War Will Keep Them Together

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 17 2014 @ 2:20pm

Remember that schism between al Qaeda and ISIS? Well, there’s nothing like a new war with the Great Satan to help patch that up. Adam Taylor passes along some salient news and poses a troubling question:

In a two-page message posted to Twitter accounts that represent both groups, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) asked their “brothers” in Iraq and Syria to “stop killing each other and unite against the American campaign and its evil coalition that threatens us all.” It’s an unusual move. The two groups are perhaps the most notorious of the al-Qaeda-linked groups: AQAP operates in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and it has been described as the “most lethal Qaeda franchise” by the Council on Foreign Relations, while AQIM operates in Northern Africa, in particular Algeria, Mali and Libya. Analysts say a joint statement from the two is unprecedented. …

[T]he statement calls on all jihadist groups to unite against a common enemy: “crusader America” and the alliance of states backing the U.S. plan to strike the Islamic State. This language echoes the Islamic State’s own language and presents a bigger concern: Might U.S. strikes against the Islamic State cause it to reunite with al-Qaeda and other extremist groups it opposes?

Aymenn al-Tamimi translates and analyzes the statement. In his view, the answer to that question is “not necessarily”:

This statement does not mean AQAP and AQIM are getting closer to IS or warming to the idea of pledging allegiance to IS. Indeed, they have firmly rejected IS’ Caliphate declaration, and have maintained their loyalty to al-Qa’ida Central (AQC). For comparison, note that members and supporters of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam- an Iraqi jihadi group (with a Syrian branch) which like al-Qa’ida does not accept IS’ claim to be a state or caliphate- have also denounced the U.S. airstrikes etc. targeting IS as constituting war against Islam, and like al-Qa’ida would want an ideal situation where all jihadis having the end-goal of a Caliphate unite against a common enemy, while rejecting IS’ assumption of supreme authority.

Meanwhile, much though Obama takes pains to deny that there is anything religious or civilizational about this war, that’s not how ISIS sees it:

[N]o matter how delicately the White House wants to frame renewed military operations in the region, it’s serving up rich propaganda fodder for the militant group in Washington’s crosshairs. As Morning Mix’s Terrence McCoy notes, the Islamic State is all too happy to paint the coming battle as a civilizational conflict. In its own glossy publication, Dabiq, the terror organization hails its plans to fight the “crusaders in Washington” and sees its rise amid the chaos of the Middle East as an evocation of history. …

In any event, it’s all dubious propaganda for the Islamic State, which as Obama noted, spends most of its time killing fellow Muslims and faces a constellation of largely Muslim factions — Kurdish militias, Syria’s Assad regime, the Iraqi government, Iran, and the Sunni Gulf states — arrayed against it. And, given Obama’s caution, the Islamic State can’t count on the same slip of the tongue of the president’s predecessor. Just days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush warned that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.”