Responding to Dan Darling on Zarqawi
I. How leadership Emerge:
Zarqawi most eminent skill is his ability to absorb other Islamist groups. The most important merger was between his organization and Ansar Al-Islam (later changed it name to Ansar Al-Suna) before it merge with Zarqawi’s Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. This ability was also observed in Bin-Laden when he absorb Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
Leadership is based completely on personal charisma. The way leadership emerge is the product of nomadic culture. This is true from the Mongolian steppes to the Saharan desert. The best analogy in history are Chengis Khan and Timur Leng (Tamerlane). Followers pledge allegiance not to the group per se, but to the individual who is most charismatic and the strongest. The allegiance does not pass on to children or designate heirs. In fact the pledge of allegiance expire when the leader pass away. Therefore, there is no point in officially designate an heir apparent. The same is true of Zarqawi’s organization. He would have a functional second in command, but the person is not necessary the second in term of seniority or second power structure, and especially not the heir designate. This position is more administrative than command.
If Zarqawi die (I hope in the most painful manner), the next leader to emerge will be the most charismatic, powerful, and ruthless. We may find out the various contenders by picking out the most charismatic and powerful personalities. But we cannot know until Zarqawi die. The new leader will be determined by how many pledge of allegiances each contenter receive and who pledge allegiance to whom.
II. Order of Battle:
Attempt to describe Al-Zarqawi organization along Western line is futile and unimaginative. One must think outside the box. However there are historical models to aid understanding (there are only so many ways to organize) – think of the Japanese warring period or European feudal era. Organizationally Zarqawi’s organization can be broken into main components.
1. Zarqawi and his entourage: This is similar to sultans, a khans, and their household troops and officials. They play the role of advising, organizing, and administration. They interact with the next group. Within this group, important advisors reside to provide guidance on religious, political, or strategic military matter.
2. Zarqawi various emirs: These are the vassals. The title emir does not denote uniform command. In Europe feudal ear, a nobility can be a count, a baron, or a duke and command terrorial vary in size, population, wealth, and military strength. Zarqawi’s organization is closer to the Japanese daimyo that they are nominal of equal status, but in reality vary in strength and power. But the most important aspect of the emirs is their operational autonomy within their territory -- in which Western military would call area of operation (AO) or area of responsibility (AOR).
Strategic decision come from the first groups, but tactical and operation decision is decided solely by the second group. Beside military operation such as attack, many of the recruiting, training, and financing, and activities are actually done by the emirs locally. Zarqawi may assist the emirs with money, arms, and occasional recruits depend on strategic important of each emir (at different time or phase in the war). But emirs are expect to be responsible for most . This is similar to military campaign during feudal time. Vassals actually recruited, trained, armed and financed their own knights and sergant-at-arms.
The organization of Islamist terrorist is only unconventional in Western sense. It is not by no mean unconventional elsewheres in the world where power structure are less formal and non-linear. Of course Pentagon has an extremely difficult time describing event in Iraq to the general public – and I doubt that even the Pentagon leadership outside of the counterterrorism circle truely understand it. It is therefore difficult to quantify the significant of Abu Azzam’s death without going into exhaustive detail, even then it is highly academic and I doubt most people would be interested. More importantly the Press lacks the necessary aptitude to understand the subject to convey it correctly. If a highly intelligent person such as Matthew Yglesias has difficult grasping the situation, one cannot expect an average (if not mediocre) reporter to understand it.