Al Qaeda in the box

Richard Miniter at Pajamas Media reports that al Qaeda is fleeing Baghdad in advance of the American troop surge. Citing s U.S. military intelligence source, Miniter says the apparent evacuation comes on the direct orders of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took control of the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda following the death of Zarqawi. It seems that the al-Qaeda fighters in Baghdad wanted to remain and fight.
This disagreement shows that our surge has created a dilemma for al Qaeda. The smart move is probably to leave Baghdad rather than suffer another Fallujah style defeat. But, as its fighters seem to have recognized, leaving has its costs too. It gives the Iraqi police force (with our assitance) a chance to assert control in some of the worst neighborhoods. If they succeed, it may be no easy matter for al Qaeda to return. In addition, such success would likely mean that the combined Iraqi and American forces can provide the Shia population with security, thus lessening the perceived need for Shiite militias. And if these militias also decide not to fight the Americans just now, we may avoid the high casualty levels that would undermine the surge here at home.
However, al Qaeda’s exit from Baghdad puts the ball in our court (and the court of Iraq’s Shia dominated government) to make sure the Sunni population receives protection from Shiite death squads. Absent such protection, the sectarian violence will continue with or without al Qaeda, and al Qaeda’s return probably will be just a matter of time.

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