From today's NYT, the well wishes keep pouring in -
Jihadi Leader Says Radicals Share Obama Victory
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN and SOUAD MEKHENNET
Published: November 7, 2008
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The leader of a jihadi group in Iraq argued Friday that the election of Barack Obama as president represented a victory for radical Islamic groups that had battled American forces since the invasion of Iraq.
The statement, which experts said was part of the psychological duel with the United States, was included in a 25-minute audiotaped speech by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization that claims ties to Al Qaeda. Mr. Baghdadi’s statement was posted on a password-protected Web site called Al Hesbah, used to disseminate information to Islamic radicals.
In his address, Mr. Baghdadi also said that the election of Mr. Obama — and the rejection of the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain — was a victory for his movement, a claim that has already begun to resonate among the radical faithful. In so doing Mr. Baghdadi highlighted the challenge the new president would face as he weighed how to remove troops from Iraq without also giving movements like Al Qaeda a powerful propaganda tool to use for recruiting.
“And the other truth that politicians are embarrassed to admit,” Mr. Baghdadi said, “is that their unjust war on the houses of Islam, with its heavy and successive losses and the continuous operations of exhaustion of your power and your economy, were the principal cause of the collapse of the economic giant.”
The audio statement came amid a very public discussion in the Middle East over what Mr. Obama’s election meant for the future — and what it said about the past. Most of the public reaction, in newspapers and on television and radio stations, was euphoric, with many commentators marveling at the election of a black man whose father was from a Muslim family. There was a general assessment that Mr. Obama’s election was a repudiation of the course taken by President Bush and his inner circle over the past eight years.
“Obama’s election was a message against such destruction, against unjustified wars, wars that are fought with ignorance and rashness, without knowledge of their arenas or the shape of their surroundings,” wrote Ghassan Charbel in Thursday’s issue of the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat. “It was a message against the pattern that became a burden on the U.S. and transformed the U.S. into a burden on the world.”
Some even pointed to Mr. Obama’s election as a lesson to the rest of the region. In Kuwait, Sheik Hamed al-Ali, an Islamic scholar known for his support of jihadi fighters, posted a message titled “We Want Change!” on his Web site.
Sheik Ali said, “It remains the obligation of our Islamic nation to benefit from this example and request change, also, and to get rid of any regime that leads with ignorance and injustice, plunders from the country, enslaves the worshipers, drives us to destruction.” The comments were then circulated on other Islamic Web forums.
But there was also a growing chorus of caution, as commentators began to try to tamp down expectations of any change in American policies in the region. And other commentators echoed Mr. Baghdadi’s view that the election was a victory for the insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
“It would be no exaggeration to say that we Arabs and Muslims were the main unseen voters who decided the outcome of these elections,” wrote Abdelbari Atwan in Wednesday’s issue of the London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.
He wrote, “The transformation that will begin in the U.S. starting today in various political, economic, military, and social domains may well have been delayed for decades, had the new American century been crowned with victory, and had the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan taken the directions sought by the neo-cons — in other words, had there been political stability and economic prosperity, and had the citizens of the two countries targeted by the U.S.’s designs been totally subjugated by it.”
Mr. Baghdadi also used his address to offer Mr. Obama an unlikely deal, one certain to do little to bring any resolution to the conflict between radical Islamic groups and the United States. He offered a truce of sorts in exchange for the removal of all forces from the region.
“On behalf of my brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya, I offer you what is better for you and us: you return to your previous era of neutrality, you withdraw your forces, and you return to your homes,” Mr. Baghdadi said. “You do not interfere in the affairs of our countries, directly or indirectly. We in turn will not prevent commerce with you, whether it is in oil or otherwise, but with fairness, not at a loss.”
Faris bin Hizam, an expert on Al Qaeda, said the offer of a trade relationship had struck a new note. “How can he call for establishing a relationship with the United States if it withdraws?” Mr. Bin Hizam said. “The main principle of Al Qaeda prohibits any relation with infidels.”
Marwan Shehadeh, a Jordanian researcher and expert in radical Islamic groups, said that Al Qaeda leaders outside Iraq might balk at such a relationship, but that jihadis might view Mr. Obama’s election as an opportunity.
“Of course there is a shift, because there is a new president who came from an oppressed class, and people who had little opportunity,” Mr. Shehadeh said. “He wants to give Obama the chance to make a change, since Obama has no previous animosity with Islam.”
Intelligence officials working in the region said that they did not see Mr. Obama’s election as having any fundamental effect on Al Qaeda, and that any talk of a truce was likely to go nowhere. But two intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of their work said that they were concerned that any step that could be perceived as a victory for Al Qaeda, like pulling troops out of Iraq right away, would only strengthen its ability to recruit.
“If he withdraws the soldiers from Iraq before the country gets really stable, Al Qaeda will see it as their victory, and they might get stronger again,” one regional intelligence official said. That dynamic was already beginning to play out on Al Hesbah.
As with other Web sites, it is impossible for an outsider to verify the identity, or integrity, of posted comments. But experts recognize Al Hesbah as the one remaining online forum for those aligned with Al Qaeda, after two other Web sites were apparently hacked and taken offline.
On the same day Mr. Baghdadi posted his statement, others chatted about the need to continue the fight against the United States. “All of them are low and dirty, and their hatred of Islam is the same,” one participant wrote. Of Mr. Obama, he wrote, “Even in his speech rejoicing his victory he said, ‘To those who fight us, we will defeat you.’ Let us see who will be victorious.”