Leaderless Jihad in Iraq? Not So Much

The U.S. military has just released a large number of captured al-Qaeda documents from Iraq to CNN. It seems that most (all?) of the documents are from the headquarters of the security commander for Anbar province, Faris Abu Azzam (killed 18 months ago). There are no links to the original documents, so we’re left with Michael Ware’s excellent rundown of the juicy bits. In the past, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has been the main conduit for these sorts of materials, but in recent months the military has been going direct with major news outlets. Based on Ware’s summary, here are some of the documents in the collection:

  • 2005 memo warning that executing sinners and traitors in public will alienate their families and invite their revenge
  • December 2005 minutes of senior al-Qaeda commanders meeting in western Iraq to plan a three-month campaign that will begin in mid-January 2006. The campaign, called Operation Desert Shield, is multi-phrased, uses a variety of tactics, and focuses on supply lines, bridges, helicopters, and helicopter landing pads to stop reinforcement and resupply. Only the senior leaders will know the broad outlines of the plan.
  • January 7 2006 memo that asks Iraqi spies at U.S. bases to provide data on the best camps to hit
  • Undated memo that compiles reports from AQ field commanders, identifying which bases, checkpoints, and police stations should be hit. Listed next to each target is a recommended method of attack
  • March 2006 after action reports that record the successes and failures of the plan hatched at the December 2005 meeting
  • Pay sheets for infantry battalions and fire support (rocket and mortar) battalions
  • Al-Qaeda application forms
  • Death lists of opponents
  • Lists of prisoners in al-Qaeda custody, including their verdicts and sentences and their phone numbers (taken from American tip lines for informers)
  • Motor pool records of vehicles
  • Iraqi Ministry of Interior document naming all foreign fighters in government custody
  • Debriefings of those captured by the U.S.. Includes information on interrogation techniques used by American soldiers.
  • Request from an Iraqi contractor for permission to oversee a U.S.-sponsored building project on a U.S. base in return for his spying services and stealing weapons
  • 80 unreleased execution videos. Most of them are beheadings.

The new documents do not tell us a lot about the composition of al-Qaeda in Iraq right now, but they do shed light on its corporate culture:  It is highly bureaucratized and meticulous. Having sat through poorly-sourced lectures on how AQI is a flat organization whose members swarm in fourth-generation unison, I am hopeful that these documents will put this idea to rest.

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