August 26, 2003
and Iraq: The Link Is Real Now
by Alan Bock
you have to hand it to some of the more creative war supporters.
A few people in the blogosphere and the oped world are trying to
spin the ongoing troubles with guerrilla attacks and truck bombs
at the UN headquarters into an advantage for the United States.
The fact that radical Islamist and Arab nationalist terrorists (or
freedom fighters, depending on your perspective I guess) are streaming
(perhaps not actually streaming) into Iraq to look for mostly but
not solely American targets is supposed to be a big break in the
Holy War on Terror.
theory is the "flypaper" thesis. It is presented perhaps
most blatantly by Ralph Peters in the New York Post. The
fact that Iraq has become a "magnet" for terrorists is
not a problem, Peters avers. "On the contrary. We've taken
the War Against Terror to our enemies. It's far better to draw the
terrorists out of their holes in the Middle East, where we don't
have to read them their rights, than to wait for them to show up
in Manhattan again.
Iraq, we can just kill the bastards. And we're doing it with gusto."
Peters this much. He's accomplished a clever inversion of the situation
that might just persuade some people who desperately want to believe
that the Iraqi war they supported is really turning out for the
best, despite the superficial evidence of disaster they might receive
from the daily news reports.
fact, what's happening in Iraq is a validation of at least one aspect
of the criticism the more thoughtful war critics made before the
of the ways the administration tried valiantly to justify the war
was to maintain there was a link – or a potential link that even
if it had not become fully operative yet was in serious danger of
becoming more dangerous – between Saddam Hussein and the international
radical Islamic terrorists bunched together in the public mind as
al Qaida or "linked to" (marvelously evocative but imprecise
word) al Qaida.
they spun the long-acknowledged fact that Saddam, like other Arab
leaders, had offered rewards to families of Palestinian suicide
bombers, and gave refuge in Baghdad to an old, tired Hamas leader,
as evidence of a close operational link between Saddam and world
terrorism. They spun evidence that an al Qaida-linked outfit that
had probably fled Afghanistan was operating in the northern Kurdish
territory – which everybody acknowledged was out of Saddam Hussein's
direct control and operating as a virtually autonomous polity! –
as further evidence of a close link between Saddam and al Qaida.
dear, said the war-whoopers. What if Saddam decided to supply anthrax
or other nasty weapons – perhaps even nukes! – to various terrorists,
to be unleashed on the United States with no Saddamite fingerprints?
The argument that Saddam would have to know that if such an attack
happened on U.S. soil or against U.S. "interests" broadly
understood (remember, this was when the administration was pretending
it was still deliberating but was obviously eager for a pretext
to attack Iraq) it would guarantee an instant American attack was
the most effective spin, from a propaganda perspective, when confronted
with arguments that Saddam ran a secular regime that most militant
Islamists despised, was the fright-phrase: "Do you want the
smoking gun to be a nuclear bomb in Manhattan?" It was a rhetorical
as it has turned out, the evidence for any ongoing link between
Saddam and international terrorism was slender at best, pathetic
as a middle ground, and based on either severe credulousness or
outright falsehood at worst. War critics argued, however, not perhaps
as a central theme but as a minor subtheme, that a U.S. attack on
Iraq could well make the terrorist problem worse. Not only would
it divert U.S. resources from the ongoing search for al Qaida, but
the confusion of war and its aftermath could well give terrorists
a target-rich environment in which to do their dirty work.
prognosticators might not have gotten all the details right, but
that's not a bad description of the situation in Iraq now. CNN terror
analyst Peter Bergen said last week – after the UN headquarters
bombing – that "A half-dozen U.S. officials who investigate
or analyze al Qaeda ... say that Iraq has become an important battleground
... The officials use words such as 'magnet' or 'super-magnet' to
describe the attraction that Iraq has for al Qaeda and other 'jihadists.'"
if there's spelling confusion. I choose to spell it al Qaida when
I'm writing, but Bergen uses al Qaeda, and it seems appropriate
to do the same in a direct quote. Both are transliterations from
Arabic and neither is thoroughly satisfactory, but that's what happens
when you transliterate.)
be sure, it is almost impossible for somebody who is not on the
ground to be certain – and it is prudent to take on-the-ground observers,
especially those who have flown in for the whirlwind three-day tour,
with numerous grains of salt. But the reports from various sources
of various persuasions seem to agree that at least some militant
Islamic fighters, probably mostly but not solely from Saudi Arabia,
but coming in through Syria, have made their way to Iraq to pester
Americans and those they perceive as American allies and/or stooges.
the predictions of the critics are borne out. We suggested that
invading Iraq would make the problem of active terrorism worse,
and might even inspire new terrorists into action. Unless all the
reports are wrong – and I confess that I'm skeptical of analysts
who claim they know for sure that indigenous resistance forces use
only roadside bombs while only al Qaida terrorists use RPGs or truck
bombs – there has been an increase in terrorist activities, and
especially terrorist activities directed against U.S. troops, since
we "won" the war in Iraq.
about the theory of some commentators – although not, interestingly
enough, any official administration or military spokespeople just
yet – that even if this was unplanned it is really a blessing. Have
we attracted all the terrorists and potential terrorists in the
Middle East to Iraq where getting rid of them will be like shooting
fish in a rain barrel?
doubt the situation will lead to some terrorists who might have
stayed underground or been ineffectual in their home countries but
posed a potential threat in the future will be captured or killed
by American forces in Iraq. But the administration and the "coalition"
honchos seem convinced as of now that the influx of foreign fighters
constitutes a grave security concern.
flypaper thesis, however, rests on the unstated assumption that
the number of terrorists is finite and more or less fixed – so every
terrorist killed in Iraq is one more we won't have to worry about
later. But it's more likely that the ongoing struggle, including
perhaps even the very act of killing some foreign terrorists in
Iraq, will produce more terrorists in the near future.
HOPELESS BUT DARK
talked to Graham Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence
Council at the CIA about this and other matters. He agreed that
the Iraqi-terrorist nexus is more troubling and concrete in the
wake of the war than it was before the war. He also says that even
though he was skeptical he had some hope that the U.S. would be
able to restore the Iraqi infrastructure fairly quickly, thus securing
enough Iraqi support for the next phase of establishing at least
a nominally independent Iraqi regime. But the momentum, from the
U.S. perspective, is now all in the wrong direction.
military spokespeople have taken something resembling solace in
the fact that the guerrilla/terrorist/resistance/whatever attacks
of recent weeks – at least up to the UN bombing – don't seem to
reflect a strong central command-and-control structure on the occupation-disruptive
side. Mr. Fuller agreed with me that the fact that there doesn't
seem to be a central command ordering a coordinated series of attacks
could be a much more dangerous situation than if there were an identifiable
me if I analogize to the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, but vandals
using the ELF initials have recently torched some SUVs and an apartment
building in Southern California, so I've been looking into them
a bit. The beauty or horror of ELF is that the "media representatives"
who run the Web site
can disavow direct participation in violent attacks even as they
celebrate them. The contention by the "organizers" is
that ELF is not hierarchical or very organized at all, but consists
of small cells of one or more people who don't know about any other
cells or people, but operate independently. That makes them very
hard to track down or arrest, as has proven to be the case.
there are several factions of guerrillas or terrorists operating
in Iraq, perhaps at cross-purposes sometimes but always with most
of the focus on U.S. or U.S.-related interests or people, it could
present a much more difficult and dangerous problem for the "coalition"
forces. Insofar as the American forces were trained for straightforward
combat rather than counterguerilla, counterterror or policing operations,
the problems could be multiplied.
Fuller believes there are surely multiple groups operating against
U.S. forces in Iraq and warns there could be more. So far we can
be reasonably certain there are remnants of the old Saddamite Baath
party, who may or may not be coordinating with former military people.
There are also almost certainly some of the foreign terrorists people
and organizations, as well as some Sunni clerics.
far, Mr. Fuller believes, the majority Shiites have stayed relatively
quiet and some have even cooperated with U.S. forces. They believe
that if a democracy ever is established, they will rule Iraq by
sheer force of numbers (Shiites are 54 percent of Iraqi population)
when the Yankees leave. But if attacks from Sunni elements continue,
the Shiites will have an incentive not to let the Sunnis be perceived
as the only Iraqi forces pestering the Americans and eventually,
perhaps, being largely responsible for driving the Americans out.
Hussein, whether he is really in control or not now, is fighting
the war he wanted against the Americans," Graham Fuller told
me. "He always knew he would lose a bombing war waged from
10,000 feet, but he probably thought he had a better chance in a
guerrilla war waged on his turf. So far the guerrilla tactics have
been effective." Even if Saddam isn't in charge, the Americans
are taking heavy hits, and the bombing of the UN headquarters will
probably be a deterrent against other countries sending significant
quantities of troops, because they know troops of every nationality
will be considered targets.
Fuller thinks the administration doesn't have enough troops on the
ground now to do the job the administration says it wants to do.
The UN bombing, the continued attacks, and the sabotage against
oil pipelines and the power grid are evidence enough. But sending
in more troops will also be sending in more targets. It's a classic
I were in charge of American forces in Iraq I would not be encouraged
at the influx of foreign terrorists. The fact that some sofa samurai
(thanks to Taki for the phrase, if he was the one who originated
it) see it as a chance to kill more terrorists in a convenient manner
suggests a strategic blindness and moral obtuseness that should
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