Earlier this week, I noted that members of the Hesbah forum are increasingly pessimistic about Iraq. And in May I wrote about the death of Sulayman al-`Utaybi, an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who had left for Afghanistan after his dismissal from his post. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
That he headed straight for Afghanistan makes me wonder if this is a sign of things to come as AQ gets squeezed out of Iraq.
Now the Washington Post gives us further evidence that Iraq is a sinking ship for al-Qaeda and Afghanistan is the lifeboat, at least for the senior leadership. Amit Paley has written a well-sourced article on the departure of Abu Ayyub al-Masri (aka Abu Hamza al-Muhajer), the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for Afghanistan. Here’s what we learn from the article (sources in parentheses):
- AQ is diverting new recruits to Afghanistan and Iraq. (U.S. officials)
- The number of foreign fighters going to Iraq a year ago was 110/mo. Earlier this year it was 50/mo. Now it is 20/mo. (senior U.S. intel analyst)
- The flow of most of AQI’s foreign fighters, money, and weapons is controlled by Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih (aka Abu Ghadiya), a Mosul native who is based in Syria. (U.S. intel officials)
- Masri designated Abu Khalil al-Souri to run AQI when he left for Afghanistan. Souri came to Iraq in 2003. (Ansari, AQI leader in Fallujah)
- Souri is one of 33 fighters, known as “the first line,” who came with Zarqawi in 2003. (Milehmi, senior AQI leader north of Fallujah)
- Souri’s name is attached to a July 10 AQI communique, a document usually signed by Masri.
- Masri has gone to Afghanistan twice before to meet with Jihadis and come back. (Milehmi, senior AQI leader north of Fallujah)
- Masri went to Afghanistan to review situation of AQI with Bin Laden. (Qaisi, commander of AQI recruitment unit)
Route to Afghanistan
- Masri went to Afghanistan through Iran (Ansari, AQI leader in Fallujah)
- Masri and two others went into Iran on June 12 through border town of Zorbatia (Col. Abdullah, Iraqi intel official in Ramadi)
- Masri went through Iran with 15 leaders (captured AQI member Abu Abeer al-Muhajer via an Iraqi police officer)
AQ Splinter Group
- Abu Taha al-Lihebi is leader of an AQI group in eastern Anbar. He and his group split from AQI because Masri condoned attacks on the Awakening movement and on civilians, which lost the group support. (Abu Taha al-Lihebi)
- Lihebi’s group disavows suicide ops to distinguish itself from AQI. (Abu Taha al-Lihebi)
It’s not surprising that Iran is a transit point to Afghanistan (see my previous posts on the Harbi group from Kuwait) or that Masri is consulting with al-Qaeda Central (another nail in the “leaderless jihad” coffin). It’s also not surprising that AQI is losing support because its senior leadership decided to shit where it slept.
I am surprised that most of AQI’s material and human resources are so tightly coordinated by an AQ operative in Syria. The Sinjar data suggests that the flow is more decentralized.
What also stands out to me is that the AQI splinter group renounced suicide ops to distinguish itself from AQI, an interesting turn for those who see the adoption of suicide bombings as either a natural result of being a devout Muslim or the result of militant groups competing to outdo each other. In this case, competition is a factor, but it’s going the opposite direction.