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The Challenges Of Terrorism - Iraq, Part 58 - Qaeda's Move On Key Institutions.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) is trying to undermine the Iraqi state's basic institutions, now moving on its financial sector with the banks being among its new targets. After having attacked the Central Bank and killed many there, the Sunni/Neo-Salafi group last week hit the state-owned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) and inflicted a higher casualty toll.

AQM is also moving on the awakening councils (ACs), a movement created and funded in 2006-07 by the US military command made up of tribal Arabs - mainly Sunni and partly Shi'ite - to combat AQM fighters and drive them out of their areas. The most fanatic and violent strain of Sunni Islam, Neo-Salafism is the ideology of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) of Usama bin Laden who is believed to be hiding somewhere along the AfPak border. AQM, one of the many branches of AQC, is mainly in charge of Iraq and Syria, with operational HQ in Syria's north-east near border of Iraq's north-western province of Ninawah (Nineveh).

What made matters worse was that care-taker PM Nuri al-Maleki on June 24 dissolved all the ACs in the country. His critics said the Shi'ite PM was thus risking another cycle of sectarian strife in the country, with some of the dismissed AC members likely to rejoin AQM and their Shi'ite counterparts may join new Shi'ite militias being formed in the south with Iranian help.

Iraq's Sunni Arabs claim AQM also has an operational base on the Iranian side of the border of Iraq's north-eastern province of Diyala. Although Tehran keeps denying this, Sunni Iraqis insist such a base has been there since 2006 and remains protected by Iran's ruling Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

US and Iraqi government experts in counter-terrorism still believe that AQM, which in April was decapitated as its top two leaders were killed, has been greatly weakened and continue to predict that its demise is imminent. AQC is said to be a mere shadow of what it was before its 9/11 attacks on the US.

A number of AQM members have begun to surrender to the authorities since April 27, when two of the group's prominent figures in Diyala turned themselves into the local government's security system. In the Sunni province of Salahuddin, further north, 60 AQM members were captured on April 27, according to the Saudi-owned pan-Arab TV channel al-Arabiya on that day. Later more AQM members were captured in the northern provinces as the Iraqi counter-terrorism agency was gaining more information on AQM's activities and locations.

The big question is how deep is the tactical alliance between the IRGC and AQC in general and AQM in particular. The counter-terrorism experts point to the fact that the IRGC continues to have an alliance with the South Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Zaidi Shi'ite rebels of the Houthi clan in Yemen's north-western province of Sa'da, on the Saudi border, where they were defeated by both the Saudi Armed Forces (SAF) and their Yemeni counterparts in recent months. It is an Iran-Saudi proxy war, with Iran's Shi'ite theocracy militarised by the IRGC (see Part 57 in sbme5IrqQaedaMay3-10 & news24YemnIrnJun14-10).

Most Iraqis, including the Shi'ite Arab majority, have become highly suspicious of Iran's regime and its designs for this country since the theocracy's main opponents, followers of the late Imam Ruhullah Khomeini, have been ruthlessly dealt with after the June 12, 2009, presidential elections were allegedly rigged by the IRGC to give President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad a second four-year term.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Date:Jun 28, 2010
Words:578
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