Merchant of Death
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The Shifting Balance in the al Qaeda/Salafist Structure
The Los Angeles Times has a story laying out what my sources have been saying for some time: The al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq are now in a more dominant position within the overall al Qaeda structure, in part because of the Iraq organization's ability to generate funds.

While there are still foreign fighters in the Afghan-Pakistan region, most foreign combatant are choosing Iraq for their combat experience. The Afghanistan conflict is dominated by the Taliban, and there is tension between the Arab fighters and the resurgent Pashtun-dominated group.

This is in part because the Taliban remains focused on its local conflict rather than global _jihad_ objectives. The Taliban is not overly welcoming of outsiders, with many feeling they lost their control of Afghanistan because of al Qaeda.

Yes, the groups are still willing to protect bin Laden, Zawahiri et al, out of loyalty and the recognition that their capture would be a blow, at least psychologically, to the entire range of _jihadist_ movements. As a result, the bin Laden/Zawahiri trail appears to have gone completely cold.

In contrast, the Iraq-based al Qaeda groups are the vanguard of the violent international _jihadist_ movement that is directly fighting American troops in a battle that has attracted the eyes of the world.

As a result, the Iraqi movements are drawing the financial backing of supporters across the Gulf as well as the new recruits. Financial backers like visible results, and Iraq is where there is a bigger bang for the buck, so to speak.

As I have noted previously, this ability to attract the best and brightest recruits, as well as cash, is also causing tension with the international Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Europe.

The more politically-oriented Brotherhood, intent on establishing political enclaves and pushing an Islamist political agenda, is often losing the recruitment battle to groups who can promise combat experience in Iraq and a chance to kill infidels.

This income of the Iraqi groups may be supplemented by other criminal activities such as kidnappings and robberies, although there is no consensus on how engaged the al Qaeda forces are in this.

This shift has far-reaching implications, some of which were touched on by my friend Jonathan Winer.

I would add that this shift, given the fluidity of movement and technology transfers among the _jihadist_ groups will favor the strategy of starting many different wars and small, semi-autonomous, radicalized groups, as opposed to large-scale, mass attacks.

That would hold true unless one of the emerging groups decided to shoot to the top of the "branding game" as Winer outlines by trying something spectacular. This could change the _jihadi_ landscape quickly and radically.

Within the past six years the Salafist/jihadi movement has gone through several interations that show how flexible and adaptable the global movement is. The question is whether we are anywhere near being able to keep up.
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