Bill Roggio takes a detailed look at the organization in the wake of the capture of one of their key leaders. Apparently the “leader” of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi does not in fact exist — he’s a fictional character used to give AQI an Iraqi face. The real leader of AQI is Abu ‘Ayyub al- Masri, an Egyptian native and former close associate of al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
What we’re learning about al-Qaeda in Iraq is that it is essentially a foreign-run enterprise with little input from Iraqis — and now that the Sunni tribes in al-Anbar are turning against them, the leadership of AQI is becoming increasingly paranoid about Iraqi turncoats. This makes it impossible for them to lead a popular uprising, and instead they’re reliant on foreigners (mainly disaffected Saudis) to carry out their attacks. While the numerical bulk of the insurgency is made up of Iraqis, the leadership of AQI is almost completely foreign, and the façade of nativism that AQI has traditionally used is collapsing on them.
The US needs to continue to work with Sunni groups who will go after AQI. The Sunnis want the Americans to leave, and quite frankly, the Americans want to leave as well. The Sunnis want to have the ability to live in peace and not be steamrolled by the majority Shi’ites, which requires a strong central government in Baghdad. If Iraq fractures, the Sunnis can’t hope to hold out for very long. Their self-interest is the same as our interests: an end to al-Qaeda, a pluralistic Iraqi government, and no domination of Iraq by Iran. While the Sunnis have been our nominal “enemy” for most of the war, that is no longer the case — right now the Sunnis have every reason to be on our side, and that’s precisely why many Sunni groups have turned against al-Qaeda’s attempts at foreign domination.