Signs of a New Sunni Offensive

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Armed militants drive through Ramadi, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006. Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is located in Anbar province, where many Sunni-Arab insurgent groups are based.

This week's bomb attack on Vice President Cheney in Afghanistan and the murder of four Frenchmen in Saudi Arabia are harbingers of a new "Sunni offensive" — likely to unfold in Afghanistan, Iraq and maybe Lebanon. And, while there's no hard evidence for it, we shouldn't be surprised if Qaeda-affiliated groups try to take the offensive to Europe and the United States.

The term "Sunni offensive" is of course misleading. There is no Sunni army, Sunni general or Sunni battle plan, though Bin Laden may wish there were. But neither he nor any other Sunni Muslim has day-to-day control over the faithful. In fact, Bin Laden's recent call to sabotage world oil facilities to punish the United States has gone so far unheeded.

But that does not mean a "Sunni offensive" is any less of a threat. Militant Sunni strength lies in believers' uncompromising conviction that they are divinely bound to fight in the Jihad and either succeed or die in ending the "foreign occupation" of Muslim lands. They believe the Koran is unequivocal about this; they accept no other legal authority. With that kind of conviction, militant Sunnis don't need a general, an army or a battle plan.

Another strength militant Sunnis have is paranoia. They do not believe we invaded Iraq to strip Saddam of WMD, but rather to destroy a Sunni regime. Why else would we put in his place a Shi'a government that has to hide behind American troops in the Green Zone? Or build a permanent base? Never mind that militant Sunnis miss every nuance of American policy there is to miss. That's what they believe, and it's what's driving them to launch an offensive.

It's pretty much the same thing in Afghanistan. The Taliban reduce the world to the belief that NATO invaded not to kill or capture Osama bin Laden but rather to destroy a believing, Sunni Muslim regime. If NATO's real mission were to punish bin Laden for 9/11, why is he not dead or behind bars? Or as one CIA officer put it to me, "It does defy anyone's comprehension how we lost the world's tallest Arab in a moonscape."

The murder of four Frenchmen this week underscores the depth of Sunni paranoia we're facing today. I'm told armed Salafi militants have organized themselves in and around the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina to protect those cities from imminent occupation, presumably by the West. They apparently took the French for an advance force.

The militant Sunnis would prefer to call whatever their planning a counter-offensive. In any case, as long as we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting and killing Sunnis, Sunnis will remain convinced their existence is at stake. Many will decide they have no choice but to enlist in the jihad, including martyring themselves in another 9/11.