Al Qaeda: Democracy's best friend in Iraq?

Al Qaeda is vowing to fight on in Iraq, making statements such as, “We in the al Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq will continue the jihad until the banner of Islam flutters over Iraq,” I can’t help but think this is just what Iraq needs right now: A common enemy (other than the US if you must). What else could possibly galvanize a nation of disparate groups more than a threat to the one thing they can agree upon: They all have some right to call themselves Iraqis. Bush himself couldn’t come up with a better conspiracy.

It makes me kind of suspicious. Especially that stuff with Al Zarqawi declaring democracy as being un-Islamic. AlQ are Islamic nutbars, and that’s just the point: democratic elections installed the theocracy in Iran, and may very well install such a theocracy in Iraq. (Disclaimer: no, I don’t know, everybody is lying to me, and I don’t believe anybody…)

So why would he/they undermine such an option? Previous AlQ rants have been strictly about holy sites, infidels, etc. So the Zarqawi tape makes me a bit leery. This most recent sputter, which you cite, sounds more authenticly AlQ, its about jihad against the infidels, which is to say, us.

Disinformation is the oldest trick in the book. And everybody has the same book.

Yeah, but some of us only have dog-earcopies of the paperback edition, while others have the large type version printed on acid free paper, with a tooled leather cover, and a two volume accompanying concordance, with study guide, and key verse index.

Assuming for a moment that there isn’t some conspiricy to make statements for AQ that they don’t agree with (and that we somehow can control them from coming out and saying that they didn’t make such statements), I’d say AQ is making a mistake in opposing democracy in Iraq from a strategic point of view, but that they really have no choice…democracy really IS their enemy, reguardless of 'luci’s statement to the contrary with reguard to Iran. Or maybe even because of it, as even the limited democracy in Iran has had the effect of moderating (somewhat) the Iranian’s theocracy…even when the clerics essentially pick the candidates and topics voted on. AQ can see the writing on the wall if Iraq and others become democracies, even limited democracies…that writing being that the brand of absolute fundamentalism they want will be modified and softened over time if the people are given a chance to vote.

I DO think that the insurgents in Iraq are going to find themselves increasingly isolated in the next few years…especially if the next round of elections is as successful as these were. And I think an external enemy (other than the US) who is increasingly seen as against Iraq and the Iraqi people, who continues to DIRECTLY target the Iraqi people and THEIR government will be a unifying force for people of very different views…and perhaps a new sense of Iraqi nationalism will emerge from all this, and a new sense of confidence as well. I guess time will tell.


Democracy is no doubt the enemy of AQ, I’m just surprised they would openly admit it. I would think that framing their crusade as being against the iniquity of the infidels would be more effective in recruiting for their cause given that many Muslims have expressed an interest in at least a democratic theocracy.

KC: Democracy is no doubt the enemy of AQ, I’m just surprised they would openly admit it.

Well, the word “democracy” doesn’t have the uniformly positive connotations for a lot of Middle Eastern Muslims that it does for most of us in the West. A lot of Muslims, particularly the more radical ones, fear that “democracy” is just a code word for domination by the US: War makes democracy a dirty word (October 2004)

So it’s actually a pretty smart strategy for al-Qaeda to promote this suspicion and rejection of democracy, undermining moderates while explicitly defying the US. I doubt that most moderate Muslims will buy this kind of argument, but it will certainly make life harder for them in opposing the Islamist radicals.

I wonder if people born in democracies always remember how much of their instincts about it are learned, not physiological. New, and most certainly imposed, democracies are fragile things as most people still work on old instincts vis a vis the distribution of power. Not to Godwinize but I believe that part of the Nazi platform when elected was to dismantle the constitution- democracy in Germany was <20yrs old.

When I see people jubilant over new “democracy” (or old democracy for that matter) I can’t help but suspect that many are really only happy that now their people are in charge. Is it hard to believe they would want to vote in a religious leader-for-life like an Osama?

I also think that AQ and some insurgents are making a mistake in opposing democracy. Most Iraqis see this election as a means of trying to change things.

I don’t agree that democracy is their enemy actually. Its naturally sounds nice that democratic states don’t create terrorists… but we know very well that is not true. Especially if islamic elements hold critical sway in determining the dominant political group in Iraq.

Even a real democracy is weaker in “terrorist” hunting than a autocratic state. Saddam didn’t have many opponents for a reason. Unless that democracy promotes real prosperity… not a great prospect in Iraq.

You are confusing multiple things here RM. I didn’t say democracy was the enemy of Islam…I said it was the enemy of the totalitarian vision of AQ and the other fundamentalist Islamic types in the region. For that matter, democracy is the enemy of any totalitarian group…because generally, if people have even a little say, such intolerant groups are relegated to the fringes where they belong. I think AQ realizes that if the people of the ME are given a real say in their government, that the level of fundamentalist totalitarianism that is the wet dream of ObL and his ilk isn’t going to fly in the long term…something much more moderate is going to come out instead.

This would be a fatal blow to such a man and such a group…they’d be relagated to barking around the fringe like our own far right fundamentalists…or like the far loony left types…never gaining real traction or real political power. Perhaps catered too, but never really getting their agenda through in any meaningful way. Can you imagine what a blow that would be? I can, as we have examples (though less extreme by and large) right here in the US…folks who will NEVER get their agenda through because deep down they realize that its not going to fly with the majority of the people.

Why do you think there is no prospect for prosperity in Iraq? They have the potential to have a great deal of prosperity for individual Iraqi’s. Another reason why the terrorists are so intent on targetting the infrastructure…to deny Iraq that potential wealth. Now that much of the debt has been forgiven, America and others are pouring in money to improve the infrastructure, and with a stable democratic government (in theory), if the insurgency can be eliminated or at least minimized/marginalized the potential for the Iraqi people is great. Oil alone will bring great wealth to the Iraqi’s (especially if they don’t have to build the 50th billion dollar palace for some despot, but can use the money for other things), and I can see foreign investment coming there as well…after all, the Iraqi people are highly educated compared to much of the rest of the region.


xt: I didn’t say democracy was the enemy of Islam.

I don’t think Rashak thought you did. I think he’s just suggesting that democracy might not actually be “the enemy of al-Qaeda” because democracies can in fact foster terrorism, as well as being handicapped in fighting terrorism due to the need to preserve democratic freedoms.

Xtisme… hhmmm… AQ certainly prefers authoritarian regimes… so I can agree that democracy or semi-democracy would be bad for AQ. Still that doesn’t include most insurgents who are only Iraqi “patriots”. This also explains a relatively quiet election. Even if Allawi wants to label them terrorists… most are certainly not AQ. Then of course this is democracy only in Iraq for now… so not much of a threat short and mid term for AQ.

As for prosperity… don’t delude yourself thinking a democratic and free Iraq will be “prosperous” for most Iraqis. Education is lacking even if compared to Latin America (from what I garner)… Iraqi governement will be corruption rife no matter what. When you rely on oil it tend to not benefit that many people either. A diversified economy would be better overall… not something you see frequently in the Middle East. Still prosperity is relative… if they feel much better off than before… then it might work… but they will still be the poor arab cousins to Saudis e Kuwaitis.

I suppose it depends on who you think ‘most’ of the insurgents ARE RM. Myself, I’m pretty well convinved that ‘most’ of them are old Saddam loyalists, Ba’athists, disgruntaled Sunni who are feeling the burn not to be in power anymore, and foriegn terrorists out to bag a few American’s and cause trouble. In all of these cases I can’t say that democracy would be well received. Certainly Saddam loyalists/Ba’athists/Sunni who want to keep power over the majority aren’t going to be big fans of open elections.

I didn’t lable the majority of the insurgents ‘terrorists’, though certainly you COULD lable them such…at least the ones who are directly targetting the Iraqi people with car and suicide bombs…no? As for whether this is democracy in the short or long terms…well, time will tell. Personally, after seeing the response at the polls, I’m much more confident about Iraq than I was even a week ago, especially about the long term. I don’t know what KIND of democracy or government the Iraqi’s will end up with, but I’m pretty confident it will be something THEY want.

Who is deluding themselves? I don’t think democracy is an automatic ticket to prosperity if thats what you are getting at. I’m saying the Iraqi’s are sitting on the second largest reserve of oil in the world (at least, if memory serves)…THAT is potential economic prosperity. Democracy just gives that potential a boost IF they are able to stabalize the situation…something that, again, has the potential of becoming reality with a strong Iraqi government.

WHY will the “Iraqi governement will be corruption rife no matter what”?? Where are you getting that from? Its certainly a possibility, but its not a sure thing by any means…unless you mean in the way that all governments are corrupt of course, to one degree or another. But why you feel the Iraqi’s government WILL be RIFE with corruption…smells like prejudice to me, either political or other. I’m not accusing you mind you…thats why I asked you to elaborate.

Why would they still be the poor arab (they aren’t an arab nation btw) cousins to Saudis and Kuwaitis? As for economic diversity, that comes with stability. I can pretty much guarentee you that if they are able to force this insurgency into the background, say in the next 5 years, that investment capital will pour into Iraq. Companies will outsource to the region, manufacturing will relocate there, etc…especially if the Iraqi’s are smart enough to encourage such things. Why? Well, for the reasons I said. A stable democratic govenment. Lower initial wages. Good or even excellent infrastructure, better than most other country’s in that region. An educated work force. And a close relationship to the US won’t hurt either.

All of this is POTENTIAL…which is what I said. Its really up to the Iraqi’s at this point…and really has been since Saddam was deposed. Democracy is merely a factor in all this…its not an automatic ticket to success. But I don’t see where you are getting that Iraq is automatically going to be a corrupt and poor second cousin either.


I might be prejudiced… but stable countries like Brazil with way less sectarian divisions are strife with corruption. The elite will always serve itself first and foremost. Arab countries have been even worse as far as corruption and accountability. Shia in government will take this as their turn to delve into others money.

So even if they are sitting on a huge oil reserve… and that they might be promoting some sort of democracy… is for sure a good thing. Yet I’m quite cynic about how far it will get from here.

If there are so many Sunni insurgents… why didn’t they target the voters more ? To me it doesn’t add up. I doubt the extra security effort would dissuade these disgruntled Baathists enough.

I think you are projecting democracy from your own region, and its history, into another region and another situation thats a lot different. Different people, different situation. For one thing, the US didn’t exactly ever pour billions (hell, hundreds of billions now) of dollars into rebuilding the infrastructures in Latin America. We GAVE them money to do whatever, and not as much money…money that we didn’t really have much oversight with, and that was taken and used for other things.

Nor are most of the countries in Latin America sitting on such potential riches…riches already partially developed. The democracies that were attempted in Latin America never had the same level of support that Iraq is going to get…its a model the US REALLY wants to see work in that region. So, its going to be more closely tied to the US…simply because its higher up on our own national radar due to how vital that region is to us and the world.

My guess, FWIW, is that you are wrong…it WAS the extra security that prevented them from doing more. In addition, again IMO, this insurgency isn’t a connected whole, but many different pieces. It LOOKS bigger than it is, somewhat because of the focus of our media on every attack that happens and anything else negative without balancing that with the scale of the country or anything positive, but also because there are lots of little regional splinter insurgent groups…groups that generally don’t coordinate together but do their own thing in their region. Many of these little regional groups just didn’t have the ability to stage anything meaningful with such ramped up security…they wouldn’t get much return if they lost a lot of people for little or no ‘gain’. Dieing for the cause is all well and good…dieing for no real gain though kind of sucks. Thats my opinion based on what I’ve read…YMMV.

If this Iraqi insurgency really WAS comparable with the VietCong then you’d see a much higher level of coordination, and you probably would have seen a lot more disruption of the election. Of course, its quite possible that if they HAD tried a more coordinated approach and really went after the elections on a large scale it would have been another Tet fiasco…without the unjustified negative political impact (i.e. you would have had a lot of dead insurgents making a lot of noise but really achieving anything…and seriously setting back the insurgency). We’ll never know now…unless they try for something like that in December.


The unfortunate thing is that that billions of dollars won’t “feel” like billions of dollars because it includes the repair and re-repair of things the invasion and insurgents keep wrecking. As far as overseeing the spending, I’ll believe when I see it- these money pits often get dark and complicated.

Regarding better regional examples of democracies- I don’t think Egypt or Israel are setting great examples in the neighborhood. Egypt is overrun with corruption and I doubt many Arabs are willing to emulate Israel. Both these democracies are well supported by US funding.

hhmmm… Xtisme your quite optimistic on the amount of money the US will be willing to dump in Iraq. Yet even if they do… does money alone get things done ? I doubt it. The political aspects are a mess and Iraqis in conflict. Its not much good setting up democracies at US$ half a trillion and 5k dead… and thinking this will be a stimulus to Middle Eastern democratic reform. Phyric victory and process.

Just extra security isn’t enough to explain so few attacks during the election. I think to dismiss them as baathists and foreign fighters doesn’t explain this lull fully. Even if they are decentralized. At some level insurgents were smart and avoided “spoiling” something that common iraqis see as a good thing (elections). Or many are Shiites that actually see the election as an official power transfer to their own… and they keep hitting US interests.

Optimistic? Huh? We’ve ALREADY dumped in over $100 billion, and didn’t Bush just ask for $80 billion more? Billions of that are being spent on infrastructure. This isn’t pie in the sky RM…its already happening. The down side of this is the the insurgents are blowing it up and costing more. Thats why I said the key is stabilizing the situation.

I totally disagree with your assessment of the situation in Iraq…but nothing new there, ehe? :slight_smile: I think that Iraq has a hell of a lot of potential to become a model government in the region…prosperous, stable and secure, and a democracy to boot. It has advantages not realized by other democracies that have failed in the world…including in your neck of the woods. I don’t see it as a ‘phyric’ victory in any any case…at least, I dont see it as a sure thing that it will turn out that way.

They ARE mostly Ba’athists/Disgruntaled Sunni’s and foreign fighters RM…I’m not dismissing them as such, thats what they are. If you don’t agree, then you tell me who YOU think make up the majority of this insurgency. Except for some of the radical Shi’ite factions, by and large I don’t think they have been involved deeply in the insurgency…why should they be as they have the most to gain from elections. Same go for the Kurds, by and large. There are several other factions in Iraq besides these major blocks, but I don’t think they have the numbers to really make a huge difference, and in any case I’m unsure how they come down on this issue.

The insurgents aren’t organized nationally, at least I’ve never seen any convincing evidence that they are…instead, I’ve seen evidence that they are regional factions with different goals and agendas. The Sunni are broken into various factions, some wanting to hold on to a Sunni dominated government, some wanting to keep the Ba’athists in power…all afraid of a democratic process because they aren’t in the majority. The Shi’ites that are fighting are the same…they are minority factions that don’t think they will get the power they need through elections. The foreign fighters are there to disrupt ANY kind of stability and make things hard for the Americans, and perhaps in the hopes of one day having another Taliban type government in Iraq sympathetic to them. None of these folks really work together (except to be royal pains in the ass) as they all have different end goals.

No way could you get such a motley crew to coordinate something as difficult as a full scale disruption of the election, not with US/UK/Coalition and Iraqi forces out in huge numbers as was the case on election day. I don’t know why you dismiss the increased security so easily, but logically (to me anyway) its the most reasonable explaination for why there wasn’t more violence.

Are you saying that the insurgents didn’t attack more because they had a change of heart and wanted to let the common Iraqi’s have their elections??? I’m not following you there if thats what you are saying.


Hard Fact: Elections were "calm" that we all agree upon.

Now your saying that security managed that ? How come they weren't more effective before ? Just closing the borders and putting extra soldiers in alert won't stop suicide will it ?

These insurgents don't exist in some kind of vacuum within Iraqi society. Do they ? So maybe they were more willing to wait for a return to "lower" security. Or they decided that messing with elections was bad for them. So they have to play it smarts sometimes... though I agree the foreigners have a different more radical agenda. Common Iraqis probably sympathisize with insurgents... blasting Iraqis voting for Iraqis doesn't make sense "marketing" wise. Blasting "traitor" policemen is easier to sell I suppose.

Or… Do you agree that Shi’ites have less to lose from elections ? Just maybe more insurgents are Shia and they didn’t want to spoil the power “transfer”.

Eh, no. There were 260 insurgent attacks the day of the election ( compared to the daily average of 60-70 ), the largest number of attacks in a single day since the U.S. invasion.

What it was was not as bad as some had feared. “Only” ~45 dead and ~100 wounded. This probably represents the limit of disparate and scattered resistance to effectively coordinate. I’d agree with those that say that it appears the insurgents are incapable of pulling off a Tet offensive type of operation ( not that they should, if they’re smart ). But to call it a calm day would be a gross over-statement.

As to the size of the insurgency, according to Global Security the Iraqi head of intelligence estimated last month that it consisted of 40,000 hardcore fighters and 200,000 part-timers. It’s uncertain if that includes the Sadrists as the discussion seemed to revolve around resistance in the Sunni provinces. Meanwhile the Institute of Stategic Studies estimates that 1,000 of those are foreign jihadists.

  • Tamerlane

Wow… I hadn’t read the small print… I just focused on the dead and wounded… still it was far from a monumental uprising.

1k jihadists only ? … well I’d put twice or thrice that at least. Many are just bomb makers, etc…