April, 9th, 2013 - Cole Bunzel on Jihadica has already made a number of crucial points about the declaration by AQI Amir al-Baghdadi that Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria is in fact part of AQI's Islamic State of Iraq, which as Al-Baghdadi claims, should from now on be referred to as „Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria“.
In any case, I just want to add a little to his analysis with which I almost entirely agree.
First of all, I believe it is important to bear in mind that this is NOT a merger. I think al-Baghdadi is speaking the truth when he claims that AQI sent people to Syria to start a platform there. Jabhat al-Nusra therefor IS AQI right from the start. As such, it has profited from transfer of cadres as well as know-how (esp bomb making, I would imagine.) Jabhat al-Nusra also implemented some of the „leassons learnt“ from AQI - like trying not to alienate local population too much. (They aren't consistantly good at that, though – I have interviewed refugess from Aleppo and Homs who told me how Jabha-cadres hunted down and executed Christians. This is reminiscent of what AQI did with Shiites in Iraq.)
Secondly, though, the union means that we are now pretty much dealing for the first time with the equivalent of something like AQAP in the Near East. Iraq and Syria together are the defining places in this region. AQ has now transcended the last reserve of national borders.
Thirdly, the union being what it is (namely a brain child of AQI and AQI's original ideology, as is apparent from al-Baghdadis speech), we should expect a rise in the threat level in the region, esp in Jordan and Lebanon, but also Turkey and Israel. Al-Sarqawi, the founder of AQI, always made it quite clear that Jihad in Iraq for him was a means of getting closer to Jerusalem. This is Jihadist dialectics. AQ has now come much closer to Israel, thanks to their network in Syria. They will try to close in, so to say. And given the more or less destabilized areas available to them (Lebanon border, partly also the Iraqi and Turkish and Jordanien border) they have room to manouver. More chaos = more opportunites for AQ.
So, in a nut shell: I believe it is IMPORTANT, even though it might have been little surprising, to know that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra form a unified body. This is not about AQ supporting Jihadists in Syria, this is AQ expliting another local conflict. In the end, the aim is larger: dominance on the ground where it can be won; attacks on Israel; international attacks.