On July 4, Zawahiri released a new video tape. The production values are pretty good, and Zawahiri is intercut with other footage, including television clips. What is striking about Zawahiri’s message, however, is how defensive it is. And what Zawahiri is defensive about, is events in Iraq.
He begins by talking about Iraq, and that remains the main subject although there are passing references to other fields of battle. His theme on Iraq is the need for unity. Reading between the lines, you can tell that Muslims, including relatively radical Muslims, are distancing themselves from al Qaeda in Iraq, or, as Zawahiri calls it, the Islamic State of Iraq. He criticizes clerics who say there is no duty to carry out jihad in Iraq. He contrasts al Qaeda in Iraq favorably with Hamas, and complains that while Hamas receives near-universal support, al Qaeda in Iraq suffers from “a storm of media campaigns, allegations and claims … whipped up in their face.”
In part, as many commentators have noted, Zawahiri’s plea for unity in Iraq reflects the abandonment of al Qaeda by most Sunnis there, and the fact that many Sunnis have joined with the U.S. and the Iraqi government in fighting al Qaeda. But the defensiveness Zawahiri betrays goes well beyond that schism. He plainly is concerned about how things are going in Iraq, and is anxious to generate support for his organization’s efforts there.
I’ve never understood the theory that Iraq is somehow unrelated to the broader war on terror. It would not be possible to read what al Qaeda’s leaders have written and listen to their tapes, and hold that view. At one point, Zawahiri exhorts his followers to “[h]urry to Afghanistan, to Iraq, hurry to Somalia, hurry to Palestine, and hurry to the towering Atlas Mountains.” If we were to abandon Iraq, can anyone doubt that the flow of jihadists to those other regions, and more, would increase?
This video is the first quarter of Zawahiri’s Castro-length tape. It’s more than enough to get the picture. The video and translation come from Laura Mansfield and can also be seen at Power Line Video. One more thing: Brightcove has implemented an advertising model as an alternative to charging for server space, so the video could be preceded by a short–very short–ad. (When I watched it, it wasn’t.)
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