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Posted at 10:08 a.m. on June 25, 2014
There is a popular sentiment about ISIL (also known as ISIS), the radical group tearing across Iraq, that it was the brutality of the group’s tactics that led to a divorce with al-Qaida. Not so, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers said Wednesday.
The Republican from Michigan said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington that al-Qaida — which conducts beheadings and flies planes into buildings — wasn’t too worried about ISIL’s brutality. Instead, it was a dispute over whether it was too soon to do things like take over territory, establish a caliphate and launch attacks on the West.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s thinking was to bide time carefully, while ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was aggressive, he said. Therefore, Rogers said, Zawahiri’s move was if “we can’t control you, we’re not going to make you a part of the group.”
“What I think he underestimated is that these folks were winning on the battlefield,” Rogers said. “That in and of itself attracts other jihadists, because they want to be a part of the winning team.”
Now, he said, ISIL, “drunk on their success,” controls so much territory that if Zawahiri were to visit Baghdad, he might have to do so in a supplicating role.
Overall, the relationship is one of rivalry and some respect; Rogers compared it to two Chicago mob families that use the same tactics and have the same goals, and will work together when it suits their needs.
If the United States is to sway things in Iraq, it will have to start by weakening ISIL’s power base in eastern Syria and giving Baghdad room to come up with a political reconciliation — perhaps via airstrikes, although that call should be made by the military, Rogers said.
And he doesn’t blame the intelligence community for any kind of surprise.
“This is not an intelligence failure,” he said. “This is a foreign policy failure of the magnitude that will risk the national security of America.”