Mar 10, 2014
Islamic State of Iraq and Levant Too Extreme for Al-Qaida (Not the Onion)
Posted on Feb 4, 2014
By Juan Cole
This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.
Al-Zawahiri said, “Al-Qaeda al-Jihad announces that it has no link to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It did not create it, did not invest it with authority, did not consult with it, and did not express approval of it. Rather, al-Qaeda ordered it to stop its actions. Therefore, it is not an al-Qaeda affiliate, no organizational relationship binds the two, and al-Qaeda is not responsible for its behavior.”
Al-Zawahiri is clearly embarrassed by the ISIL attacks on other jihadis and is afraid people will think he put them up to it. He attempted to reaffirm his “commitment to brotherhood among Muslims and jihadis.”
The letter underlines what I have been saying for some time, which is that it is a mistake to see the so-called al-Qaeda affiliates as the same sort of phenomenon as core al-Qaeda. It is clear that ISIL does not have a reporting line to al-Zawahiri and has repeatedly just blown him off. The same is true of the other “affiliates.” These radical Sunnis just declare an al-Qaeda affiliation to increase the fear with which they are viewed. It isn’t organizational, and al-Zawahiri has admitted as much. That isn’t to deny that some core al-Qaeda operatives have occasionally shown up in the affiliates, or that al-Zawahiri tries to communicate to them. But he can’t give them orders. Moreover, they are interested in the ‘near enemy,’ in taking on regional leaders like Bashar al-Assad in Syria or PM Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. With the exception of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (AQAP), they don’t seem interested in hitting US targets, and that kind of thing seems to have tapered off in AQAP in any case.
ISIL is a nasty piece of business, a kind of religious/ political license for serial killing. So is al-Qaeda. But that the latter is embarrassed about the former is telling.
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