The Myth of AQI


As everyone knows, one of the major things we're doing in Iraq is fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which has a major presence in Sunni areas. The reason we're giving money and weapons to Sunni insurgent groups that were killing Americans a year ago and still wish to overthrow the majoritarian Shiite government we installed is that they're helping us fight AQI. Even Democrats agree that we can't withdraw all our troops from Iraq, because we still need some to do counterterrorism (i.e., fight AQI) and training (so that AQI doesn't take over). But Andrew Tilghman, Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes 2005 and 2006, writes in "The Myth of AQI" that this is mostly BS:

But what if official military estimates about the size and impact of al-Qaeda in Iraq are simply wrong? Indeed, interviews with numerous military and intelligence analysts, both inside and outside of government, suggest that the number of strikes the group has directed represent only a fraction of what official estimates claim. Further, al-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence through uniquely devastating attacks that catalyze further unrest may also be overstated. [...]

Yet those who have worked on estimates inside the system take a more circumspect view. Alex Rossmiller, who worked in Iraq as an intelligence officer for the Department of Defense, says that real uncertainties exist in assigning responsibility for attacks. "It was kind of a running joke in our office," he recalls. "We would sarcastically refer to everybody as al-Qaeda." [...]

How big, then, is AQI? The most persuasive estimate I've heard comes from Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq. He believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq," according to Nance, "is a microscopic terrorist organization." [...]

he view that AQI is neither as big nor as lethal as commonly believed is widespread among working-level analysts and troops on the ground. A majority of those interviewed for this article believe that the military's AQI estimates are overblown to varying degrees. If such misgivings are common, why haven't doubts pricked the public debate? The reason is that alternate views are running up against an echo chamber of powerful players all with an interest in hyping AQI's role.

Seems like an important point.

DoD photo by Staff Sargent D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force