Written by Rafi Buchnik Omedia
However, it seems that the skepticism that greeted the administration's claims following the implementation of its decision to beef up US forces – to the consternation of Democrats in Congress – has diminished during the past few weeks thanks to military achievements, particularly in the Al-Anbar Province. Although it remains premature for an official announcement terror has been vanquished in this region – despite statements by a number of senior American officers – as time passes it appears the battle against Sunni terror in Iraq has taken a turn for the better.
Western intelligence figures see important signs of this trend in the Osama Bin Laden audio-tape broadcast on Al Jazeera on October 25. Although Bin Laden's calls for warring factions to unite against the US Army were formally categorized as "a message to the Iraqi people," his remarks were directed toward people who are likely to support Al Qaeda.
"Bin Laden's message is appraised as a fresh expression of growing apprehension in the Al Qaeda leadership regarding developments in the Iraqi situation," said a source accessible to the US intelligence community. He says Al Qaeda attempted to create the impression of a "supreme body" of Sunni terrorists in Iraq following a well-known previous declaration about the establishment of the "Islamic State of Iraq," an initiative that proved to be an utter failure.
Commentators knowledgeable about the secrets of the organization and Bin Laden rhetoric concluded that his new message conveys a sense of distress and crisis, from which one can infer a confession that the blunders of the "Al Qaeda Iraq" faction pose a danger to the future of resistance movements throughout Iraq. Bin Laden's quaint phrases, such as "sticks will not break if they are bound together, but if they are dispersed they will break one by one," illustrate the larger message that Al Qaeda is suffering from growing isolation in the fighting in Iraq and its people are scattering in all directions. Furthermore, the confession regarding "errors that were committed" suggests an admission of failure and self-flagellation, especially since for the first time he links to the message a call to his people on all fronts to "refrain from extremism."
It was the very first time Osama Bin Laden was forced to air his dirty laundry in public. Previously discreet methods were found to direct Al Qaeda operatives to change their tactics when the situation so required. Therefore, it seems that the organization's leader was forced to enlist the "Prophet Mohammed technique" to support his urgent call for unity and forgiveness. "The Prophet Mohammed determined that no man is perfect," he explained. "We all make mistakes and we must always strive for forgiveness. Humans make mistakes and mistakes always lead to dispute and conflicts."
Nonetheless, it appears that there are doubts whether Bin Laden's call found a receptive audience since circumstances on the Iraqi front have turned to his disadvantage, especially since the Sunni community in Iraq has already expelled from its midst those identified with Al Qaeda. From their standpoint, Bin Laden missed the boat and they have no intention of resurrecting Al Qaeda's status in the country.
Given this background, it should come as no surprise that Al Qaeda's Media Center in Iraq, known as the Fajer Media Center, accused the Al Jazeera television network of editing Bin Laden's remarks so that they would only address Al Qaeda members. "The address was directed to all Muslims in Iraq, and especially to the decent people of the Jihad."
According to academic scholars in the West, Bin Laden's announcement is another important element in a series of developments attesting to pressure and growing stress, in addition to doubts regarding the legitimacy of his status as an intellectual authority in the Muslim world. They remind people of the open letter by Saudi Sheikh Salman el-Auda addressed to Bin Laden that included a call for ending the bloodshed and suffering caused by Al Qaeda's men. In the very same breath came the "desertion" of the religious leader and theorist Abdul Aziz Al Sharif from the intimate circle of Bin Laden and his lieutenant Al-Zawahiri and his call to abandon extreme ways, including harming civilians and selecting targets according to nationality. One can also add the religious decision of the Saudi Mufti published at the beginning of October, prohibiting young Saudis from enlisting in the ranks of the mujahedin in Iraq, and contending that "Bin Laden turns these people into living bombs in order to realize political and military objectives."
Even if it remains premature to express optimism regarding the trends that are developing in the fighting in Iraq, they may be harbingers of a positive trend that could yield a modicum of stability in the country. If Al Qaeda elements in Iraq can be contained the US government would be able to claim a major success in the Iraqi arena, after prolonged disappointment and thousands of Iraqi, American and British casualties. But it should also be kept in mind that hundreds of Al Qaeda retreating from Iraq could be diverted to other arenas of activity in the Middle East, such as Lebanon, where their influence was felt in the battle for the Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp until they were subdued.