Jihadica reader Jallen asks some good questions about the pessimism of Jihadis regarding Iraq:
How long have forum members been pessimistic over Iraq? Is the pessimism widespread or just a few members in one forum? Is pessimism over Iraq matched by increased optimism over Afghanistan or are these independent?
It depends which forum you read. On Hesbah, there is a more frank discussion of the fortunes of al-Qaeda in Iraq (at least judging from the posts that leak out). This is probably because Hesbah is a closed forum full of old Jihadi hands, so members don’t have to be so guarded. The opposite is true on Ekhlaas, where newbies take turns one-upping each other with paeans to al-Qaeda. No one wants to be a downer.
But since the end of 2007, I’ve noticed a steady increase in posts on Ekhlaas that say, “Just wait, a major victory is right around the corner!” You wouldn’t write that unless you were worried that things weren’t going so well at the moment.
To give you a sense of the genre, here’s a summary of a post from a few days ago by forum member Murabit Muwahhid (Monotheist Frontier Fighter):
- Everyone is in a state of anticipation these days.
- There have been consecutive announcements of the martyrdoms of first and second tier al-Qaeda leaders.
- People in Europe fear martyrdom operations there.
- There have been a series of attacks on the Islamic State of Iraq and attempts to break its power.
- There have been victories for the mujahids in Somalia and Yemen.
- “Are we living in difficult days or are we and the world waiting for (even more) difficult days?”
- Will the coming days be marked by more of our leaders dying, such that the U.S. will proclaim victory over terrorism?
- Or will these victories be followed by major setbacks that will put the lie to their proclamations?
- It looks like the coming days will be difficult for everyone.
The post has a more defiant tone: We may be down, but we’re not out. It is also ambivalent about the fortunes of the Jihadi community. (And for those convinced that Jihadis are indifferent to news of their leaders’ deaths, take note.)
The morale of the forum fighters is the lowest I’ve seen it, at least among Jihadis who live in the Middle East. Afghanistan is a bright spot, but it doesn’t seem to offset the despair of Arab Jihadis, who can’t understand why al-Qaeda hasn’t gained traction in the Middle East.
The bleaker things look for the Islamic State in Iraq–the embryo of the new caliphal order–and the longer al-Qaeda goes without a major attack in Israel, the U.S., or its closely-allied countries, the more anticipation builds that al-Qaeda will do something spectacular. When it fails to deliver, morale wanes.
The al-Qaeda narrative that has developed since 9/11 is that it tricked the U.S. into invading the Middle East, where it got bogged down and bled dry. Once the U.S. leaves and the Islamic State in Iraq is secure, al-Qaeda will move into Syria and Lebanon, and from there stage attacks on Israel.
But the failure of AQ in Iraq, the inability of AQ to strike in Europe and the U.S., and its lack of traction in the Middle East are interfering with the narrative and a new one has not emerged, at least not one that excites Arab Jihadis. Like Murabit Muwahhid hints, it will take a major attack to reaffirm the narrative.
But circumstances at the moment allow the U.S. to create a counter narrative: al-Qaeda started in Afghanistan and it will end in Afghanistan. With the death of the top leadership that ordered the attacks on America, the cycle will be complete.
Document (Arabic): 8-4-08-ekhlaas-are-the-coming-days-difficult