Foreign fighters have become disillusioned with jihad in Iraq and have begun to exit the theater, US military officials reported yesterday. These fighters comprise al-Qaeda in Iraq’s best resource for suicide bombers, and their loss gives them much less operational capability. AQI leadership has not yet given up the fight, but prospects for replacements look grim:

A growing number of foreign fighters are leaving or attempting to flee Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi forces have weakened al-Qaeda and forced its members from former strongholds, U.S. military officials say.

The trend reflects a broad disenchantment among foreign fighters, particularly since al-Qaeda has lost sanctuaries in parts of Baghdad and Anbar, a Sunni province west of the capital, U.S. military intelligence officials say. …

The departure of some fighters doesn’t mean al-Qaeda is quitting the fight, said Brig. Gen. Brian Keller, the chief intelligence officer for the U.S. command in Iraq. “We’re just starting to see more and more fissures in the morale and leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he said.

This explains why Osama bin Laden chose to include a plea for volunteer jihadis to go to Iraq.  He called it the “perfect base to set up the jihad to liberate Palestine.” This doesn’t make much sense since one would expect Syria and Gaza to be much better bases, but apparently turning Iraq into an Islamist state doesn’t hold much attraction for young jihadis any more.  They have seen the Iraqis reject it overwhelmingly, and Osama has to sell it in terms of the Palestinian conflict instead.

That calls into question the entire raison d’etre of AQ.  Osama wants to impose a Caliphate on the Arab nations governed by strict shari’a law.  One look at a map would show that Iraq would have to be at the center of such a caliphate.  If Iraqi Sunnis have overwhelmingly rejected the depredations and brutality of AQI’s application of shari’a (and the Shi’ites have done the same with Moqtada al-Sadr, as Sadr now admits), then AQ has no overarching mission.  Osama has begun jihad for the sake of mass murder alone, and now he’s just grasping at straws to justify it.

Potential recruits have figured this out.  The resources for suicide bombers have begun to dry up, and that’s one resource AQ and AQI cannot afford to lose.   They also cannot afford to lose credibility for their supposed Holy Mission to restore the ummah — because if Allah has not anointed Osama for that purpose, then Osama just turns out to be another bloodthirsty madman.