Abu Omar al-Baghdadi made his grand entrance onto the jihadist stage on October 12, 2006, and since then he's delivered two very important speeches — the more recent one came out last week — and has taken credit for much of the spectacular outbreaks of violence in Iraq of late, yet he still can't get his name in print on the pages of the New York Times. Why are the editors and reporters of that paper not telling their readers anything about Iraq's top terrorist?
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is Al Qaeda's guy in Iraq, and nowadays, the Sunni insurgency is being whittled down to Al Qaeda's activity in Iraq. It's that simple, and he's that important.
So why isn't the Times writing that? I think the answer has something to do with what seems, to my eyes, to be a determined campaign to keep the American people from knowing the nature of the enemy in Iraq because identifying this enemy as Al Qaeda casts the debate about the war in a whole different light.
Here the timeline behind al-Baghdadi's emergence on the scene:
— On October 17, 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi changes the name of his organization, Monotheism and Jihad, to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia after swearing fealty to the mother Al Qaeda organization under Osama bin Laden.
— On January 15, 2006, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia expands its writ by forming an umbrella organization called the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, whereby Zarqawi cedes the public face of Al Qaeda to an Iraqi figurehead, Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, but maintains full authority over the new entity.
— On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi is killed, and he's succeeded shortly thereafter by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
— On October 12, 2006, Al Qaeda further expands on the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin by forming yet a larger umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, not to be confused with the aforementioned Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, is declared emir, or ruler, of this "state."
— On November 10, 2006, al-Muhajir, speaking as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia's chief, pledges his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and to al-Baghdadi as its head, and makes a point of highlighting al-Baghdadi's pedigree: He is of the tribe of Quraish, a usual prerequisite for a would-be caliph.
— On December 22, 2006, Al-Baghdadi gives his first speech, addressing Muslims everywhere. The presenter introduces him as the "Prince of the Faithful"—a title usually reserved for caliphs.
Thus, there is no entity that describes itself as Al Qaeda operating in Iraq anymore. There's only the Islamic State of Iraq. As head of that state, al-Baghdadi is a big deal. And it doesn't stop there, for all the hints being dropped about the caliphate seem to indicate that al-Baghdadi is Al Qaeda's candidate for that job.
But it's not only the anti-war crowd in the press that doesn't want the American people to know that America's soldiers are fighting an Al Qaeda-led insurgency in Iraq. The Central Intelligence Agency and most of America's intelligence community don't want to do that either, according to a major scoop reported by the Sun's own Eli Lake on Monday. Mr. Lake writes that the CIA and others are still concluding that the insurgency is, for the most part, Baathist in nature, while those actually battling the insurgency on the ground, namely the intelligence arms of the Army and the Marines, are contesting that assertion claiming instead that the Sunni insurgency is largely driven by Al Qaeda.
The generic term "insurgent" — preferred by most press organs — is bland and insipid, while the term Al Qaeda may strike an emotional note with many Americans. It is one thing for congressional Democrats and presidential hopefuls to pledge withdrawing the American military from a melee with insurgents, and a whole different thing for them to sound a retreat in the face of an Al Qaeda offensive.
And an Al Qaeda offensive is exactly what al-Baghdadi promises in his February 2 speech, posted as an audio file on several jihadist Web sites, and which may be read in full at my blog, talismangate.blogspot.com. Al-Baghdadi says that his Dignity Plan is supposed to counter President Bush's "surge" and that it will only end when Mr. Bush signs a treaty of surrender. And what would this surrender look like? Al-Baghdadi spelled out the terms in an earlier speech: "We order you to withdraw your forces immediately. But the withdrawal must be via troop transport trucks and passenger planes whereby each soldier is allowed to carry his own weapon only. They may not withdraw any of the heavy military equipment and the military bases must be handed over to the mujaheddin of the Islamic State and the duration of the withdrawal may not exceed a month."
Not very favorable terms, but I wonder whether some in the Senate would go for it anyway: Too many in the congressional chamber seem to think that surrender is the only option left.
This is a shame, since if one listens closely to what al-Baghdadi was saying last week, one would be able to detect a note of palpable concern over the "surge," as well as hints of jihadist-on-jihadist strife. In other words, Al Qaeda seems to be on a losing streak. Al-Baghdadi was reduced to cajoling his fighters to stand fast in front of the Americans and warned them against laying down their weapons until the battle is over. He cited a particular verse from the Koran that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad after the early Muslims were roundly defeated in battle, as a means of telling the Al Qaeda rank and file that the setbacks they've endured lately are only temporary.
Al-Baghdadi also feels compelled to tell his fighters to take it easy with the other jihadist groups, which have yet to join the Islamic State of Iraq, while at the same time telling the holdouts that their obstinacy smells of sedition. There are other reports that insurgents are clashing among themselves as Al Qaeda imposes its hegemony over one and all, to the point that al-Baghdadi is compelled to tell his guys that "I am certain that the sincere monotheists are surely coming" our way "eventually, so be tender, be tender."
And in yet another gambit that smacks of desperation, al-Baghdadi tries to rile up the French and the Chinese against American global hegemony, and addresses those nations as "the freemen of the world." Not only that, but he adopts a scolding tone with North Korea, essentially invoking the "sharing is caring" line, when he says, "And let North Korea know that it owes its nuclear tests to the mujaheddin in Iraq." Translation: "Al Qaeda's actions distracted America from dealing with your evil, and the least you can do is share a nuclear device with us."
But why would the Times want to tell its readers that Al Qaeda is petitioning Kim Jong Il for a nuclear weapon? I guess I'm mistaken in thinking that this is newsworthy. Wait, I just realized something: No, this is indeed important, and the American public needs to know.
Mr. Kazimi can be reached at [email protected]