In the wake of al-Qa`ida in Iraq’s (AQI) strategic failure following the “awakening” movement and the U.S. military’s “surge” strategy, a new generation of al-Qa`ida has emerged in Yemen under the banner of al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP has pursued a dramatically different strategy from AQI, offering a small but interesting case study in the differences among al-Qa`ida’s regional affiliates. It also raises the question over whether AQAP analyzed the lessons from the strategic failure in the Iraq conflict and adjusted its regional strategy accordingly. AQAP in Yemen, for example, is largely indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula and has focused, with uneven success, on mobilizing portions of Yemen’s tribal society through the adoption of grievances and even the provision of social services in the post-2006 period. This is a stark contrast to AQI’s strategy under Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi.
This article contrasts AQI’s failed strategy in Iraq with AQAP’s different approach in Yemen. It also suggests that al-Qa`ida’s senior leadership may have learned from its failures in Iraq when developing its strategy for the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Qa`ida in Iraq
AQI’s strategy in Iraq was originally expressed in a letter from Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi to Usama bin Ladin. It revolved around provoking the Shi`a of Iraq through spectacular acts of violence intended to goad the nascent and Shi`a-dominated Iraqi government into repression and slaughter against Iraqi Sunnis, who would be awakened and mobilized to wage jihad. This mobilization would draw in widespread Sunni support from other Muslim countries before the Shi`a could solidify their power in Iraq. As emphasized by al-Zarqawi, “Our fighting against the Shi`a is the way to drag the [Islamic] nation into the battle.” The larger goal was to drive out the “crusaders” and to establish a “stem-land” for the Sunni caliphate that would serve as a base to overthrow Arab governments and to eventually liberate Palestine.
Al-Zarqawi made it clear that he did not hold the Sunnis and the ulama (clerics) of Iraq in high esteem. He dismissed the Iraqi mujahidin as inexperienced and expressed contempt for those unwilling to be “martyrs.” These sentiments were reflected in a strategy that did not seek to engage the Sunnis in any substantive political mobilization beyond demonstrative attacks against coalition forces and the Iraqi state and provoking repression. Although AQI was allied with the Sunni tribes, it did not seek to make their interests an organic part of the group beyond driving out the invaders and killing the Shi`a. Maintaining the good will and support of the tribes was not a chief concern.
Al-Zarqawi’s lack of trust and respect for Iraqi Sunnis was reflected in the non-Iraqi Arab dominance within AQI. For the first couple of years of the war, AQI was primarily a foreign organization with only 10% of its ranks filled by Iraqis. By 2007, this had changed, with Iraqis composing 90% of the group. AQI’s heavily foreign character was not limited to its leadership. In Mohammed Hafez’s 2007 study of suicide bombing in Iraq, only seven out of 102 bombers were Iraqi. The rest were from Arab countries and Muslim communities in Europe. While AQI’s cadres always represented a small proportion of Iraq’s insurgents, their impact on the conflict was unmatched, largely because of their prolific suicide attacks—being responsible for far more than any other group—and higher levels of experience.
AQI’s strategy as it pertained to the population was at the heart of the group’s defeat. AQI’s heavy-handed attempts to marry into prominent Anbari tribal families to solidify its Iraqi base contravened local norms against women marrying men from outside the tribal confederation. This led to a cycle of violence, which began when AQI killed a tribal leader who resisted marrying his daughter to an AQI member. This “created a revenge obligation (tha’r)” on his fellow tribesmen and they struck back. David Kilcullen recounted:
“The terrorists retaliated with immense brutality, killing the children of a prominent sheikh in a particularly gruesome manner, witnesses told us [U.S. forces]. This was the last straw, they said, and the tribes rose up. Neighboring clans joined the fight, which escalated as AQI…tried to crush the revolt through more atrocities. Soon the uprising took off, spreading along kinship lines through Anbar and into neighboring provinces.”
AQI had also begun to take over, disrupt, or shut down smuggling and construction businesses that the Anbar tribes—particularly the Dulaimi tribe—had dominated since 1991. While this was an effective way for AQI to expand its financing, this tactical benefit came at a larger strategic cost by aggravating and alienating local tribal allies. Furthermore, the puritanical Salafist social and legal system that AQI sought to implement alienated local Sunnis. The “awakening” movement that followed in Anbar Province heralded a change—violent frustration with the group’s perceived barbarity and contempt for Iraqi Sunni norms and social structures. To Mao, the guerrilla is the fish that swims in the sea of the population, depending on the sustenance it provides. The sea in Anbar had dried up. While AQI fights on to this day, the group is a shadow of what it once was.
It is clear that AQAP’s structure and strategy in Yemen is the result of the lessons learned from al-Qa`ida’s operations and defeats in Saudi Arabia. Yet the effects of lessons learned from the Iraqi theater have not been seriously considered. Yemeni jihadists composed the fourth largest contingent of foreign fighters in Iraq recorded in the Sinjar Records, making up 8.1% of the sample. Furthermore, there were a plethora of strategic critiques and commentary pieces on AQI strategy during the al-Zarqawi period from across the jihadist movement that reveal the internal debates of a learning process. While al-Qa`ida is a diffuse movement, its core leadership still exerts some control over strategy and specific attacks. AQAP has a close relationship with al-Qa`ida’s core leadership as its leader, Nasir al-Wahayshi, was at one time Usama bin Ladin’s secretary.
Two letters from al-Qa`ida’s leadership in the tribal regions of Pakistan to al-Zarqawi reveal the strategic debate and learning at the highest levels of the movement as AQI’s campaign dragged on. The letters, from Ayman al-Zawahiri and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, represent al-Qa`ida central’s objections to al-Zarqawi’s strategy. Both critiques fall across the same themes, calling on him to focus more on popular support, avoid killing so many Shi`a, and to be more inclusive and less ideologically rigid.
If driving the United States from Iraq to establish the emirate is the goal, al-Zawahiri explained, then “the strongest weapon which the mujahidin enjoy…is popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq and the surrounding Muslim countries.” Al-Zawahiri called this the “popular war of jihad.” Without this popular support, al-Zawahiri explained,
“the Islamic mujahidin would be crushed in the shadows, far from the masses who are distracted or fearful, and the struggle between the jihadist elite and the arrogant authorities would be confined to prison dungeons far from the public and the light of day.”
Atiyah seemed to draw on Clausewitzian and Maoist principles: “Policy must be dominant over militarism.” Atiyah found al-Zarqawi deficient in “embracing the people and bringing them together and winning them over and placating them.” This, he insisted, “is the foundation while military operations must be a servant that is complementary to it.”
Al-Zawahiri and Atiyah both called for al-Zarqawi to be more willing to work with those who may hold religiously unorthodox positions, including “many of the religious scholars and tribal leaders and so forth.” Al-Zawahiri chided al-Zarqawi for focusing so many attacks against the Shi`a, arguing that most Muslims do not understand the reasoning behind such attacks. He similarly took al-Zarqawi to task for the “scenes of slaughter.” Al-Zawahiri wrote in the letter that “the general opinion of our support does not comprehend that.” Al-Zawahiri then moved to the issue of the role of media in modern warfare in an oft-cited passage: “We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our umma.” Toward the end of the letter, al-Zawahiri boldly asked if “the assumption of leadership for the mujahidin or a group of the mujahidin by non-Iraqis” might be a sensitive issue for some. These critiques of al-Zarqawi’s strategy were widely discussed within the movement and represent a key example of al-Qa`ida’s learning processes and internal deliberations. Judging by how al-Qa`ida’s affiliates have since shied away from al-Zarqawi’s model, these deliberations seem to have had an effect. This seems particularly true in Yemen.
Al-Qa`ida has been active in Yemen since the early 1990s, but its re-branding in 2009 under the name of al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula marked the emergence of a new generation of al-Qa`ida leadership on the Arabian Peninsula. The re-branding of al-Qa`ida in Yemen also heralded a new strategy that differed markedly from AQI’s. A few months prior to al-Zarqawi’s death in Iraq, Nasir al-Wahayshi and 22 other Yemeni jihadists made their “great escape” from a prison in Sana`a in February 2006. The strategy that has been revealed after this generational split differs dramatically from that of AQI’s. Today, AQAP seeks to co-opt existing social and political structures and genuinely adopt the grievances and interests of Yemenis, particularly those in the tribal regions of the country. Rather than large and spectacular attacks that kill scores of people, the group prefers “a policy of constant offense consisting of small, continual attacks.” Its targets do not include Yemeni civilians, but rather foreigners, oil infrastructure, and the security forces. Yet these attacks are, at this stage, secondary to the relationship that AQAP has built with portions of some of Yemen’s tribes in the governorates of Marib, Shabwa, and Abyan, and other constituencies in Yemen.
Although al-Qa`ida operatives in Yemen have not historically had a strong relationship with the tribes, AQAP today spends a great deal of time and energy managing its tribal relationships. While these relationships may not always be successful, it is significant to note that gaining and maintaining the good will of the tribes is a primary concern. The tribes are AQAP’s “chief constituents,” according to one analyst. Its propaganda magazine, Sada al-Malahim, is used “as a vehicle for dialogue with the tribes.” Its articles “highlight the martial virtues of their sons and the contributions they have made to the jihadi effort. Others warn of plots the regime is hatching to occupy their regions to strip them of their cherished autonomy.”
Abd al-Ilah Haydar, a journalist, spoke of his experience contacting AQAP in the tribal regions of the country:
“If you now go to Abyan for example you can meet Al-Qaeda elements because they are present in that area, especially Marib, Shabwah, and Al-Jawf. They are obvious to the people and the people know they are Al-Qaeda Organization elements.”
The easy relationship that AQAP cadres seem to have with the people of these areas is the result of the group’s more Maoist view of the population in the conflict. The poor governance provided by the corrupt and repressive Ali Abdullah Salih regime makes AQAP’s efforts to maintain this harmony easier. As a result, AQAP is taking the regime to task by organically adopting a multitude of local grievances related to governance in its propaganda.
The Yemeni tribes that do provide some sort of support for AQAP—whether recruits, resources, or protection—have different motivations, including displeasure with the Salih regime. Their reasons are “predicated on political rather than ideological considerations.” To the tribes, al-Qa`ida “is just the latest in a long line of groups antagonistic to the government in Sanaa that have received tribal backing.”
Just as some tribes seek to exploit their relationship with AQAP, the terrorist group hopes to provoke government attacks in the tribal areas. One scholar explained that the group’s relationship with some tribes “means that any fight that is designed to be a two-sided affair between the government and al-Qa’ida will not remain that way.” A writer in Sada al-Malahim, in the wake of joint Yemeni-American operations against AQAP in Yemen, demonstrated AQAP’s efforts to appeal to the tribes:
Our disabled nation does not wake up except when it is shocked. Thus, this shock, which has led to the death of tens of Muslim children, women, and elders from the faithful tribes, will be enough to create Abyanistan, Arhabistan, Shabwistan [referring to Shabwa in Yemen], Maribstan [referring to Marib], and eventually Yemenistan.
He warned the United States that the fight is with the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula rather than just al-Qa`ida.
While AQAP has non-Yemeni and non-Saudi cadres, they are not in leadership positions or even in positions of prominence. According to one analyst, Yemenis make up 56% of AQAP and Saudis comprise 37% of the group. Only 7% of the group’s members are not from either country. The same study found that AQAP’s “area of influence” starts “from Abyan in the west and extends to al-Jawf in the south, passing through large areas of Shabwa governorate as far as Hadramut. From the north, it is connected to the capital city of San’a by Arhab directorate, overlooking the Maqfar triangle that connects it to another three provinces: San’a, Ghamran and Sa’da. The result is the formation of an area known for its tribal affiliations rather than its affiliation to the state and an area where there are few state institutions and where tribal laws dominate.”
Most AQAP recruits are from the tribal areas where the group operates, and local tribesmen are in positions of leadership within the organization. Some tribes have allied themselves with AQAP through marriage ties.
AQAP is becoming more aggressive as time goes on, but is taking care to advance its military campaign only as it perceives that it mobilizes support in Yemen. The Christmas Day plot on an airliner bound for Detroit at the end of 2009 announced that the organization was advancing to a new phase: high-profile attacks abroad. AQAP has been explicit about this shift, stating in Sada al-Malahim in February 2010, “We bring to our nation the good news that the mujahidin passed the stage of defense and repulsion of the aggression to the stage where they can take initiatives and attack.” Beyond Yemen, AQAP seeks to “chase the polytheists out of the Arabian Peninsula” and form an army that will establish emirates throughout the Muslim world until the caliphate is reborn. The most recent terrorist plot involving bombs shipped out of Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago is further evidence of this changing strategy and target-set.
When the strategies of AQI and AQAP are juxtaposed, it is almost surprising that both are affiliates of the same transnational insurgent organization. Gregory Johnsen suggested that al-Qa`ida in Yemen “is the most representative organization in the country. [It] transcends class, tribe, and regional identity in a way that no other Yemeni group or political party can match.” This could not be said about AQI or, arguably, any other al-Qa`ida affiliate in the history of the movement. As noted, AQI was an organization led primarily by non-Iraqi Arabs disinterested in political mobilization along Maoist lines, preferring spectacular and vicious acts of violence against coalition forces and Iraqis—particularly the Shi’a.
In contrast, AQAP seeks to co-opt existing social and political structures and genuinely adopt the grievances and interests of Yemenis, particularly (but not only) those in the tribal regions of the country. Its attacks are smaller and less spectacular than those of AQI, and the group does not target Yemeni civilians. To be clear, there are prominent influences behind AQAP’s strategy other than lessons learned from the Iraqi theater, but the extent to which al-Qa`ida and the Islamist movement as a whole analyzes its failures and seeks to correct them cannot be ignored as a possible factor in AQAP’s development.
It remains to be seen whether or not this shift in regional strategy heralds a larger turn for al-Qa`ida globally toward a more Maoist attitude. Furthermore, the differences between Iraq and Yemen as well as the different purposes each theater serves for al-Qa`ida limit the findings of this analysis. Only broader and more sophisticated studies of strategic deliberations within al-Qa`ida and their results, as well as the passage of time, will reveal the answer.
Ryan Evans is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He also works for the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System. The above piece represents the views and opinions of Mr. Evans and do not necessarily reflect the official policies and positions of the Human Terrain System, U.S. Army, International Security Assistance Force, or the U.S. Government.
 For this article, “affiliate” denotes any Salafi-jihadist terrorist group that has explicitly allied itself with al-Qa`ida (such as al-Qa`ida in Iraq or al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula), while not necessarily adopting the name “al-Qa`ida” (such as al-Shabab and Jemaah Islamiya).
 This argument stands apart from other analysts who view AQAP’s strategy more as a result of lessons learned from defeats in Saudi Arabia. See, for example, Alistair Harris’ excellent “Exploiting Grievances: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Christopher Boucek ed., Yemen on the Brink (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010).
 According to one study, Yemenis make up a majority of the organization and Saudis more than a third. See Murad Batal al-Shishani, “An Assessment of the Anatomy of al-Qaeda in Yemen: Ideological and Social Factors,” Terrorism Monitor 8:9 (2010). There is a great deal of cultural overlap between Saudi Arabia and Yemen in a number of ways, and as such the Saudis cannot be considered “foreign” in Yemen as citizens of other Arab, and even other Gulf Arab, countries might be.
 Other variables may better explain AQAP’s strategy on the peninsula, including the organic social dynamics of Yemeni society, but these are not considered in this article.
 This article focuses on AQI’s strategic thought during the al-Zarqawi period—particularly as it is related to the Sunni population of Iraq—and the reasons for its failure to achieve its strategic objectives. AQI was only one, albeit the most infamous and prominent, of a myriad of groups that engaged in armed struggle against the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government. Most insurgent groups in Iraq were not Islamist in their orientation. Indeed, the insurgency was “kicked off” by disaffected former members of the military and political elite of Ba`athist Iraq. The Ba`athists planned to use “fidayin” as a means of providing strategic depth in the event of an invasion. For details on al-Zarqawi’s letter to Bin Ladin, see “February 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority English translation of terrorist Musab al Zarqawi letter obtained by United States Government in Iraq,” U.S. Department of State, undated. The letter was intercepted in January 2004, before al-Zarqawi’s group officially joined al-Qa`ida. This letter will hereafter be cited as “Zarqawi-Bin Ladin Letter.”
 AQI’s efforts were largely limited to propaganda, and they did not extend to creating meaningful partnerships with tribal shaykhs based on shared interests.
 Mohammed M. Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2007).
 To this day, leadership positions have remained predominantly non-Iraqi. See Bruce Hoffman, “The ‘Cult of the Insurgent’: Its Tactical and Strategic Implications,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 61:3 (2007); Andrew Phillips, “How Al Qaeda Lost Iraq,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 63:1 (2009); David Kilcullen, “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt,” Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007; Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Appoints New ‘War Minister’ for Iraq,” The Long War Journal, May 14, 2010; Bill Roggio, “Iraqi Forces Arrest Leader of Ansar al Islam,” The Long War Journal, May 4, 2010.
 Hafez noted that suicide attacks were “a major precipitating factor in the Shia-Sunni sectarian spiral of violence.” According to Hafez’s study, AQI was responsible for far more suicide attacks than any other insurgent group. The highest proportion, from 2003 to 2006, targeted Iraqi Security Forces (44%). Nearly a quarter of them targeted civilians and 15% targeted coalition forces. The remaining attacks were against the government and political parties, international entities, and tourists. See Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom.
 Kilcullen; Phillips.
 Phillips; Mohammed M. Hafez, “Al-Qa`ida Losing Ground in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel 1:1 (2007).
 Linda Robinson, Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008).
 See, for example, Harris.
 Some 46% of these Yemenis were designated as suicide bombers and the rest as fighters. A CSIS study placed the percentage of Yemenis higher at 17%. For details, see Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, Al-Qaida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2008); Anthony Cordesman and Nawaf Obaid, “Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom’s Response,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 19, 2005.
 Bruce Hoffman and Fernando Reinares eds., Leader-led Jihad (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming).
 For more evidence of ongoing close ties between al-Qa`ida central and AQAP, see Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, “Exclusive: A U.S. Intelligence Breakthrough in the Persian Gulf?” Newsweek, February 14, 2010. Aside from the formal communication between al-Qa`ida central and AQAP as reported in Newsweek, there is more evidence of ties between the hub and the affiliate that speak to al-Qa`ida central’s ability to influence AQAP’s behavior. Also, al-Zawahiri has heaped praise on AQAP in propaganda releases in the last couple of years and described al-Wahayshi as the amir of the group. See “Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula,” Australian Government, available at www.ag.gov.au.
 Al-Rahman is a senior al-Qa`ida operative and member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who joined with Bin Ladin in the 1980s.
 “Letter Exposes New Leader in Al-Qa`ida High Command,” translated by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, September 25, 2006; “Letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” published by the Federation of American Scientists, undated.
 Gregory D. Johnsen, “Al Qaeda’s Generational Split,” Boston Globe, November 9, 2007.
 Barak Barfi, “Yemen on the Brink? The Resurgence of al Qaeda in Yemen,” New America Foundation, January 25, 2010.
 Al-Qa`ida in Yemen fundamentally changed in organization and strategy after the 2006 “great escape.”
 Gregory D. Johnsen, “Al-Qa`ida in Yemen’s 2008 Campaign,” CTC Sentinel 1:5 (2008).
 Christopher Boucek, “The Evolving Terrorist Threat in Yemen,” CTC Sentinel 3:9 (2010).
 Including those in non-tribal areas of Yemen such as Hadramawt and Hudayda. See Barfi. Yemeni tribes are not monolithic. The tribes have fragmented power structures and competing centers of power. As a result, outside groups are often appealed to or exploited—not just for advantage against the state or other tribes, but for advantage against competitors within the same tribe. It is also important to remember that not all tribes, or even a portion of all tribes, in Yemen are supportive of al-Qa`ida.
 Whether this effort is successful is beyond the remit of this article. For more details, see Gregory D. Johnsen, “The Expansion Strategy of Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula,” CTC Sentinel 2:9 (2009).
 Abdulsattar Hatitah, “Yemen: A Talk with Al-Qaeda Expert Abdul-Ilah Haydar,” Asharq al-Awsat, March 9, 2010.
 Bard O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism (Dulles, VA: Brassey’s, 1990). During his war against the Kuomintang and the Japanese military occupation, Mao’s men were ordered to live in harmony with the populace, be respectful, and pay for goods and services. Only through this harmony could Mao be successful, for the people were the cornerstone of Mao’s program.
 Johnsen, “The Expansion Strategy of Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula.”
 It may be that AQAP’s indigenous leadership is merely the result of how the organization evolved out of Yemeni society, rather than a conscious decision by al-Qa`ida as a correction of mistakes made in Iraq. This demands further study.
 This analysis is based on a sample of 75 individuals “associated” with AQAP, but it is unclear if the analyst used convenience sampling or chose a more rigorous sampling method. For details, see Al-Shishani.
 Ibid. Also see Laura Kasinof, “Local War in Southern Yemen Pits Government Against Militants,” Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2010; “Security Beefed Up in Oil Sector Fearing Qaeda Retaliation,” al-Arabiya, March 17, 2010; “Abyan Gov Says He Can’t Fight AQAP,” APS Diplomat News Service, January 18, 2010.
 There are limited strategic parallels here with the stages of Mao’s popular protracted warfare model. The first stage is known as the strategic defensive, during which the overall concerns are survival and mobilization. It is characterized by organization, infiltration, recruitment, indoctrination and preparation. Military attacks are engaged in rarely and selectively—limited to harassing action in the enemy’s rear areas and isolated posts. AQAP’s strategy up until the Christmas Day plot seemed to follow the same logic. Mao’s second stage, known as the strategic stalemate, requires an expansion of military operations against isolated outposts, government assets, and columns. In the second stage, insurgents begin to hold territory to establish and consolidate base areas. The third phase—the strategic offensive—involves the conversion into conventional mobile and positional warfare. The countryside is consolidated, the cities surrounded, and the government is challenged openly in battle and toppled. See Mao Tse-Tung and Samuel B. Griffith, On Guerrilla Warfare (Chicago: Urbana and Chicago University Press, 2000); Robert Taber, War of the Flea (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2002).
 Gregory Johnsen, “Waning Vigilance: Al-Qaeda’s Resurgence in Yemen,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 14, 2009.
 The differences between the two countries that would need to be considered in a broader study include demographics, political culture, sectarian affiliations of the governing regimes, the relationship between the state and tribes, and geography.