by Patrick Cockburn
16 March 2014
from TheIndependent Website
In other words, the 'war on terror' has
Al-Qa'ida-type organizations, with beliefs and methods of operating similar to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks, have become a lethally powerful force from the Tigris to the Mediterranean in the past three years.
Since the start of 2014, they have held Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, much of the upper Euphrates valley, and exert increasing control over the Sunni heartlands of northern Iraq.
In Syria, their fighters occupy villages and
towns from the outskirts of Damascus to the border with Turkey, including
the oilfields in the north-east of the country. Overall, they are now the
most powerful military force in an area the size of Britain.
Since then, the US, closely followed by Britain,
has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and adopted procedures formerly
associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial,
rendition, torture and domestic espionage. Governments justify this as
necessary to wage the "war on terror", claiming that the rights of
individual citizens must be sacrificed to secure the safety of all.
At the time of 9/11, al-Qa'ida was a very small
organization, but in 2014 al-Qa'ida-type groups are numerous and powerful.
In other words, the "war on terror", the waging of which determined the
politics of so much of the world since 2001, has demonstrably failed.
Politicians were happy to use the threat of al-Qa'ida
to persuade people that their civil liberties should be restricted and state
power expanded, but they spent surprisingly little time calculating the most
effective practical means to combat the movement. They have been able to get
away with this by giving a misleading definition of al-Qa'ida, which varied
according to what was politically convenient at the time.
In Syria, the US is backing a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a "Southern Front" based in Jordan against the Assad government in Damascus, but also hostile to al-Qa'ida-type rebels in the north and east.
The powerful but supposedly "moderate" Yarmouk Brigade, which is reportedly to receive anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, will be the leading element in this new formation.
But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), the official al-Qa'ida affiliate.
Since it is likely that, in the midst of battle,
these two groups will share their munitions, Washington will be permitting
advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy.
The US did not do so because they were important
American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous
market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated and, on occasion
bought up, influential members of the American political establishment.
This is an abrupt reversal of previous Saudi
policy, which tolerated or privately encouraged Saudi citizens going to
Syria to take part in a holy war to overthrow President Bashar
al-Assad and combat Shia Muslims on behalf of Sunni Islam.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has called on all foreign fighters to leave Syria, and King Abdullah has decreed it a crime for Saudis to fight in foreign conflicts.
The Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar
bin Sultan, who had been in charge of organizing, funding and supplying
jihadi groups fighting in Syria, has been unexpectedly removed from
overseeing Saudi policy towards Syria, and replaced by a prince who has led
a security clampdown against al-Qa'ida inside Saudi Arabia.
The US Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, warned this month that "terrorist" movements, such as JAN and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), were not only destabilizing Syria but,
The number of foreign fighters that Mr Cohen
gives is a significant underestimate, since the head of US intelligence,
James Clapper, estimates foreign fighters in Syria to number about
7,000, mostly from the Arab world, but also from countries such as Chechnya,
France and Britain.
According to a poll by the Pew Group, this
persuaded 57 per cent of US voters before the Iraq invasion to believe that
there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for
9/11, despite a complete absence of evidence for this. In Iraq itself,
indeed the whole Muslim world, these accusations benefited al-Qa'ida by
exaggerating its role in the resistance to the US and British occupation.
This was done by describing as dangerous only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa'ida "core" of Osama bin Laden.
The falsity of the pretence that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in contact with al-Qa'ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when US ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012.
These were the same fighters lauded by
governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Condolence book for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens
at the U.S. Capitol September
14, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Al-Qa'ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been so.
For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
Subsequently, al-Qa'ida's name was a rallying cry, a set of Islamic beliefs such as the creation of an Islamic state, the imposition of sharia, a return to Islamic customs, the subjugation of women and waging holy war against other Muslims, notably the Shia, as heretics worthy of death.
At the centre of this doctrine for making war is
an emphasis on self-sacrifice and martyrdom as a symbol of religious faith
and commitment. This has turned out to be a way of using untrained but
fanatical believers to devastating effect as suicide bombers.
More alarming is the reality of a movement whose
adherents are self-recruited and may spring up anywhere.
These days, there is a decreasing difference in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa'ida central, now headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
An observer in southern Turkey discussing 9/11 with a range of Syrian jihadi rebels earlier this year found that,
Unsurprisingly, governments prefer the fantasy picture of al-Qa'ida because it enables them to claim a series of victories by killing its better-known members and allies.
Often, those eliminated are given quasi-military ranks, such as "head of operations", to enhance the significance of their demise. The culmination of this most publicized but largely irrelevant aspect of the "war on terror" was the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.
This enabled President
to grandstand before the American public as the man who had presided over
the hunting down of al-Qa'ida's leader. In practice, his death had no
impact on al-Qa'ida-type jihadi groups, whose greatest expansion has been
In Iraq, it was a final humiliation for the US, after losing 4,500 soldiers, that al-Qa'ida's black flag should once again fly in Fallujah, captured with much self-congratulatory rhetoric by US Marines in 2004.
Aside from Fallujah, Isis, the premier jihadi
movement in the country, has rapidly expanded its influence in all parts of
Sunni Iraq in the past three years. It levies local taxes and protection
money in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, estimated to bring in $8m (£4.8m)
Peaceful protests by Sunni started in December
2012, but a lack of concessions by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and
a massacre at a peace camp at Hawijah last April is transmuting peaceful
protest into armed resistance.
Even at the previous peak of its influence in
2004-06, al-Qa'ida in Iraq did not enjoy as strong a position in the Sunni
armed opposition as it does today.
In Syria, Isis was the original founder in early 2012 of JAN, sending it money, arms and experienced fighters.
A year later, it tried to reassert its authority over JAN by folding it into a broader organization covering both Syria and Iraq. The two are now involved in a complicated intra-jihadi civil war that began at the start of the year, pitting Isis, notorious for its cruelty and determination to monopolize power, against the other jihadi groups.
The more secular Free Syrian Army (FSA), once
designated along with its political wing by the West as the next rulers of
Syria, has collapsed and been marginalized.
The Islamic Front, for instance, a newly established and powerful alliance of opposition brigades backed by Turkey and Qatar, is fighting Isis. But that does not mean that it is not complicit in sectarian killings, and it insists on strict imposition of sharia, including the public flogging of those who do not attend Friday prayers.
The Syrian jihadis rule most of north-east Syria
aside from that part of it held by the Kurds. The government clings to a few
outposts in this vast area, but does not have the forces to recapture it.
Of the 19 hijackers on 9/11, 15 were Saudi nationals.
Citing a CIA report of 2002, the official 9/11 report says that al-Qa'ida relied for its financing on,
The report's investigators repeatedly found their access limited or denied when seeking information in Saudi Arabia.
Yet President George W Bush never considered holding the Saudis in any way responsible for what had happened. The exit of senior Saudis, including Bin Laden relatives, from the US was facilitated by the government in the days after 9/11.
Most significantly, 28 pages of the 9/11
Commission Report about the relationship between the attackers and Saudi
Arabia was cut and never published - despite a promise by President Obama to
do so - on the grounds of national security.
In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complains that,
Moreover, the US and the west Europeans showed themselves indifferent to Saudi preachers, their message spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube and Twitter, calling for the killing of Shia as heretics.
These calls came as al-Qa'ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq.
A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads:
Five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a
record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.
When the Taliban was disintegrating under the weight of US bombing in 2001, its forces in northern Afghanistan were trapped by anti-Taliban forces.
Before they surrendered, hundreds of ISI
members, military trainers and advisers were hastily evacuated by air.
Despite the clearest evidence of ISI's sponsorship of the Taliban and
jihadis in general, Washington refused to confront Pakistan, and thereby
opened the way for the resurgence of the Taliban after 2003, which neither
the US nor Nato has been able to reverse.
If this alliance had not existed, then 9/11 would not have happened.
And because the US, with Britain never far
behind, refused to break with these two Sunni powers, jihadism survived and
prospered after 9/11.
Twelve years after the "war on terror" was
launched it has visibly failed and al-Qa'ida-type jihadis, once confined to
a few camps in Afghanistan, today rule whole provinces in the heart of the