Paul Cruickshank is a Fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law. He previously worked as an investigative journalist in London, reporting on al Qaeda and its European affiliates and was part of the CNN reporting team that covered the London July 7, 2005 attacks. He collaborated closely with Peter Bergen in interviewing acquaintances of Osama bin Laden for Bergen's 2006 oral history "The Osama bin Laden I Know" and worked with CNN on a two-hour Emmy-nominated documentary "In the footsteps of bin Laden." Cruickshank has written about al Qaeda and Islamist groups for a number of publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. He has provided on-air analysis to CNN, BBC, NBC, CBS, BBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera on national security issues. Cruickshank graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in history, and has a Masters degree with Honors in International Relations from the Paul. H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He has also worked in the European Parliament in Brussels and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
Has the surge weakened al-Qaeda?
Paul Cruickshank: Hmm. That’s a great question. I think . . . I think the weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq has many components. And the surge is certainly part of the explanation for why Al Qaeda has weakened in Iraq. That is clear. But there are also other factors at play, some of which I think are more important. The first important factor is the fact that Al Qaeda’s behavior, just like jihadists in Algeria in the 1990s, has been incredibly counterproductive. Their killings of civilians; their picking on Sunni communities; bullying; beheadings have turned the local population against them, and that has been the key factor here. Awakening councils have been formed, which are essentially local tribal groups which are now trying to restore order in parts of Iraq, especially Anbar Province where this really kicked off in 2006. And they were quite autonomous, these groups that . . . Sorry.
The founding . . . The founding of these groups was quite autonomous. But it also needed some encouragement from American forces that they would support them with money, with weapons; that they would help clear these areas of Al Qaeda fighters if the awakening councils came on board. So the United States military has had a key role in allowing the awakening councils to start out, to be funded, to operate. And they’ve been watching their backs, if you like, in the last months. Now the extra 30,000, 40,000 forces which have gone in since the beginning of 2007 have obviously contributed towards the success so far of their strategy. Were they key to the strategy? Would the strategy have worked even if 30,000 extra troops had gone in? Well those questions are for historians. But certainly the presence in large numbers of U.S. troops within Iraq and this new strategy has been successful. Whether it would have happened or not with extra 30,000 or 40,000 troops is another question.
Recorded on: Jan 14 2008