Our adventure in Iraq has started an explosive trend.
The war was supposed to rid the world of Al-Qaida and its alleged state sponsor, Saddam Hussein. But Al-Qaida has not only regrouped, to be stronger than before, according to findings in this summer’s National Intelligence Estimate. The terrorist movement is growing.
Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni group from Iraq, is slaughtering sheiks and military officers that support reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias.
This summer, Fatah al-Islam, a new terrorist militia supported by Syria, mobilized in a Palestinian refugee camp and waged war on the Lebanese army, in the name of Al-Qaida’s fanatical Wahhabism. Lebanon's National police commander, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, described the group as “imitation al-Qaida. A ‘Made-in-Syria’ one.”
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a group that grew up in Algeria in the 1990s and for many years called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, has changed its name and piloted a new wave of bombings against North Africans over the past year. GSPC’s founder, Hassan Hattab, recently turned himself in to the Algerian police. But he said that the renamed group wanted to make Algeria “a second Iraq.”
On top of that, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, terrorist bombs have erupted across the Middle East, in Indonesia, Spain, Scotland and England. Police have foiled plots in the U.K., Germany and the United States.
Al-Qaida has an American P.R. guy named Adam Gadahn. He grew up listening to death metal, and then he got rid of his collection and converted to Islam. Recently, Osama bin Laden encouraged other Americans to convert to Islam on a propaganda video, presumably so we join the fight. Meanwhile, Al-Qaida media centers in Iraq keep turning up. USA Today recently reported that the U.S. military raided six Al-Qaida media houses in Iraq. The houses were flush with equipment: one house in Samarra was stocked with 12 computers, 65 hard drives and a filming studio. These spots are used to film and distribute videos of suicide bombings, attacks on Americans, interviews of militants for news outlets and recruiting videos for would-be terrorists.
According to a National Intelligence Council report from 2005, Iraq has become even more popular a destination for terrorist recruits than Afghanistan, where the C.I.A. and Pakistan’s intelligence service once funded, armed and trained a volunteer force of Arab mujihadeen to take on the Soviet invasion, only to see these holy warriors form the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
In part, Iraq is so alluring a destination for terrorists because over two million Iraqis have escaped their country. Many of them are middle-class professionals—-doctors, scientists, engineers, and archaeologists, precisely the type of people a country needs to remain stable and democratic.
That means the country, along with 170,000 families who have been internally displaced, is being torn apart by warring Shia militias and Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, which has assassinated numerous advocates of reconciliation there.
The recent “surge” strategy has staved off attacks, somewhat. The military has fostered an alliance with local Sunni sheiks against the group. But ours is a quixotic fight: to ensure that deserted houses, apartment buildings, neighborhoods and entire towns will not remain safe houses, weapons caches and torture chambers for years to come, we will need a prolonged American presence with hundreds of thousands of troops. Few Americans are so devoted to securing a safe future for Iraq. Others seem to want to institutionalize the ethnic divide.
Hence, Iraq has become a training ground for militants. It is dangerous, but you can travel to Iraq for an education in various techniques: clandestinely raising funds, shooting an AK-47, building a remote-controlled bomb with bags of fertilizer and a cellular telephone. This is on-the-job training, because there is always a time to put your newfound skills into practice.
In the NIC report, intelligence experts expected that foreign terrorists will eventually filter out of the country and return to their own, presumably to take up jihad. “There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries,” David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, told the Washington Post on Jan. 14, 2005.
The report, a year’s effort complied from research by over 1,000 foreign and American experts, does not anticipate a slump in the popularity of terrorism. It estimates that by 2020, Al-Qaida will have splintered into a variety of offshoots and local terrorist cells. With the aid of the Internet, they will be infinitely more mobile. “Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will become virtual (i.e. online),” the report says.
In a way, the United States has become its own worst enemy. Thanks to the war in Iraq, terrorism is getting more popular every day.