS: Baker says al-Qaida will only take advantage of this uncertainty as long as the political stalemate continues.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News.
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