Austin Bay

The tribes refused, and al-Qaida killed a tribal leader, which led to the blood feud. "The whole thing snowballed from there," Kilcullen said.

In Kilcullen's analysis, al-Qaida failed to distinguish between tribal custom and religious doctrinal interpretations.

Kilcullen said al-Qaida had "pitched" the tribes a "narrative" (a political appeal) that said: "We are Sunni, you're Sunni, the Americans are helping the Shia. Let's fight them together." The tribes initially cooperated, but al-Qaida's brand of religious absolutism (not to mention overweening arrogance) shredded the "we're in it together" propaganda.

Al-Qaida has now trotted out a new "pitch" to the tribes. "It's more of a threat narrative," Kilcullen said. "The Americans are coming, and we're going to have to leave this district, but if you support the Americans we'll know about it. When we come back, we're going to kill you. ... This American thing is temporary. We're coming back. The future belongs to us, and we are going to take you back."

Kilcullen pointed out that this is where the "gap" between what is said by al-Qaida and what it does creates a vulnerability for the terrorists. The coalition counters it "by proving to the people that we actually can protect them. And we're also proving to them that although the United States is not going to stay in Iraq forever, we are handing over to an Iraqi government that has their best interests at heart and can protect them from the terrorists."

The coalition and Iraq political strategy, Kilcullen said, is "about proving the lie against al-Qaida."

That's a strategic goal America set out to accomplish on Sept. 12, 2001.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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