Military spokesman absolutely wrong about al Qaeda in Iraq

[NOTE FROM JOHN: AJ is a former Department of Defense civilian Intelligence Officer who was decorated for his recent civilian service in Iraq.]

The Post reports that the chief spokesman for the U.S. military yesterday called al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) “the principal threat” to Iraqis.

This is, quite simply, completely and totally false.

Anyone who claims that the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq group is the “principal threat” to anything in that nation — whether its citizens, the government, the political process, or any specific ethnic or sectarian group — is either grossly ignorant of the realities of the Iraq war or blatantly lying. I honestly have no idea which it is in this case, though it’s worth noting that the chief U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, was employed as a Special Assistant to the President prior to his current appointment.

Most reliable estimates put the fundamentalist/jihadist/al Qaeda actors in Iraq at around 3-5% of the total insurgency, with virtually no approximations exceeding 10%. I really cannot overstate how misleading it is to focus on al Qaeda when the driving forces of the conflict are average, native, very pissed-off — but not religious fundamentalist — Iraqis. The vast majority of the Sunni population is relatively secular (more secular, in fact, than Iraqi Shia), and even tacit support of jihadists is founded in anti-American sentiment. Even the sectarian violence is fueled more by localized conflicts between Sunni and Shia families, tribes, and militias than by al Qaeda.

It is true that AQI groups commit the most spectacular attacks, including the vast majority of suicide bombings, but if the underlying problems were solved, or even addressed (including, but not limited to, oil revenue sharing, federalism, de-Ba’athification, provincial elections, etc.), AQI would lose most of its ability to operate because it would have no support on the ground.

It’s deja vu: To make the case for war in Iraq, the Bush administration misled the public about the relationship of Iraq to terrorism. Now, in an effort to bolster support for continuing the war, it is trying to link staying in Iraq with our efforts against global terrorist groups (which are, incidentally the strongest they have been since 9/11, largely because this administration put our intelligence and military resources into Iraq).

The Post, to its credit, does spend considerable article space describing opposing view of “analysts,” and those anonymous voices are absolutely right. Again, these latest statements are either shockingly misinformed or shockingly mendacious. Either way, shameful.

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