Secrecy News just picked up and posted the newly updated CRS report on "Iraq and Al Qaeda" (Download the full text here). While the report does not provide any solid answers on the current level of Al Qaeda activity in Iraq or the the degree to which it is tied to Bin Laden, it does do a good job of laying out the history and arguments on all sides. Highlights from the summary and full text include (Boldface is mine):
- "Although the connections between Ansar al-Islam and Saddam Hussein’s regime were subject to debate, the organization apparently did evolve into what is now known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I). AQ-I has been a key component of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency that frustrated U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, but there is debate about how large and significant a component of overall violence was carried out by AQ-I. In mid-late 2007, in part facilitated by combat conducted by additional U.S. forces sent to Iraq as part of a “troop surge,” the U.S. military has had some success exploiting differences between AQ-I and Iraqi Sunni political, tribal, and insurgent leaders. These successes, which in some cases have resulted in the virtual expulsion of AQ-I from many of its sanctuaries particularly in and around Baghdad, have weakened AQ-I to the point where some U.S. commanders believe they have achieved “victory” over AQ-I. However, the most senior U.S. commanders believe it has not been completely defeated and remains dangerous, and some U.S. commanders assert that AQ-I fighters have relocated to parts of northern Iraq."
- "Analysis of the broader implications of AQ-I might depend on the degree to which AQ-I is in contact with the remaining leadership of the Al Qaeda organization as it has evolved since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. That relationship remains a subject of debate among experts."
- "... perhaps the most controversial question about AQ-I is the degree to which it is linked, if at all, to the central leadership of Al Qaeda as represented by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, both of whom are widely believed to be hiding in areas of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan."
- "... on July 24, 2007, President Bush devoted a speech almost exclusively to this issue. In making an argument that AQ-I is closely related to Al Qaeda’s central leadership, the President noted the following details, including:"
- "In 2004, Zarqawi formally joined Al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden"
- "In line with the increasing AQ-I efforts to cooperate with Iraqi Sunni insurgents, most of AQ-I’s fighters and some of its leaders are Iraqi."
- "That AQ-I is the only insurgent group in Iraq “with stated ambitions to make the country a base for attacks outside Iraq.” Referring to the November 9, 2005, terrorist attacks on hotels in Zarqawi’s native Jordan, President Bush said AQ-I “dispatched terrorists who bombed a wedding reception in Jordan.”
- "Some experts believe that links between Al Qaeda’s central leadership and AQ-I are tenuous, at best, and that the few operatives linking the two do not demonstrate an ongoing, substantial relationship."
- "Still others maintain that there is little evidence that AQ-I seeks to attack broadly outside Iraq, and that those incidents that have taken place have been in Jordan, where Zarqawi might have wanted to try to undermine King Abdullah II, whom Zarqawi opposed as too close to the United States. There have been no attacks in mid-late 2007 that can be directly attributed to AQ-I."