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al qaeda 2013
community outreach and chemical weapons

Daoud al-Ali
As levels of violence rise in Iraq again and the conflict takes on a sectarian appearance, locals are saying that extremist group, Al Qaeda, are taking a new – and successful - tack.
6.06.2013  |  Baghdad

Some in Iraq say the crisis that the country is currently facing: rising levels of violence, more deaths and extremist bombs and killings as well as increased sectarian tension – can be attributed to two things. Firstly, the fact that the state security forces are still using the same methods they have always used. That is, they’re not adapting to new methods used by extremists.

And secondly, that the extremists are using new methods. Recent announcements by the Iraqi government about the discovery of a terrorist cell producing chemical weapon and a statement from extremists about an alleged new partnership with tribal authorities are indications of this.

Recently Iraq’s Ministry of Defence reported that it had arrested a cell of the mostly Sunni Muslim extremist group, Al Qaeda, which was in the process of producing chemical weapons, in the form of poison gas that the cell planned to use inside and outside of Iraq. The announcement was made on June 1.

“After three weeks of surveillance, a military force was able to uncover two clinics producing sarin and mustard gases,” the Ministry of Defence stated. “The first clinic was in Baghdad and the other two were in one of the provinces.”

The statement issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence came about a week after another extremists group, the Naqshbandi group, published pictures on their own website of masked men preparing chemicals. These pictures were widely circulated by bloggers on social networking sites and many believe the arrests and the pictures are linked. The mostly Sunni Muslim Naqshbandi movement – which has links to Saddam Hussein’s former ruling Baath party - calls for an ongoing resistance against a “Safavid” occupation of Iraq (a reference to the historic Iranian dynasty and therefore, Iraq\'s Shiite-led government with links to Iran).

Still, the biggest question the incident brings up is: where did the extremists get supplies to make these gases? As the UK newspaper, The Telegraph wrote: “The Iraqi government\'s claims have not been independently verified. The country was famously found to have no chemical weapons in the aftermath of the Anglo-American invasion in 2003. How al-Qaeda would have obtained the materials to make these devices inside Iraq is unclear.”

The Defence Ministry’s bold news also came after nearly a month of escalating conflict, with over 1,000 Iraqis killed in terrorist attacks in May.

Kurdish MP, Shwan Mohammed Taha, who is also a member of the Iraqi Parliament\'s Security and Defence Committee, noted that his committee could not confirm whether or not Al Qaeda definitely had chemical weapons. “But the statement by the Ministry of Defence is very dangerous,” Taha said. “If it’s true that Al Qaeda have weapons then the security in the region is severely endangered. And if it’s not true then the government is using false information for scaremongering – as usual.”

Another change that Al Qaeda has made is to release a headline grabbing statement saying that they had met tribal leaders in the predominantly Sunni Muslim province of Anbar and that the two groups had agreed on the importance of confronting “the Safavid Gestapo in Iraq”. By this, they mean the alleged Iranian secret police.

The statement said that those who had attended the meeting had agreed that jihadists should be deployed to confront “the fascists” and also stated that “the conflict with fascism is moving to a stage that will certainly be able to completely change the balance of power”.

But if Al Qaeda don’t say exactly who the tribal leaders are who agree with them, it may not mean much – in Iraq a tribe can be ten people or it could be two million. According to news monitoring site, Al Monitor, some Sunni tribal leaders have suggested that Al Qaeda is simply trying to entrap them. Al Monitor also received “a statement signed by 76 Sunni religious leaders, declaring that they have no connection with Al Qaeda”.

However this kind of statement does actually fit in with Al Qaeda’s stated aims and new strategy where they say they plan to learn from the mistakes of 2006 and start working within local communities more – their ultimate ambition is still the establishment of an Islamic state; however, as hard as it may be to grasp considering the recent bombings in Iraq, they have said they are considering a more political route towards that aim.

Meanwhile over on the other side of the equation, Iraq’s security forces are being criticized almost continuously for their inability to halt the violence and the terrorist bombings.

“Their performance is weak and there is disorder and confusion within their ranks,” the Iraqi Parliament\'s speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said. “They are unable to deal with the threats this country faces.”

“These factors, as well as a low level of professionalism, make it easy for criminals and murderers to penetrate the security forces,” al-Nujaifi told NIQASH in an emailed statement. “The government and security force leaders really need to explain how the security situation just keeps on getting worse.”

Today Iraq has a huge security apparatus,” says Ali al-Haydari, a local security expert. “But it lacks the technical information and equipment. The state institutions just keep growing but the environment remains unstable – so it’s very difficult for anyone to learn anything or change strategies. And while the structure of local security looks strong and capable, in reality it’s not – because of a lack of information, equipment and innovation.”