Earlier this week ("Al-Qaida's Rule of Threes") I cited the important work of John Crimmings and his Web log, Blogenlust, in pointing out al-Qaida's suspiciously large number of members holding the organization's No. 3 position. I said there were four.
A few readers subsequently pointed out that I'd forgotten No. 1 Son-In-Law Mohammed Atef, reportedly killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan way back in Nov. 2001. Atef was reputedly Osama's heir apparent (the No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, being too old and cranky for that designation). CNN reported at the time of his apparent death that Atef was al-Qaida's "military chief." So, make that five No. 3s in al-Qaida over the past four years. Which—assuming there's only one No. 3 at a time—would be a turnover more rapid even than that for Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. Maybe our strategy is to beggar al-Qaida by forcing it to make too many severance payments.
In the meantime, Michael Tortorello of the Minneapolis alternative weekly City Pages has been keeping tabs on the number of "lieutenants" or "key aides" or "key associates" there are to Iraq's most notorious bad-guy insurgent, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If you guessed 10, guess again. According to Tortorello, the latest count is 17. Sounds like al-Zarqawi's army is, as they say in business school, "all chiefs and no Indians." Someone ought to send that guy a copy of In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies.