September 29th, 2011
06:17 PM ET

A top U.S. Army officer in Iraq compares al Qaeda to a Mafia criminal gang

By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Charley Keyes

A senior American military officer in Iraq describes al Qaeda there as having deteriorated into a criminal gang, desperate for money and men.

"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," Maj. Gen. David Perkins said Thursday. "And it's devolving more into almost gang Mafia-type activities, especially in Mosul and some of these other areas with people slicing off areas of responsibility that they can use for extortion or something like that to get money."

Perkins, who commands 5,000 American troops in north Iraq and is responsible for the training of Iraqi forces there, said far fewer outside fighters were entering Iraq.

"So it is a network that is highly degraded," Perkins said in a video link up between Tikrit and the Pentagon. "It is not ineffective, but it is highly degraded. And where we see that manifest itself is the dramatic decrease in numbers of attacks, especially your typical al Qaeda signature attacks, spectacular attacks, ones with a large amount of suicide folks involved."

The general said U.S. forces were on "a sprint to the finish line" with American troop levels now in the "mid-40-thousand" and moving toward a full withdrawal by the end of the year. He and many of his fellow soldiers are on their fourth deployment to Iraq.

Perkins said discussions are ongoing with the Iraqi government about leaving some U.S. troops behind, expected to be primarily trainers.

And he said that the U.S. still needs to assist Iraqi forces with intelligence gathering and logistics.

"We paid additional attention to developing a logistics system, a supply system and also ability for them to share intelligence not only within their army but between their police and border organizations," Perkins said.

A fresh reminder of the continuing dangers - Perkins said one of his men had been killed earlier in the day Thursday from indirect fire.

"The problems are not solved here in Iraq," Perkins said. "They're not to be glossed over. But there have been significant improvements. And in each day we hand more and more of the responsibility off to the Iraqis, which in the vast majority of cases they are grabbing hold of and running with it."

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Iraq • Military
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Benno Hansen

    Interesting! In the book "Crude World" by Peter Maass a former Iraqi insurgency fighter, a young Saudi man, tells how he went to fight inspired by Islamist fundamentalism but went back home depressed the insurgents had turned out to spend most of their time stealing cars and selling them.

    October 1, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  2. MAKO 10

    Iraq is a better place then it was when Saddam reigned over the land. Ok maybe he didn't have WMD's or maybe he didn't have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks, but he was a terrorist. He was not only a terrorist to his people, but knowingly harbored and aided terrorist that hate America, hate freedoms we love. Saddam was our generation's Hitler in terms of brutality against essential his own citizens. Too bad we need the Green Berets in Afghanistan, they have and will always be the best trainers of foreign forces.

    October 1, 2011 at 1:32 am | Reply

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