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June 12th, 2008
12:54 PM ET

al Qaeda in Iraq: Leaderless jihad or well-organized insurgency?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/12/art.dergen.jpg caption="360° sorts through one of the largest collections of al Qaeda documents to fall into civilian hands. They reveal the inner workings of al Qaeda in Iraq – providing insight few have ever seen."]

Editor’s note: CNN has obtained what is believed to be one of the largest collections of internal al Qaeda documents to fall into civilian hands. The videos and documents give fascinating insight into the inner workings of the organization. Watch full report tonight, 10p ET

Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

In a great journalistic coup, Michael Ware and the CNN team in Iraq have unearthed the largest collection of al Qaeda in Iraq material outside the hands of the US military. What they found in this collection of videos and memos underlines a key aspect of the al Qaeda organization in Iraq; it is highly organized, and not simply a loosely-knit collection of jihadists.

A debate has recently erupted in the pages of Foreign Affairs, the leading American journal of international relations, between two scholars of terrorism. On one side is former CIA case officer, Marc Sageman, the author of Leaderless Jihad, who contends that the threat from al Qaeda as an organization is largely over and the new threat comes from “a multitude of informal groups trying to emulate their predecessors by conceiving and executing plans from the bottom up. These ‘homegrown' wannabes form a scattered global network, a leaderless jihad.” Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, by contrast, argues that the al Qaeda organization, headquartered on the Afghan-Pakistan border, remains the most important threat to American national security.

The thousands of pages of documents and scores of videos obtained by CNN will help to move the Sageman-Hoffman debate forward. They show that al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has, in fact, for years been a highly bureaucratized top-down organization with an attention to detail suggestive of the IRS... AQI recorded detailed battle plans for attacks that would take place over the course of three months; its members filled out application forms; the organization maintained pay sheets for brigade-size units of hundreds of men; it recorded the detailed minutes of meetings, kept prisoner rosters, maintained death lists of enemies, and kept the records of vehicles in its motor pool. Most chillingly AQI’s Anbar province branch videotaped 80 executions, which were not used for propaganda purposes, but simply as a record of having done the job.

The AQI documents recovered by CNN are similar to documents discovered by the US military at Sinjar on the Iraqi/Syrian border in the fall of 2007 and subsequently released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

In the Sinjar documents, AQI’s "emirate” on the Iraqi/Syrian border required its non-Iraqi recruits to fill out forms that asked for their countries and cities of origin, real names, aliases, date of birth, who their jihadist ‘coordinator’ was, how they were referred to the al Qaeda in the first place, their occupation, how they entered from Syria, who in Syria had facilitated their travel, an assessment of how they had been treated in Syria, what cash and ID cards they had with them when they arrived in Iraq, any relevant knowledge– such as computer skills–they might have, and whether they were volunteering to be a fighters or suicide attackers. Of the 606 foreign fighters who filled out the documents found at Sinjar few filled out all of this information, but all filled out at least some of it.

The CNN and Sinjar documents together show that AQI is not a ‘leaderless jihad’, but rather an insurgent/terrorist organization that has prized order, discipline, and top-down direction.


Filed under: al Qaeda • Iraq • Peter Bergen • War on Terror
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Andy

    Just to add my own two cents .......

    Mike is exactly right in his assertion that intelligence and use of arms can thwart the activities of terrorist organizations but he stopped short of making an important point. If you want to treat the disease of terrorism then don't just rely on surgery, combine it with some preventive medicine. Let's create a comprehensive strategy that defines and attacks the cause of terrorism (as noted by Ron M) as well as the terrorist organizations themselves (For you politicians out there that means that you have to get the State Department involved as well as CIA and DoD). Maybe it's my lack of visibility into official Washington but I haven't noticed much U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East beyond the usual between Israel and the Palestinians (though the issues are indeed linked with emotions throughout the Middle East and tend to fuel terrorist organizations). Diplomacy has to be more than MG Petraeus' well-conceived strategy of moving troops from garrisons to the streets. It needs to be far-sighted, coordinated at all levels and contain strategic goals such as obtaining the support of Arab nations to remove the motivators that fuel AQ and other home-grown terrorist organizations. It just seems to me that we haven't seen a lot of that going on.

    So, just what is the receipe for victory in Iraq? Some don't seem to see this. It contains five key elements:
    1) The rebuilding of a stable infrastructure within Iraq to meet the basic needs of its people, thus raising their satisfaction and standard of living, (this is happening)
    2) The ability of the Iraqi government, through it's police, military and intelligence organizations, to successfully identify, confront and destroy terrorist organizations (both foreign and local – this is also happening but far too slowly),
    3) The reduction of U.S. military involvement to support rather than combat roles (yes, that means that there will be some involvement of U.S. troops for a while – that's a fact of life – but even this will end eventually),
    4) The creation of a self-sustaining economy (which can be done when the infrastructure is rebuilt and oil is flowing freely), and
    5) The creation of a concise diplomatic effort aimed at freeing Iraq from Iranian and Syrian influence and establishing a plan to combat the causes of terrorism throughout the Middle East. For this final point just opening the dialog can be seen as a victory.

    The bottom line is this: whether you agree or disagree with our reasons for being in Iraq, the reality is that we are there. We need to exit in a way that postures the Iraqi people for success, removes the fuel for the terrorist fire buring in their country and promotes greater stability in the region. I just wish that this was the discussion that our politicians were having.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  2. Chris

    I this really a surprise to anyone that these thugs are so organized.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:38 pm |
  3. Steve

    At what point were Americans tricked into thinking that al-Qaida, Iran and North Korea could possibly pose more of a threat to the U.S. than the Soviets?

    June 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  4. Bob R.-NY

    There's really no question that al Qaeda is a real enemy and has tried to destroy our country from within and openly in South Asia. They will not succeed. They are showing that although they are organized, they are woefully undersupplied with long term sustenance such as unthreatened money supplies(now being interrupted) poorly functioning allies, (Syria and Iran) and a rapidly deteriorating fighting discipline (even considering suicide bound volunteers). The current American military strategy has worked and will continue to uproot and chase the multi-ethnic "gang of rats" to their extinction. Yes, poverty and third world countries have had little to advance with but in a year or two from right now, you won't be able to tell that to the Afghan nor the Iraqi people.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Matt

    If you've got the material, stop reporting ABOUT what it says and shows and let it speak for itself. PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. ALL OF IT. It's utterly disgraceful that you would keep it from the public so that you've got a lock on it and can feed everyone what you want them to know about it. DO YOUR JOBS AND MAKE IT PUBLIC. Stop reporting based on what will generate the best advertising revenue and get a social consience.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:24 pm |
  6. Scott

    Until we find a way to eliminate hate, jealousy, poverty, and anger, there will always be threats to America. From overseas and within our borders. They will never go away. If you woke up tomorrow and heard Iraq was completely annihilated and its entire population was eliminated, would feel a new sense of security?? The threat is gone! Terrorism is extinct! America is safe again! Would you be naive enough to believe that? Terrorism is not something you fight a war over. It comes from too many places and covers too much ground and is bred, past down, and imitated. You counter it with intelligence and investing in (then properly training and implementing) new, up to date, safe guards at home. These threats to America will never die. War is not the answer.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:22 pm |
  7. Derek Z

    As a Soldier with three "trips" to Iraq, I will unequivocally state that pulling out of Iraq anytime soon would be a very unwise decision. Whether it's "officially" Al Qaeda or some other organized group, radical Islam is a movement that will continue into the foreseeable future, and Iraq is the current battleground. Just like believing that the price of gas will drop back to 2 dollars a gallon, anyone who believes that we will ever return to a "pre-9/11 world" is only fooling themselves. As these documents may show, killing a leader or denying a resource will only stunt the capabilities of an organization because the enemy you are fighting is an ideology – new leaders will rise, new resources will emerge. Terrorists today need only computers and some bandwith to maintain their organizations. While our security support in Iraq now is vital, it is truly up to moderate Muslims to "win" the war. Just as the "Sons of Iraq" have done in Al Anbar province, other Iraqis (and other moderate muslims in THEIR homelands) must stand against the radicals – deny their messages, deny them sanctuary. While the Iraqi and US military defeat the current terrorists, the Iraqi people must defeat the "future" terrorists by condemning this radical ideology. This will be the only effective way to defeat these groups – deny them the ability to create leaders and organize members through the actions and guidance of moderate Muslims. Until then, while I certainly have no desire to return to Iraq, I would much rather fight this ideology in the Middle East than to have my family fighting it at home.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:20 pm |
  8. Peter From Scarborough

    Mr. Ware is so invested in the narrative that the war is lost and a "quagmire" he cant see strait. He simply ignores the recent senate testimony that AQI has never been closer to defeat. Two words for you: Bagdad Bob

    June 12, 2008 at 4:16 pm |
  9. JD from NYC

    All countries in the middle east and around the world have to step up against al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia played it both ways and got away with it for a long while. Did nothing to stop them as long as they went after the 'GREAT SATAN' etc. Got away with for years. They learned the hard way after they got theirs. Now they are on board but really only to save their sorry A**! Little too late House of FR(S)AUD!! Anywhere they are tolerated – even a little bit and the poor and disillusioned will run to this disgusting organization like the Pied Pier of Hamlin....

    June 12, 2008 at 4:15 pm |
  10. sarah t, ohio

    It is key to note that both sets of documents attained where found after the start of the Iraq War. Also, as much as we know that AQ was in Iraq before we entered, they have never been so strong as they are now.
    Personally, I have always felt we were invading the wrong country in attempt to take down AQ (and let's mention that was never the sole priority of the Bush Administration in going to war in Iraq). AQ is not just in Iraq they are all over the middle east and in other countries.
    Let's stop trying to find reasons to be in Iraq. It was a mistake.
    I am completely aware that AQ is a threat and my above thoughts stand.-
    sarah, ohio.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:12 pm |
  11. sean

    bush/mccain...obama...who cares? the issue is that no matter who is president, terrorists will come after the US. remember that the initial plans for 9/11 (unless you are a conspiracy theorist that says the US govt did it) were started when clinton was president! and in case you forgot, he was a democrat. this has nothing to do with a certain political party in the white house. this has to do with the very belief systems that we have vs the system they have. we ARE compatible with them through our freedom of speech, religion, etc...however, they are not compatible with our 'liberal' beliefs. if you think "republican-bad", wait and se what happens if we are forced to live under shiria law. then you'll be wishing that whoever is president would have done more.

    June 12, 2008 at 4:09 pm |
  12. Jeff

    For all those that believe we need to leave Iraq now, I invite you to watch Charlie Wilson's War. This movie helps teach the historical lesson of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out in February of 1989. The U.S. helped the people of Afghanistan defeat the Soviets. But, we did not help them with the "peace" that followed. It only took twelve years and seven months for Al Qaeda, with Taliban help, to plan, train, and carry out the September 11 attacks. This is why we must not have a repeat in Iraq or again in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is too well organized and has implanted itself into the minds of too many good people. We either finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, or we'll have to contend with another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Which do we prefer? No matter the next administration, Al Qaeda will not go away.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:55 pm |
  13. Jim

    This may not be such bad news. If AlQuaeda in Iraq is that well organized, the organization can be infiltrated and destroyed. If the organization is destroyed, the movement would become even more ineffective.
    ~Jim

    June 12, 2008 at 3:53 pm |
  14. Al Jackson

    J. House,

    You are another one who has fallen for the republican proganda that Al Queda was in Iraq before the invasion. Big lie! They snuck in after the invasion and stirred up trouble by convincing their FELLOW muslim brothers that the infidels are corrupting their holy soil. That grew into your insurgency. Reports and documents have shown that there were no Al Queda activity in Iraq before the invasion. Saddam Hussein and Al Queda did not see eye-to-eye. You are just supporting the republican propaganda agenda machine. Don't let yourself be fooled into believing their lies. America has paid dearly for republican lies the last 7 years. It is time to end it!

    June 12, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  15. Frank

    This war has NOTHING to do with "Al-Qaeda" in Iraq. The title of this article in itself is misleading. As a matter of fact, AQ was not even in Iraq until the AFTER the US occupied the country. And the majority of those falling under that AQ label are more than likely insurgents from other surrouding Arab countries, as well as Iran, who jump at the chance to sacrifice themselves against what they see as a foreign invading bunch of infidels. We need to get out now (should never have gone in). Go Obama.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  16. Chuck

    There you have it, folks, Al Quida is the IRS.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  17. Lucas De Rosa

    You conservatives suggesting that this proves Bush was right are absolutely amazing.. Al Queda has gotten so strong due to our bolstering their recruitment efforts with this incredibly poorly executed war, not to mention our completely botching the job in Afghanistan because we were so eager to get into Iraq.

    Either way.. it doesnt make sense to offer our troops as targets for these terrorists. What Obama and anyone with half a brain (IE, Not republicans) are suggesting is that we get our young men out of harms way and reevalute the situation.

    Right now the Shiite are fighting the Sunni while Iran and Al Queda do whatever they can to cause chaos, us interjecting ourselves into the middle isnt accomplishing anything. Its costing young americans their legs and arms, their mental stability or just flatout their lives.... and for what?

    Noone is suggesting that Al queda is a problem that doesnt need to be addressed... but the way its been handled the last 7 years has only served to get our people killed while strengthening them, so its time to reassess our strategy, and keeping hundreds of thousands in harms way while we try to figure out what we're going to do doesnt seem very humane...

    June 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm |
  18. Al Jackson

    Hey Ryu Gaia,

    No, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and McCain are wrong. Al Queda showed up in Iraq after the invasion/occupation. They are motivated to have the infidels, Americans, British, non-muslims out of their country and interfering with their way of life. Having American troops in Iraq, gave them easier access to attack American targets. No, Bush and his cohorts were way off and their have been documents and reports supporting that they were way off, wrong. Remember Al Queda showed up AFTER the invasion, Al Queda in Iraq. Different group in Afghanistan. Get your facts straight, don't just spout off erroneous information like the republicans. No, I am not a democrat, I would not claim either party.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm |
  19. Onas

    Are you sure those documents are authentic? A lot of people have a lot to gain from them. The Bush Administration, al Quiada, the Iraqi Government, US Military Contractors... to name the obvious.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Michael

    Nonsense

    June 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  21. matty

    I would just point out one thing. Let's say some foreign power invaded the US and installed a puppet government. Do you think we'd be doing anything different than these guys are? I guess it's just a case where one man's terrorist is another man's patriot.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  22. Brent Crocker

    They work with Irainian money and munitions. They stock their targets which happen to be areas that will create the biggest headlines in the United States causing outrage amoung your population and degrade support for the just war. They continue this strategy until you pull out, then Iran steps in and looks like the hero. IRAN continues it's conquest of Islamic extremism by supporting al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups. This aids in contiueing IRAN's efforts without having to take direct responsibility for the actions of these groups. This also helps IRAN to deflect the microscope off them while they continue their evil plans. It's good to be the puppet master, and for these groups to be the puppets. The puppets steal the show while Uncle Sams is all focused on the show and not the puppet master. The puppet master only needs one hand to move the puppets and his other hand is screwing in the last screw to his explosive finally.

    I really hope this is wrong but I am not the CIA.

    From your Canadian cousin.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  23. Jay, Denver CO

    Think about it in terms of if America was invaded. We would all be insurgents, some organized and some disorganized, for thousands of years. There's nothing we can do over there to fix the situation.

    So if we aren't going to take their oil and benefit from it then we shouldn't be there at all.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  24. Doug V.W.

    Keep in mind that "al-Qaeda in Iraq" is not a direct 'division' of the overall al-Qaeda organization. al-Qaeda is more like a franchise that allows considerable autonomy of it's local branches. Many of the AQI leadership probably came from Saddam Husseins military and are more apt to use their established processes, organisation, etc. I'm NOT saying that Saddam and AQ were in league prior to the invasion. I'm saying that once Bremer, et al fired the Iraqi Military, you have a large population of mostly Sunni males with extensive military backgrounds who are suddenly out of power, unemployed and disaffected. That resulted in many looking for ways to vent their collective frustration, return to their former glory & feel useful.
    The al-Qaeda organization based in Afghan-Pakistan border region is still a concern for its clarion call that can incite activity by it's local cells and the isolated "home grown" actors.
    All ends of this spectrum (from large, centralized organizations to rogue individuals) are of concern. The large organizations should be the focus of central military/intelligence/law enforcement agencies. The rogue individuals are impossible to find from that level and local law enforcement would be most effective with advice and support from the federal/international level.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:31 pm |
  25. John

    Seems a disconnect here. Sageman's work talks about the threat of terrorist acts in the nations constituting the "far enemy" – the nations of the West. He doesn't attempt to dissect in detail the insurgency in Iraq (other than to characterize it as a marvelous recruiting and propaganda tool for the Al Qaeda "movement").

    It is not surprising that the Al Qaeda "franchise" in Iraq is tightly organized – insurgencies have to be if they are to have any chance of success. However, accepting that Al Qaeda in Iraq is well organized and directed says nothing about that organization's subordination to Osama bin Laden or its relationship to any other part of the Al Qaeda "movement".

    The point that's missing here is that there are multiple disconnected or loosely connected entities involved in the Al Qaeda movement around the world. A person/entity that declares himself/itself to be Al Qaeda may hold views similar to those of Osama bin Laden, but may NOT be acting under bin Laden's guidance and direction. Indeed, I think Sageman argues that – at least in the West – it is more likely that this person/group is acting on its own.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:24 pm |
  26. Bob

    Ryu Gaia Wrote:

    "I suppose this means they are in fact a threat. Hmmm. Bush was right."

    Unfortunately poor mentality as such is what drove Bush to convince many Americans it was the right thing to do

    Now look at the mess

    June 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm |
  27. Mike

    "A Moment of Truth in Iraq" should be read by anyone wanting to immedaitely leave Iraq. Michael Yon has logged more hours in combat situations on the ground than probably any other journalist over there. Want a true, unbiased opinion and assessment from someone truly in the mix? He's reporting from the country, not back in America making up stories as our media does. Read the book, listen to what he tells you is happening in the streets of Iraq. After you become truly informed by someone without political affliation, then you can make intelligent decisions. AQI's structure is even covered in the book so after reading this, it wasn't a suprise. Actually, this is very old news to any truly informed person on Al Qaeda or AQI.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm |
  28. Kentucky Bob

    There was no al Qaeda in Iraq until there were American troops in Iraq.

    Bush and McCain keep putting the cart before the war horse.

    June 12, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  29. rand

    be careful CNN you actually admit that we are crushing this cowards in IRAQ! Funny you did not mention they have nothing left there and are on the run. Way to be 3 years late

    June 12, 2008 at 3:04 pm |
  30. john

    I have to agree with Art V. Where exactly were these documents "unearthed" from?

    June 12, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  31. Nicole Price

    People have far and wide outcried that this is the US versus Iraq, when in reality, it is in it's purest form, a Religious war.
    Our US army has converted from a malitia of men, fighting for their country, to a malitia of miss guided men, fighting to coerce their enemies to their Christian ways.

    There is a book called, "god is not great", filled with very interesting factual evidence of how religion has played a destructive and evil role in the worlds philosiphies. It's ALL rediculous, and ALL destructive.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm |
  32. Frank Malone

    It is extremely unfortunate for the population of the free world that AlQuida is not just a ragtag bubch if Isklamiv terrorists but are, in fact , an exceedingly well coordinated terrorist group. Due to the fact that they are, they have the poyential to become one truly deadly enemy for all of the western world. One feature about them that is also extremely disconcerting is that their conception of the Islamic faith is almost the polar opposite of the basic tenets of the faith. They have literally managed to hijack the religion that is mistrusted by many citizens of the western world and are also so deeply commited to their violent beliefs that military action by either the united States or the other countries in the free world is very unlikely to make a difference to them.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:49 pm |
  33. Richard

    You are comparing apples and oranges when you compare AQI to the "Leaderless Jihad" which Dr. Sageman describes.

    Even Dr. Sageman refers to AQI as part ot the "second wave" – an AQ affiliated organization with direct communication to the AQ senior leadership.
    This organization would be expected to be well organized.

    The Leaderless Jihad that Sageman refers to are the countless AQ supporters and jihad "wannabes" such as those that have carried out several attacks and attempted attacks in the UK.

    These are the leaderless jihadis, with no communication of control from the AQ leadership. Such groups are autonomous, self-supporitn, and often below the radar of intelligence organizations.

    While other AQ affiliates (including AQI) are failing, these small, self-directed groups functioning in their own countries, with no need for international travel, are more difficult to detect and thwart, – and thus represent the more credible future threat.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  34. Rick

    There is no concrete mention of dates in this article. Its very possible that these documents could be from early on in the insurgency (2003-2006) and do not accurately represent the organizational structure of Al-Qaeda after the surge.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:46 pm |
  35. Bob H

    How have you verified the authenticity of your AQI document collection? With a budget of $43.5B per year and 100,000 employees, US spy agencies can fabricate a lot of detailed disinformation. It might be recalled from about 2002-3 there was to be a disinformation department. Presumably that idea did not disappear.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  36. Tracy KK

    AQI is for real. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, my representative, does not believe that Iraq is part of the war on terror. he is disconnected from the facts and only serves the Democratic machine.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm |
  37. John Wohlmut

    The Iraqis do not really want us occupying their land. I believe we should put it to a vote over there and see what they want us to do. The Iraqis are not stupid. Considering the violence in that region I am sure that if they want us out they will also not allow the foreign fighters to take over Iraq.

    Right now they view us as a necessary evil but I am afraid that they are starting to accept the fact that we may be over there to "protect" them for ever. Put it to a vote – force them to let us know if they are willing to fight for their own freedom. Nationalism is a powerful motivator.

    John W

    June 12, 2008 at 2:39 pm |
  38. Margaret Moran

    Peter, Would you agree that the slowdown in violence that John McCain brags is due to "the surge" is actually due to the cease fire arranged by the rebel cleric Moktada as- Sadar?

    June 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm |
  39. bob stix

    The article does nothing to clarify the fundamental issue: the nature and relationship of al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistan border and al Qaeda in Iraq. Your description of the debate is sloppy and assumes a connection. Perhaps you could deal directly with that subject since the Bush Administration has lied so consistently about the rationale for the Iraq war.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  40. Mike C.

    If AQI is indeed highly organized and "top-down" lead, then this is great news to any U.S. military commander. This means that "take out the head and the body will die" can still work in this environment. The independent cells themselves cannot be destroyed, but if most direction comes from centralized leadership, then major attacks can be halted as experienced leadership is eliminated. The individual cells can still carry out local attacks, but anything major would require centralized leadership. The U.S military should focus on finding and eliminating these key "heads", otherwise we risk al Qaeda becoming so organized and coordinated (and wealthy) that they are able to attack our homeland again.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  41. Aaron Humes

    So what?

    American citizens are no longer worth defending because their's is a culture bent on conveniences of self-imposed ignorance, fortified by dementia memories - the exclusive trademark of former great powers.

    As long as they see survival as too brutal, they will die brutally from enemies all-too-eager to assist in the suicides.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  42. Mike

    Many believe a war on "terrorism" is un-winnable and the product of a military industrial complex bent on manufacture of arms and generation of fear for nefarious purposes (read: money).

    The reality is that while the ideas these groups represent cannot be defeated with the sword alone, the people who employ them are flesh and blood. They require money, food, shelter and guidance. These are very mortal institutions that can be discovered, tracked and defeated via intelligence efforts and use of arms.

    We may not like the prospects of facing terrorist organizations, but our country can absolutely defeat them and discredit the ideas upon which they've been constructed.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:14 pm |
  43. art V

    How does Al-Qaeda operate in Iraq?

    With the help of the Bush Administration....

    DUH!!!!!!

    p.s. Buildings don't collapse at free fall speed into the path of MOST resistance

    June 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm |
  44. Dee90987

    The biggest mistake in war is to underestimate your opponent. When will we learn that this group is highly sophisticated and extremely determined to prove their resolve. Any organization that can simultaneously bring down two World Towers, nearly topple a government building, and stump American Forces in combat must never be taken lightly.

    June 12, 2008 at 2:00 pm |
  45. J House

    Well, more proof that AQ is IN IRAQ, and they appear NOT to be the "homegrown group with foreign leadership" that the NYT loves to quote some unnamed US military official when referring to AQI.

    Someone needs to ask Obama, if AQ is still in Iraq, why does he want US forces out now?
    Isn't the war against AQ?

    Let's recap- Saddam and his cronies have been tried, convicted and hung by a democratic, elected Iraqi govt. Former Sunni insurgent groups are now aligned with coalition forces and the Iraqi govt to eliminate AQI. Sadr/Madhi Army is weakened and is steadily coming into the democratic fold
    What more is left but AQI to fight? And one of our candidates wants the US out of Iraq asap?
    I'd say he is a little behind the curve and needs to go to Iraq and get the ground truth before this election is over.

    June 12, 2008 at 1:57 pm |
  46. Ron

    The current activity in Iraq seems to suggest that this organization has been largely wiped out. Those documents may reflect the past more than the present.

    June 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm |
  47. Ryu Gaia

    I suppose this means they are in fact a threat. Hmmm. Bush was right.

    June 12, 2008 at 1:46 pm |
  48. Ron M

    You must cut off the head of a venemous snake to truly defeat it.

    The fighters and suicide bombers are not themselves capable of organized attacks, they are simply desperate, misinformed people searching for a cause. The organization and capability is supplied by the well organized al Qaeda.

    If al Qaeda is to be defeated we must slow the flow of new recruits by reducing the opportunities that we give them for engagement. They view us as a Christian army trying to rule some of the holiest Muslim territory anywhere on earth. We need to convince them of our true intentions, which we currently do not even share with our own people. Actions speak louder than words and we need to respect the desire of the Iraqi people as to our military prescence in their country – if they do not want us, we should leave...

    Defeating al Qaeda will be accomplished through penetration of their organization, accurate intelligence from Arabs, stealth attacks at the very heart of the organization and strong answers to their propaganda that keeps increasing their recruitment. Battling them on the ground is good for our patriotism but very ineffective in actually achieving our goals.

    We must find a way to make Arab people to disassociate themselves from al Qaeda. This may seem impossible but we must remember that without Americans to attack, they start to attack moderate Arabs and this can truly be their downfall. We must get moderate Arabs to stand up against al Qaeda – it is afterall of even greater importance to them that al Qaeda not gain further political influence.

    June 12, 2008 at 1:45 pm |
  49. kent fitzsimmons,Kewanee, Illinois

    It is hard to know who the "enemy" is in this war in Iraq. Sounds like another Vietnam. We didn't know who we were fighting there either. It's not like the bad guys wear a uniform or anything. Past Presidents were known to of said to stay away from the conflicts in the Middle East......they cannot be won. That is another question..........win what? Bush/McCain want victory............what does that mean? We don't even have a reason for being there.........thanks alot Bush.

    It's time to get out of Iraq. We don't belong there. Obama 08

    June 12, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  50. Cindy

    Peter,
    I think that Marc and Bruce are both right in their own ways. I think we still are at risk from al qaeda because it does seem to me that they are a very organized group from what I have heard from you all and others. So they can go back, regroup in Pakistan-Afghanistan and then make other charges at us.

    But we also are at risk from the "homegrown" wanna bes. Because if they can get a little following then they too can carry out attacks on us. Maybe not here in the states like al qaeda can or will try but on our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    So both groups are still a hazard to us no matter how small.

    Nice to hear from you again. Hopefully we will get to see Mic's report tonight on 360.

    Cindy...Ga.

    June 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
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