Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Graveyard?


Iraqi terrorists released a video showing them killing a captive American soldier by shooting him in the head. The terrorists have learned that the beheading routine is counterproductive and even offends many of their own supporters. The terrorists are probably also debating their suicide bombing campaign, which has killed over a hundred Iraqis in the past week. Perhaps the al Qaeda leadership is also pondering their long string of failures over the last decade or so. The fact of the matter is that al Qaeda, and their predecessor, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, have turned Arab populations against them whenever they practiced their terror tactics “at home.” Moreover, when al Qaeda was in control of the government, as they were in Afghanistan, they quickly became hated by the average Afghan. Al Qaeda was most popular in Arab countries when it was not operating in any Arab countries, but instead concentrating on attacks on Western targets. But the war on terror has forced al Qaeda back to its homelands, and concentrated them in Iraq. There, al Qaeda is becoming as hated as it already is in the West. This hatred led to the Moslem Brotherhood’s defeat, and expulsion from Egypt over a decade ago. The same thing is happening again in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Recent surveys have shown support for bin Laden and al Qaeda shrink dramatically in Saudi Arabia (from 96 percent in late 2001, to less than a quarter of that currently.) It’s easy to admire terrorists from a distance, rather more difficult when they are terrorizing you. Iraq is rapidly becoming al Qaeda’s graveyard.

This certainly sounds plausible and one hopes it’s true. However, I doubt it. For one thing, the piece makes several errors or unwarranted assumptions:

1. The murder of SPC Keith M. Maupin actually took place after the recent beheadings of Nick Berg, Robert Jacob, Paul Johnson, and Kim Sun-il. My gut feeling is that Maupin was murdered soon after his capture.

2. The Muslim Brotherhood is al Qaeda’s “predecessor” only in the sense that they existed long before al Qaeda and they are both Islamist terrorist groups. Indeed, MB still exists as a separate entity (the National Islamic Front).

3. While UBL essentially ran the Taliban’s military and al Qaeda troops and Taliban troops were interchangable, al Qaeda didn’t actually run the government itself.

I agree that the heavy-handed tactics of the jihadists may, over time, turn the populations of Islamic states against them. I just don’t think it’s happened yet.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Terrorism,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dodd says:

    RE: #3 – well, no, they didn’t actually run the government directly, but they were certainly seen by the populace at large as being more or less coetensive with it. You know, kinda like the rightwingfascistzealotextremists and the Bush junta.

  2. Kathy K says:

    I have the same gut feeling on #1.