Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Thoughts on the Fragmentation of Jihadists in Iraq
My colleague Evan Kohlmann has pointed out the dramatic infighting among the Islamist groups in Iraq. The significance of this willingness to publicly denounce each other and turn on each other is great, and the ability to exploit the current situation will be a major determinant in whether U.S. forces make significant strides in Iraq in coming months.

As my friend James Gordon Meek points out, it is likely much too early to declare victory. The threat remains and these groups have shown a remarkable resilience in the past. The Washington Post looks at the disagreement in the military over what to say about the recent developments.

My experience in dealing with armed groups (mostly Marxist at the time) is that there is almost always a radical core that is unwilling to compromise on anything. This has clearly happened before in Islamist groups, as Kohlmann has documented.

These lethal schisms are usually not recognized by outside forces in time to do anything about them. Now, thanks in part to the Internet, even internal disputes are now aired in a matter of hours or days.

If these lethal disputes can be fanned or encouraged, then these groups are weakened, have less time and resources to focus on the broader enemy, and are much more effective at eliminating each other than outside forces because they know each other's weaknesses and strengths.

The downward spiral of al Qaeda is not so much the product of military blows, according to my sources, but a successful unraveling of some of the financial networks, which have led to a cascading series of links to the activities those groups are funding. This has led to bomb makers, logistics networks, human trafficking networks and other parts of the network.

It has taken several years for U.S. intelligence operatives (led, in this case by the Special Operations Command) to begin putting the pieces together in a way that has seriously undermined the operational capability of the Islamist groups in Iraq. The "follow the money" axiom has been proven true once again.

Yet, one has to be cautious in assessing the long-term impact. These decentralized networks have a remarkable ability to bounce back, especially if the weaknesses and splits are not exploited. The much-heralded death of Zarqawi did not bring the anticipated disintegration of Al Qaeda in Iraq, nor have the other blows been lethal.

If the pressure is not steadily applied these groups, like starfish, simply grow back to their former selves, in different places and with different networks.

It is encouraging to see that the cooler heads have so far prevailed, declining to declare victory in what will be a long war. It is also encouraging to see that SOCOM and others are pushing as hard as possible to keep the pressure on and make rebuilding or reorganizing as difficult as possible.

But the internal fights among the Jihadis is real, and that in itself is a significant step in the right direction.

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