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$12M Bounty Hunt for al-Qaeda in Iran

It’s a lot of cash for prospective bounty hunters, and an equal amount of interesting politics here that we certainly can’t let slide by without pointing out some obvious conflicts of interest.

The US State Department is offering up $12 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of two senior al-Qaeda figures allegedly backed by Iran and “accused” of moving fighters and cash through Turkey into Syria to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Of the two al-Qaeda figures, Muhsin al-Fadhli, “senior facilitator and financer” is worth more--$7 million. His deputy, Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, is worth $5 million.

Al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti, was one of the key facilitators of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.   

According to the State Department, the two are hiding out in Iran.     

We’ll take issue here with two key things: First, the US media’s purposeful misunderstanding of the Iran-al-Qaeda relationship (fostered most obviously by FOX News of recent Sesame-Street-is-Liberal-Brainwashing fame); second, the US (rather than Iranian) facilitation of jihadist infiltration of the Syrian rebels.

Iran and al-Qaeda are mortal enemies, much like the US and al-Qaeda are mortal enemies. But sometimes it is convenient to note that your enemy’s enemy is your friend. Thus, we find ourselves in this unique position.

Though the Sunni jihadists that comprise al-Qaeda are certainly no friends of Shi’ite Iran for a variety of reasons that span geopolitics and ideology, Iran has not been blind to the potential of occasionally throwing some support their way to target US forces in Iraq. At the same time, any support to al-Qaeda elements in Iraq was carefully balanced by ensuring a great deal more support for Shi’ite insurgent groups in Iraq.

One would, however, get the impression from mainstream headlines that there exists a new group called “Al-Qaeda in Iran”, which is not only untrue but impossible. If any al-Qaeda elements are in Iran with the blessing of the Iranian leadership, they are kept under house arrest and constant monitoring.

Related Article: Iran, Turkey & Syria increasing the Volatility of Oil Markets

This is contrary to opinion of the US Treasury Department, which holds that Iran is giving these al-Qaeda figures “freedom to operate and uninhibited travel in exchange for a guarantee it won’t conduct operations or recruit members in the country.”

Much like Iran has seen some advantage in an occasional fling with al-Qaeda, the US government, beginning most prolifically with George W. Bush, has taken this to a dangerously higher level, regardless and even because of 9/11. Of course, the public would rather not understand this policy, but we will in any case endeavor to explain it here.

After 9/11, the war on Iraq, The Bush II administration decided to refocus its efforts on Iran and saw an opportunity for this in its enemy—al-Qaeda, a radical Sunni solution for a Shi’ite problem. The fear was that Iran would succeed in creating a “Shi’ite crescent” with Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Iran and its growing influence among Iraq’s dominate Shi’ites (courtesy of the US invasion).

The main theaters for this plan have been Lebanon, where the US and Saudis bolstered Sunni radical elements to challenge Iranian-backed Hezbollah; Iraq, in the form of the Sunni Awakening (Sahwa); and Syria. Bush thought that by weakening the Assad regime by also engaging the Saudis to bolster militant Sunni efforts he would destroy Iran’s chance of using this key ally to secure a Shi’ite crescent. 

Years later, we have the conflict in Syria. The idea was that the US could maintain control over their new jihadist friends. They cannot, and thus we have the uncertainty over what to do next in Syria. 

What we have now is a group of Syrian rebels who are not likely to overthrow Assad without a significant amount of help from the Sunni jihad camp. We also have a group of Syrian rebels who are fearful of what this means: and essentially it means that a post-Assad Syria will be a Sunni radical Syria that is arguably worse than anything Assad would have come up with (aside from an alliance with Iran) and that would sideline the Syrian opposition, at best. After all, we are talking about a likely 40% infiltration by Sunni radicals of the Syrian rebel force.

Related Article: Investing in Iraqi Oil and Gas: Too Risky?

Suddenly, the US is not sure if this is the best strategy—hence funds for arms for the Syrian rebels are less than forthcoming from the black budgets of the defense department.

So here is where we will take issue most vehemently: The US has been facilitating the movement of al-Qaeda types across the Turkish border into Syria to fight Assad. Yet suddenly this act is being laid at Iran’s feet. Iran certainly has little desire to see Assad overthrown by Sunni militants loyal to the Saudis.

Even with all this in mind, the $12 million is attractive. Why the bounty hunt, though? Is it that US intelligence isn’t capable of tracking these two down? Or is it because the primary aim of the reward announcement is political, not tactical? (In which case the suspects are not meant to be found.)  For the Obama administration, on the eve elections it a great publicity stunt that attempts to suggest there is such a thing as an organized “al-Qaeda in Iran” and that Iran, not the US, is arming Sunni jihadists in Syria (both wrong). It is meant to say that the administration is taking a tough stance on Iran and not considering creating another terrorist state out of Syria.

Of course, it’s also fodder for the Republican contenders to the throne, who are attempting to demonstrate that the Obama administration is in fact funding terrorists in Syria. This publicity stunt, however, glosses over the fact that this al-Qaeda-funding strategy was the brainchild of the Bush administration and that mess will take a long time to clean up.

In the meantime, for you bounty hunters out there, here are a few types to get you on the road. The two suspects are likely to be in one of three places:

Central Iran, if we are to believe the State Department (under house arrest—good luck with this one)

Iran’s Baloch province, home to a restive militant Sunni lot whose passions are being inspired by their Baloch brethren across the border in Pakistan and benefitting from the strategic largesse of the US and Saudis bent on destabilizing Iran from this angle as well

Iraq’s Anbar Province, where five new training camps have been set up by a regrouping al-Qaeda which is hoping to jump into the Syria melee very soon

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com




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