August 15, 2011: Al Qaeda in Iraq is in terrible shape. No one is releasing details. That’s because counter-terrorism organizations don’t want to reveal methods and sources to the enemy. Al Qaeda, of course, does not want to admit how bad off they are. But the signs are everywhere.
For example, al Qaeda is now begging for help in Iraq. In a recent Internet message, al Qaeda offered Iraqi Sunni Arabs who switched sides in 2007 (and formed the anti-terrorist Sahwa militia) amnesty. This offer was not well received. When the Sahwa militias were formed, al Qaeda promptly attacked them, especially the leadership. Some of the current Sahwa leaders can count dozens of kin, and many more friends, killed by al Qaeda. Despite Sunni Arabs being badly treated by the Kurd/Shia majority government, they do not see the internationalist al Qaeda as part of any kind of solution. There are still Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists, who concentrate on killing Shia Arabs, especially government officials. Salwa keeps its distance from these killers as well. Nearly a third of Iraqi Sunni Arabs have already fled the country, for fear of Shia and Kurd retribution. Those that remain know that only good behavior will keep them safe in Iraq.
Al Qaeda has other problems in Iraq, besides sanctuary in Sunni Arab neighborhoods. Al Qaeda is broke, and has been increasingly so since 2007. Then there is the problem with the lack of results. When al Qaeda could not, in 2007, exercise any real control over the parts of Iraq they claimed as part of the new Islamic State, it was the last straw for their main supporters. The Sunni Arabs, battered by increasingly effective American and Iraqi attacks, dropped their support for al Qaeda, and the terrorist organization got stomped to bits by the subsequent "surge offensive". The final insult was delivered by their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies, who quickly switched sides, and sometimes even worked with the Americans (more so than the Shia dominated Iraqi security forces) to hunt down and kill al Qaeda operators.
There are still a lot of Moslems who believe in al Qaeda, and profess to be members. But there is no real organization left to join. Al Qaeda has become a concept, one that includes using murder and terror to persuade people to obey you. Not a winning strategy, but it has been popular among Moslems since the founding of the religion. Many Moslems deny this, despite the abundant historical evidence to the contrary. But the true believers are willing to die to bring back the good old days. Over 30,000 of them died in Iraq, and in the last four years al Qaeda's poll numbers plummeted throughout the Moslem world. Al Qaeda is kept alive by the Internet and headline-starved mass media.
With the remaining Iraqi Islamic terrorists left to Iraqi security forces to deal with, American counter-terrorism fiscal commandos turned their full attention to al Qaeda fund raising in 2008. Two years ago, intelligence monitoring began to pick up more messages about money, or the lack of it. Al Qaeda fund raisers were all over the Persian Gulf, seeking wealthy Arabs willing to donate. One of these fund raisers was captured, and his cell phone was found to contain a fund raising video, asking Saudi Arabians to send money to the new "Al Qaeda in Arabia" headquarters in Yemen. The video included the assurance that, "the bearer of this message is trusted by us."
Al Qaeda was trying to develop and expand a network of fund raisers in Saudi Arabia. The members of this network collect the donations and get the cash back to Yemen, or buy weapons and supplies and see to it that the stuff gets to where it is needed (which might be Saudi Arabia, which is still seen as the major target for "Al Qaeda In Arabia".) This group had to move to Yemen because Saudi counter-terrorism efforts proved too successful for al Qaeda to risk keeping most of their people in the kingdom.
But it is now a lot harder for wealthy Arabs to fund their favorite Islamic radical groups. Three years ago, most Arab nations agreed on a new set of regulations, which would help crack down on terrorist fund raising and money laundering in their countries. Until the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, it was considered too politically risky to send the police after wealthy donors to Islamic radical groups. Money laundering was another untouchable area, because corruption was so common, and money laundering was part of that. But "reform" has become increasingly popular in the Arab world over the past few years, and these new counter-terrorism efforts are part of it.
It's no longer fashionable (as it used to be) to rejoice whenever a Islamic terrorist bomb goes off in the West, or anywhere else for that matter. Since 2003, most of the al Qaeda violence has been against Arabs, and after a few years of this, public opinion turned on the Islamic terrorists. Public opinion wants these butchers shut down, especially in Arab countries. This means that those who support Islamic radicalism are no longer as tolerated as they used to be.
Another aspect of the crackdown on money laundering is the growing popularity of honesty in business and government. Lots of corruption is still tolerated, and many Arabs insist that corruption is "part of the culture." But the money laundering is seen as primarily criminal, a tool largely for gangsters and terrorists.
Many Arab nations have also cracked down on Islamic charities, at least the ones that most blatantly serve as fronts for terrorist fund raising. More troublesome are Islamic charities that are largely legit, but often send money to recipients who are with terrorist groups, or who share the donations with terrorists. This has to be addressed in the nations where the donations end up.
As expected, the many (20 percent or more of the population) Arabs still willing to support terrorism, have simply become more discreet. Thus the fund raising videos use someone the potential donors may be familiar with, and include a pledge that the person delivering the video is "trusted."
Al Qaeda has been having increasing cash problems over the last seven years. Recruiting has become a growing problem over the last five years. Once al Qaeda went on the offensive in Iraq in 2004, and began slaughtering Moslem civilians, especially children, popular support throughout the Moslem world began to decline. It is still declining, despite al Qaeda efforts to cut down on the civilian deaths.