Merchant of Death
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Death, Confusion and Networks
The recent announcement of the death of Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri in Iraq, and the confusion surrounding the possible deaths of other leaders, highlight the importance of the network-based Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and elsewhere.

As the deaths of Zarqawi and much of the senior leadership of the core al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq have shown, individual deaths have a short-term impact.

But in the mid to long term, these deaths, while necessary in the struggle, do not do away with the underlying structures that give the groups' their viability. Al-Jubouri's alleged direct involvement in the killing of a journalist and others, and his directorship of the propaganda machine make him a valuable target, no doubt. But he was likely replaced before his body was cold.

As a (much) younger person covering the cartel wars in Colombia, I initially fully bought the DEA and CIA's line that killing Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, then Pablo Escobar, then the arrest of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, who have a direct impact on the cocaine trade.

Of course, none of those activities did diminish the flow of cocaine, and it was evident after a while that the structures had almost a life of their own, independent of the individuals involved at any particular time.

The killings and arrests were not useless and they forced the cartels to adapt. But the volume of money in the drug business was such that there was always someone else to step up.

I would argue that, in the _jihadist_ structures, the ideological and theological imperative driving the groups is such that there is little trouble in replacing those that fall. The deaths and/or arrests cause hiccups along the way, and the replacements may not be, at least initially, as adept as their predecessors. But they get there.

Hence the argument for a network-based strategy rather than a strategy that primarily targets individuals. The U.S. military is getting better at this, often viewing the _jihadi_ organizations as flat rather than pyramical. But there is still a long way to go in implementing a strategy that directly targets networks.

Getting one person with an IED is good and useful. Getting the cohort that provides the devices from Iran, across the border to the cell that planned to carry out the attack is much better.

The same is true on the financial front. Catching the person with the suitcase full of cash crossing the Syrian border is good for stopping an attack. Pressuring the infrastructure that raises the money in Saudi Arabia from individuals and charities, will likely stop several attacks. Hence my constant harping on the need to go after the underlying financial structure of the _wahhabist_ groups, rather than just shutting down one individual charity.

It is the nature of this type of warfare that new routes and new networks will constantly be evolving. Like water running down hill, they look for the paths of least resistance.

Given that, the central idea has to be to raise the cost of doing operations to those networks, force them to be less efficient and force them to make mistakes, increase the risks and maximize the possible cracks in the system.

The more pressure networks experience, the greater the potential for disrupting it. The more the network has to spend to operate, the fewer resources it has to actually attack.

One of the keys to a network's survival is the support of the civilian population. The fact that a large crowd was openly gathering for the funeral rites of al-Jubouri highlights just how much remains to be done in that field.
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