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June 22, 2007

From "insurgent" to "Al Qaeda in Iraq" to "Al Qaeda"

Talking Points Memo reader SM wrote to Josh Marshall to succinctly describe a linguistic shift that has been bugging me for a while:

It's a curious thing that, over the past 10 - 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as "al-Qaida" fighters. When did that happen?

Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were "insurgents" or they were referred to as "Sunni" or "Shia'a" fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as "al-Qaida".

Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.

Exactly, SM. I'm glad that I'm not the only one to notice.

A few months ago, it was routine for news accounts to use phrases like "an insurgent group that calls itself 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' to refer to the atrocities perpetrated by one of the many factions in Iraq's civil war.

It wasn't uncommon for these reports to include a caveat that this group had no concrete ties to the Al Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden that attacked the US on 9/11. In fact, sometimes there would be press conferences where government officials and terrorism "experts" would stress that Al Qaeda was more of an idea than an organization these days.

These days, news accounts just describe the opponents of U.S. troops in the latest onslaught as "Al Qaeda." Check Google News for dozens more examples.

Does anyone know whether the group known as "Al Qaeda in Iraq (TM)" is the primary target of the latest big push? I have a hard time believing that it's the only insurgent group operating in and around Baghdad these days. It's not as if the Shia Mahdi Army has begged off.


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Frankly I'm surprised it's taken this long. The Administration could easily have lied much more forcefully and successfully than it has up to this point - once again, we should be grateful for the Bush White House's incompetence, being the only brake on their power to do wrong.

The boogie man has got to be getting run down something fierce these days. I don't think there is enough centrum, ensure or cialis to keep his stick up any more. But hey, it's a tough slog selling rubber sheets. The quotas are literally murder. We are freebasing fear. Or fearbasing freedom. I forget. Oh, and the propaganda machine must need some more oil, as it's getting creaky.

Or fearbasing freedom.

Then we all catch on fire.

From reading print accounts of soldiers' time in Iraq I've picked up that they call insurgents "Al Qaeda" over there. This is probably where the news media is getting it from, although of course it's almost completely inaccurate.

Does anyone know whether the group known as "Al Qaeda in Iraq (TM)" is the primary target of the latest big push?
You assume that there is a target for the surge. Based on prior experience, there is no reason to believe that there is actually a coherent plan based on the facts on the ground, as opposed to a dramatic gesture intended to... um... something. As long as Fox News is impressed, that's pretty much all that matters.

I noticed that on Fox News Sunday the past week, Gen. Petraeus defended Bush saying that Al Qaeda were the main troublemakers by saying that the radical Sunnis are basically all Al Qaeda now. Just makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Even if we grant that that's true, that's clearly not the impression Bush wants to give when he blames Al Qaeda. It's not a civil war, it's Al Qaeda! But apparently now Al Qaeda IS the civil war. Just what we need, an extremely diluted brand name that Bush can use to scare people.

Earlier this year, news stories from Diyala province and Baquba were much vaguer about the groups running the show. It was where Zarqawi was holed out when he was killed, but this February report makes it clear that Diyala is basically gangland.

There's also this from April:

The makeup of the fighters in Diyala defies easy characterization, and Col. David W. Sutherland, the top U.S. military commander in the province, said any guesswork as to their numbers would be impossible.

The U.S. military cites the hard-line Islamic insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq as its primary enemy, but there is also an intricate and ever-changing taxonomy of rival tribes, insurgent organizations, criminal networks, Sunni and Shiite militias, and Islamic fighters from throughout the Middle East who have come to the province to join the fray.

The Baqubah area is home to many loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and military and intelligence officers who served in his government, who have supported insurgent groups such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Soldiers based near Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, say groups of Chechen rebels operate near their city and train insurgents, and many are convinced that al-Qaeda camps are hidden under the dense palm fronds.

“an intricate and ever-changing taxonomy”

I suspect that the taxonomy, or at least a contemporary version that has much actual military use, is fundamentally unknowable. I also suspect that given the gross incompetence that is BushCo.’s signature hallmark, particularly in Iraq, even if there is some group within the US/coalition force that has the wherewithal to string the snippets and shards of intelligence gleaned in the fog of battle into some sort of coherent picture, I very much doubt that said picture would be disseminated and used effectively. In other words, our effort in Iraq, both military and civil, consists largely of stumbling around in the dark and shooting blindly in the general direction of the loudest noise, whatever that may be.

Given: 1- a polymorphous, protean, insurgency, or rebellion, or civil war, or whatever it is, 2- the inherent haziness and poor focus of battlefield intelligence, 3- the long and tortuous pipe (partly stovepipe) through which intelligence reaches Washington, 4- the Bush White House’s conviction that spin can always trump fact, and 5- a lazy and indifferent press more interested in celebrity scandals than hard reportage and analysis, it’s hardly surprising that the military opposition in Iraq becomes nothing but a brand name. The public is so bored and tired of Iraq now, that slapping a “New and Improved” or “Family Sized!” sticker on the package attracts hardly any notice, nor does it really matter: the product is no longer moving off the shelves.

I'm soooo glad to see this spelled-out plainly. The propagandists spread-out their semantic changes over such a period of time that many never notice the manipulation.

Of course, we recall how Operation Iraq Freedom began as a search for WMDs, then turned into a liberation / regime change, then became "spreading democracy" (I can't believe it's not butter), and now has become, basically, protecting the troops by keeping them there -- to fight Al Qaeda, which is being (humorously to the historically informed) supported by Iran.

Now we realize the insurgents/Al Qaeda in Iraq/Al Qaeda (original flavor) sham. Sham? Oh, yes:

"Al-Qaida,(sic) literally 'the database,' was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians," admits former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, whose Foreign Office portfolio included control of British Intelligence Agency MI-6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), in a column published by the UK Guardian newspaper.",12780,1523838,00.html

"Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working."
-- Tony Blair

Can we PLEASE revolt now? Daddy, are we there yet? Do you think we could possibly entice the same amount of people who showed up for this year's Bonnaroo to storm the gates and put the U.S. Constitution back its proper pedastal? Maybe we should just write to Congress... Yeah, that's safer.

To me...this has been the crux of their strategy from the start. To use language as a means to an end, while foregoing all of the action that is supposed to go along with it.

I love your site! I've linked to it on mine.

Quoting TPM is something that makes me smile - - - it's a daily destination for me. Keep up the good work!

"saying that the radical Sunnis are basically all Al Qaeda now."

Well I guess Gen Petraeus has given us his status report. If the Sunnis are now all Al Qaeda, that is a significant accomplishment...albeit in exactly the wrong direction.

I do wonder if surge supporters ever stop to think that the apocalyse that we believe we are preventing by surging and staying pales next to what might happen if the supply routes come under heavier attack and the Turks invade. What plans do they have for evacuating the troops and what are the likely losses? Contractors handle a lot of the supply logistics. What do they do if it all turns to sh*t? Are a lot of the contractors better positioned to get the hell "out of Dodge" and will they give priority to getting their own privatized butts out of harms way?

It is not just the distinction between Al Qaeda in Iraq or Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been loosely used to indicate foreign Sunni insurgents, some with Al Qaeda, some not, but they work together for the most part. Over 90% of the insurgents, are Iraqi, are not Al Qaeda. Some of the local Sunni
groups have some cooperation with Al Qaeda, but most either do not or are fighting them.

This is obviously war propaganda for us stoopid Americans, you have to keep it simple when 40% of the population believes in creationism. Americans understand good vs evil, The War against Terror = The war against Al Qaeda = The war in Iraq, and once we get across the idea that Iran is supporting Al Qaeda, they will get The War against Iran.

This way they do not have to try and explain that the Shia vs Sunni thing, or the Secular (always Nationalistic) vs Islamist (nationalistic or influenced with Iran), former Ba'ath party members vs those who were never Ba'ath party members, groups who were exiled in Iran and other countries vs those who have never left Iraq, and we do not have to tell people that 90% of the insurgents are Iraqis constituting over 100 different groups having some degree of cooperation with some groups, and who fight other groups. Then we have Kurds fighting Sunnis for terrritory and both are killing Christians and kicking them out of their neighbourhoods. The Turks are threatening to invade the Kurds for harbouring terrorists (Kurds). It's a mess over there.

Too much for the public. So the story is the bad guys we kill are Al Qaeda, those who kill us are Al Qaeda. We are in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda over there so they do not come over here. Got it?

This is why I'm addicted to blogs. It's the only way to reassure myself that I'm not going crazy. Awhile ago I heard several news stories refer to attacks by Al Qaeda, and I remarked to my husband that it seemed kind of suspicious. A) How can military tell one player from another and b) even if they could how can I trust Bushco to tell me the truth?

Re: the complexity of violence in Iraq; here's a scary read from "Where Is Iraq Heading? Lessons from Basra" by an outfit called the "International Crisis Group"

"Basra is a case study of Iraq’s multiple and multiplying forms of violence. These often have little to do with sectarianism or anti-occupation resistance. Instead, they involve the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors".

From Lenin's Tomb:

"The wider point I would like to make about this is that the constant references to the resistance movements in Anbar and other areas of Iraq as 'Al Qaeda', while certainly effective propaganda, are probably laughed at by experts. Among the armed resistance groups based in the Sunni areas of Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Diyala are: The General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq (mostly former Ba'athists); Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq (secular Sunni outfit); Iraqi Resistance and Liberation Command (secular nationalist, anti-Ba'ath); Al 'Awdah (former security personnel of the Ba'ath); Harakat Ra's al-'Afa (Ba'athist, linked to tribes in Ramadi and Fallujah); Nasserites, (a small bunch of non-Ba'ath pan-Arab nationalists); Thuwwar al-'Aral-Kata'ib al-Anbar al-Musallahuh (anti-Saddam nationalists); General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq (leftist nationslists); Higher Command of the Mujahideen in Iraq (both religious and nationalist); Munazzamat al-Rayat al-Aswad (religious nationalist); Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq (anti-Saddam and anti-Baath); National Front for the Liberation of Iraq (incorporates both former Republican Guards and Islamists); Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah (one of the largest groups in Iraq, incorporating both Kurdish and Sunni Arab Islamists); Mujahideen al ta'ifa al-Mansoura (Salafist, includes non-Iraqis); Kata'ib al Mujahideen fi al-Jama'ah al-Salafiyah fi al-'Arak (Salafists, with some connections to former Afghan groups); Jihad Brigades/Cells (Islamist guerillas); Armed Islamic Movement of the Al Qaeda Organization, Fallujah Branch (a little known group with some amount of support in the city); Jaish Muhammad (apparently one of the largest Islamist groups); Islamic Army of Iraq (Salafist); Jaish al Mahdi (you know these guys already, and they do sometimes operate in the north where there are Shi'ites living)."

I can't honestly say I know whether that's an accurate list, but he seems to know what he's talking about...

Watch out is all I can say. This is organized propoganda all the way from the top. I believe there is so much deception going on right now by some in leadership, that we would be flat blown away if we new the whole story. The fear factory is in overdrive in the US right now about a possible spectacular attack on the US homeland. So your telling me that with 16 intellegence agencis in the US(ya, I didn't even know we had that many) we cannot track, and stop a group of people from across the Atlantic. Come on, I think the real issue here is that our intellegence and military are the real ones in control of any groups here in the US, if there are any. A spectacular attack is just what a small group of our leaders want to happen to help along their failed foreign affairs. So, if you wake up one morning to Good Morning America with non-stop coverage of the latest mass terrer attack, don't worry, it's probably just an evil group of our intellegence/military with the aid of some foreigners doing their job for the American way.

Great post. I will have to bookmark your site for later reading.

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