Sunday, 23 December 2007


Al-Qaeda Adapts its Methods in Iraq as
Part of a Global Strategy

By Abdul Hameed Bakier
Jamestown Foundation

For the last few months, reports from Iraq have been
indicating a tangible decline in insurgency and terrorist
operations. For the first time since 2003, the Iraqi people
are enjoying a sense of security in the streets of Iraq,
although skeptics claim it is the calm that precedes the
storm. The stabilizing security situation comes amid claims
that al-Qaeda has been defeated or at least has been
seriously crippled in Iraq (, November 24). Has
al-Qaeda actually been defeated and subjugated by the
coalition forces in the Iraqi arena? Taking al-Qaeda’s past
and current behavior into account while monitoring Iraq’s
jihadi websites, one is presented with strong indications
that al-Qaeda is adapting to the new realities on the
ground while avoiding direct confrontation with the
coalition forces. The global strategy of al-Qaeda since
9/11—as posted in al-Qaeda’s internet forums—sheds further
light on the terror plans it has designed to lure and
engage Americans in various fronts in the region
(, March 10).

Al-Qaeda: Defeat versus Retreat

The discourse concerning al-Qaeda’s possible defeat in Iraq
comes as a result of the relative drop in violent
operations in the so-called “Sunni triangle.” The decrease
in al-Qaeda activity is attributed to many different
factors, the most important of which is the mistake it made
by targeting other Sunni jihadi groups such as the Islamic
Army of Iraq, Iraqi Hamas and al-Rashideen Army. In August
2007, Iraqi Hamas was accused of helping Coalition forces
in Diyala province against al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda did not
understand the Iraqi mentality and tried to lead the
community by establishing the Islamic State of Iraq,
instead of coexisting with the different Iraqi groups. The
targeting of Shiites and their shrines aggravated the
Sunnis Iraqis as much as it did the Shiites because it
upset the precarious balance between the Sunnis and
Shiites. These blunders were exploited by the Iraqi
government and Coalition forces, leading to the
establishment of the successful Sunni Majalis al-Sahwa, or
“Awakening Councils” (Emirate Centre for Strategic Studies
and Research, December 9).

The Majalis al-Sahwa are paramilitary groups comprised of
Sunni tribes formed to fight al-Qaeda. Contextually, Sunni
wrath directed at the Coalition veered towards al-Qaeda,
depriving it of much needed Sunni support. In the same way,
the spokesman of the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), Ibrahim
al-Shamari, says: “The decline in jihadi operations against
the occupier is due to the fact that they are engaged by
al-Qaeda in the worst struggle that could exist among
fellow Muslims. The attacks of al-Qaeda, in some cases,
took a form of full-scale war extending from north of Babel
to Latifia area and from north and west Baghdad to Samarra.
In this big area of its operations against IAI, al-Qaeda
didn’t target a single American, Shiite militia or the
Shiite police” (, December 15).

Conversely, the impression that al-Qaeda has been defeated
in Iraq is challenged by the continued violent attacks
occurring daily in Iraq. Al-Qaeda operatives are adapting
to the new situation in the Sunni triangle imposed by the
Majalis al-Sahwa by moving to northern Iraq, especially to
the city of Mosul where they found a new ally. The Maghawir
al-Tai Mujahideen in Mosul began a year ago as a small
group operating in the industrial area in Mosul. They have
since grown larger and decided to join al-Qaeda in the
Islamic State of Iraq, consequently providing a safe heaven
for al-Qaeda to launch its new tactics. Jihadi forum
chatters from Iraq claim that over 2,000 jihadis from Mosul
have already joined al-Qaeda (, December 15). It
seems that a new application of the tactics of guerrilla
warfare in other provinces is succeeding. These tactics
include indirect confrontation, or “open grave tactics,”
that include road bombs, hit-and-run operations and car
bombs, together with al-Qaeda attempts to take advantage of
the differences between Sunni tribes on the issue of
cooperation with Coalition forces. Al-Qaeda is also leaving
behind sleeping operatives in the cities they flee,
awaiting the right circumstances to reactivate. Evidence of
this may be found in the recent bomb attacks in Diyala
province that killed over 20 civilians and injured many
others (, December 10).

The jihadi websites responded indirectly to the reports on
al-Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq by posting reports and video of
al-Qaeda attacks on Coalition forces, especially in areas
where the Iraqi government says al-Qaeda has fled. In
addition some websites re-posted al-Qaeda’s future global
strategy (, March 10, 2006). Moreover,
al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri commented on
the new developments in Iraq in general and al-Qaeda defeat
in particular in a December 2007 interview published by
Sahad, the media production house of al-Qaeda. According to
Al-Zawahiri: “The jihadi situation is good in general, but
setbacks are inevitable in jihad. The latest reports from
Iraq indicate an increase in mujahideen strength and
deterioration of the American situation regardless of their
desperate efforts to delude by false propaganda. British
withdrawal proves they are lying. Claiming victory over ISI
through the collaboration of the Sunni tribes is mere cover
for their big failure.”

In summary, al-Zawahiri called upon the mujahideen to
continue hit-and-run attacks, eradicate the hypocrites and
traitors that infiltrated the mujahideen ranks, expose the
traitors, call upon Muslims to stop supporting the pro-U.S.
armed groups, concentrate on jihadi media and propaganda
mainly through the internet and build upon what has already
been achieved by establishing the ISI. Al-Zawahiri also
called for the mujahideen to unite around monotheism and
reconcile with the rest of the jihadi groups, especially
with Ansar al-Sunna, headed by Sheikh Abu Abdallah
al-Shafi'i. On the political side, al-Zawahiri said, “After
the victory of the Islamic State of Iraq, it will endeavor
to establish the Islamic caliphate from ocean to ocean”
(, December 16).

Al-Qaeda’s Global Strategy

The conflict in Iraq forms only part of a larger al-Qaeda
plan. Before 2001, al-Qaeda devised a new strategy to fight
the crusaders and Zionists what they call the “far enemy.”
To achieve victory over the enemy, al-Qaeda deemed it
necessary to engage the enemy on many fronts in the region
away from its bases. 9/11 was the spark that would bring
U.S. forces to al-Qaeda’s battlefield. According to jihadi
forums, al-Qaeda’s global confrontation strategy comprises
seven phases:

- The Awakening (2000-2003): This phase ended with the U.S.
invasion of Iraq. The Salafi ideologues believe that the
Islamic Umma (nation) has been dormant in the 19th and 20th
centuries because all the strategies implemented by the
Muslims for resurrection have failed. Therefore, al-Qaeda
planned to strike a blow to the enemy to induce an
uncalculated reaction. 9/11 was the bait that provoked the
crusaders and lured them to attack the Muslim nation. - Eye
Opening (2003-2006): By occupying Baghdad in April 2003,
the Muslim nation awoke to the bitter realities of
occupation. Al-Qaeda’s objective in this phase was to keep
the U.S. forces engaged in a fight against al-Qaeda until
2006. Regardless of the results, the ability to maintain
constant clashes with the enemy was considered a victory in
itself. - Resurrection (2007-2010): In this phase, al-Qaeda
will be capable of mobilizing jihadis productively,
exploiting unrest in different hot areas to keep the U.S.
forces occupied in a war of attrition that will weaken its
resolve and pave the way to directly attack Jews in
Palestine and elsewhere. - Recuperate and Attain Power
(2010-2013): This phase will concentrate on overthrowing
the infidel Muslim regimes by direct confrontation. The
United States will be exhausted and unable to support all
the infidel regimes in the region, hence, al-Qaeda will
become more powerful and eligible to replace these regimes.
- Declaration of an Islamic state (2013-2016): At this
point, the Western grip on the region will loosen, paving
the way for the establishment of an Islamic state that will
regain control of the Muslim nation, rebuild it and utilize
the nation’s wealth in creating an international deterrent
to foreign intervention as well as expediting the demise of
corrupt and tyrant regimes. - Massive Confrontation: 2016
will witness the onset of an all-out war between the forces
of good and evil with, of course, final victory for the
Islamic state. - Achieving Multiple Victories: Any victory
achieved by al-Qaeda opens the door for more recruits to
work with al-Qaeda in many different domains. Those who
cannot join directly will establish their own centers based
on similar radical Islamist theory and ideology. Al-Qaeda
believes there is a direct proportion between multiple
victories and repelling U.S. and Jewish aggressions [1].

Jihadis typically corroborate this scenario by citing
verses from the Quran for every phase of the plan and
believe that God will facilitate the victory of the Muslim


Although the success of the United States and its partners
in exterminating notable numbers of al-Qaeda leaders has
significantly reduced its ability to perpetrate terror
operations, it has not ended the al-Qaeda phenomenon.
Rather, it has led to the creation of unpredictable,
incoherent and scattered groups adhering to the
Salafi-jihadi ideology. These decentralized formations will
attempt to attack soft targets and wait patiently for any
slackening of security on the hard targets. A complete
defeat of al-Qaeda is unlikely to come about in the near
future. Iraq—like other countries in the region—will suffer
from al-Qaeda terrorism long after the withdrawal of the
coalition forces.


1. Sources for the seven phases of al-Qaeda’s global
confrontation strategy are drawn from;;;


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