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Where Have all the al Qaeda Gone?

The Washington Times has some undeniably good news out of Iraq:

Al Qaeda terrorists have been "almost defeated" in Iraq's Anbar province, once considered the heart of the resistance to the U.S.-led coalition, a top Anbar Sunni leader said yesterday.


"Al Qaeda is almost defeated in Anbar, except for only small parts of the province", Mr. Mohammed said, speaking in Arabic through an interpreter.

Time to pop the corks on the champagne bottles right? Maybe not so fast. From the Associated Press we have undeniably bad news out of Pakistan:

Militants said Saturday they captured two police stations and 120 security forces in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan that has increasingly fallen under the control of Taliban and al-Qaida-linked extremists, bringing further embarrassment to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government.

A flag was hoisted over one of the buildings after it was abandoned by officers in the scenic Swat valley, once a popular tourist destination now plagued by fighting between paramilitary forces and Islamic militants, said Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, speaking on behalf of the insurgents.

Hours later, militants took control of another police post six miles to the north, said Mian Rasool Shah, a Taliban commander, claiming his men had convinced 60 officers to leave and then locked the doors to prevent the looting of weapons.

The Taliban/Al Qaeda move into the Swat Valley of Pakistan represents a significant expansion of their offensive in western Pakistan which had previously been limited to the Waziristan provinces.

So...is it just a coincidence that at the same time al Qaeda extremists have been losing ground in Iraq that they have staged a serious offensive on the ground in western Pakistan? If you know me, you know I don't believe in coincidences.

In this case, it is impossible to prove a correlation between these events, but I do have a theory. That is, that al Qaeda began shifting forces and resources from Iraq to the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater about a year ago when it became clear that the Sunni tribes of Iraq were turning against them.

Once the US stopped trying to force the Sunnis to submit to the Shiite-Kurd dominated government, the Sunnis quickly decided they had little further use of the al Qaeda extremists in their midst and denied them the safe haven they had enjoyed. The Sunnis had only tolerated al Qaeda all along because they needed some help in their fight against the overwhelmingly superior US force. Ultimately, the Sunni regions of Iraq would not prove to be fertile ground for al Qaeda because the people there are largely secular and are hostile to the fundamentalist version of Islam that al Qaeda espouses.

Contrast that, with the situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater where there are large populations in both countries who do embrace the strict, Wahabbist brand of Islam that is promoted by bin Laden and his al Qaeda cohorts. In that part of the world, al Qaeda has a much more secure presence that rests upon the genuine support of the population, not the opportunistic support of a people fighting an outside occupier as happened in Iraq.

Therefore, what we are seeing now in Pakistan, may be a result of a conscious shift in al Qaeda attention from the less hospitable western region of Iraq to the much more welcoming ground of northwest Pakistan. In the coming months, we could find that the struggle in Pakistan is being fueled by jihadists who cut their teeth in Iraq and have now relocated to where the "real" war on terror is being fought.

Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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