NEWS

Al Qaeda in Iraq's Chief May Have Left Iraq for Afghanistan

By Matthew Harwood

The leader of the group "al Qaeda in Iraq" and a number of his top lieutenants have traveled to Afghanistan, according to The Washington Post.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, the pseudonym for the group's Egyptian leader, reportedly traveled through Iran into Afghanistan, according to Iraqi intelligence reports as well as al Qaeda in Iraq leaders.

The Post notes that the U.S. military believes that al Qaeda in Iraq may be adapting to recent American successes related to the surge of additional American troops into Iraq and its alliance with Sunni tribal leaders, known as the Awakening, by leaving Iraq's battlefield for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In recent months, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have made Afghanistan the epicenter of radical Islam and jihadism. Newsweek recently reported that the Taliban's new strategy is to terrorize the residents of Kabul to promote chaos and drive foreign investment away. Foreign fighters that once traveled to Iraq for jihad now journey to Afghanistan to fight the United States. (For more on the Taliban's insurgency strategy and tactics, see Jason Burke's "The Art of Asymmetric War.")

Other al Qaeda in Iraq fighters say al-Masri has not abandoned the jihad in Iraq for Afghanistan. According to a senior leader of the group in Fallujah, al-Masri has made the journey two times before. He will return when he wants to, the senior leader said.

But another development suggests that al Qaeda in Iraq may have had a leadership turnover. A recent communication sent by al Qaeda in Iraq was signed by a jihadist known as Abdul Khalil al-Souri. Al-Masri's name did not appear at the end of that document as it has previously.

One former al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Taha al-Lihebi, said this was proof al-Masri had left Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. He criticized al-Masri for focusing the group's violence on the Awakening Movement, thus alienating many Sunnis, al Qaeda's core constituency. The former member also said al Qaeda in Iraq had alienated its supporters by its indiscriminate terrorist attacks that resulted overwhelmingly in civilian deaths.

"Al-Qaeda losing the Sunni population is like a human being losing the ability to drink water," al-Lihebi told the Post. "Because of Masri's weak personality and leadership, al-Qaeda in Iraq was weakened and split and lost the Sunni population."

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