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Tuesday, October 4, 2011     GET REAL

Cash-starved Al Qaida goes rogue in Iraq with 'gang mafia-type activities'

BAGHDAD — Officials said the U.S. military has assessed that Al Qaida in Iraq was moving away from insurgency operations and toward crime.


The officials said AQI was conducting abductions, robbery, extortion and assassinations as part of a desperate attempt to raise money.

"We are seeing, instead of foreign aid coming in in large amounts, they're resorting to what I would call extortion, black marketing, robbery of jewelry stores, things like that," U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. David Perkins said.

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[On Oct. 3, at least 15 people were killed in an Iraq Army operation to free hostages taken by Al Qaida-aligned cells in the Anbar province, Middle East Newsline reported. At one point, the insurgents, said to include up to seven suicide bombers, captured a police station and a government complex.]

In a briefing on Sept. 29, Perkins said AQI was turning into a mafia. The general, based in the northern city of Tikrit, said the network was splintering into rival criminal gangs that competed for revenue.

"It's devolving more into almost gang mafia-type activities," Perkins said. "And so they are starting to, in some instances, turn against each other, which from our point of view is a good sign."

Officials said AQI has been harmed by a severe reduction in funding from outside Iraq as well as the loss of much of its command structure. They said many AQI fighters have relocated to Syria in an attempt to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Perkins said the flight of money and fighters have hurt AQI operations. But he acknowledged that AQI was still capable of mass-casualty strikes, particularly through car bombings.

"We see now more vehicle-borne explosive devices that are parked and detonated versus being driven and detonated, which means they're having a hard time getting people who are true believers to actually be the suicide folks." Perkins said.

The 4th Infantry Division has overseen operations by 5,000 U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq. Officials said almost all of the troops would be withdrawn in October 2011.

Perkins also reported an improvement in Iraqi security operations. The general said Iraqi soldiers, bolstered by intelligence data, were capturing Al Qaida fighters sent from Syria.

"We've seen a dramatic drop off in the foreign fighter flow," Perkins said.

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