Kissinger: Iraq Mission Impossible But Terror Likely as al Qaeda Expands

As Henry Kissinger declares military victory ‘impossible’ in Iraq, and as the US gears up for an intense debate over changing course, US intelligence officials have now confirmed a troubling and predictable consequence of the war – a bigger, stronger, expanding al Qaeda network. Critics have long argued that the Bush administration dropped the ball on terrorism by diverting massive amounts of military and financial resources into Iraq; it is now clear that the war has also served to bolster al Qaeda’s power base.

In Afghanistan, where al Qaeda trained recruits in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks, the terrorist organization has firmly re-established itself and is growing at an ‘alarming’ rate according to Gen. Michael Hayden and Lt. Gen. Michael Maples. Last week, Gen. Hayden, director of the CIA, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda and the Taliban have combined forces to forge an insurgency that has overwhelmed the Karzai government, US Special Forces and NATO troops. He said, “The direct tissue between Iraq and Afghanistan is al Qaeda,” and added that the tactics learned by recruits in Iraq are now being used in Afghanistan, where attacks now number 600 per month and the death toll sits at 3,700 so far this year. There are also increasing concerns that al Qaeda is again operating terrorist training camps; recruits are reportedly now being dispatched from Afghanistan to new missions in Europe, Somalia and a number of Arab countries.

Meanwhile in Iraq, al Qaeda now controls al Anbar Province, about 30% of the country’s land mass. Banned outright by Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda arrived in Iraq and easily entrenched itself in al Anbar during the US occupation while American troops concentrated on Baghdad and other urban trouble spots. At the same time, al Qaeda filled a political leadership vacuum in the Sunni province which enabled it to infiltrate the social fabric of local communities, radicalize local Sunni militias and recruit young disaffected Sunnis. Lt. Gen. Maples, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda had managed to “capitalize on the current cycle of sectarian violence, by creating the perception that its attacks are designed to aid and defend the country’s Sunni minority.” Last month, al Qaeda militants marched through the streets of Ramadi, the capital of the province, to (unsuccessfully) declare al Anbar a Sunni Republic and an Islamic emirate – a clear attempt to claim territory, political power and the endorsement of the local population.

The Washington Post recently reported that the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, Col. Pete Devlin, filed a classified report in August which concluded that the prospects for securing al Anbar Province are dim and that there is almost nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation there. One Army officer who read the report summed up its argument that in al Anbar, “We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically – and that’s where wars are won and lost.” So it appears that focusing the fight on nationalist Iraqi insurgents and Baghdad has effectively handed western Iraq over to al Qaeda. At the same time, the failure of US troops to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis, and the tendency to regard all forms of resistance as ‘the enemy’, have also been key factors in the failed occupation. Al Qaeda will continue to gain momentum in al Anbar as long as the US remains fixated on Baghdad, nationalist insurgents and sectarian conflict.

On top of the horrible debacle in Iraq, the US is losing the war on terror. Many are hoping that the 110th US Congress will reorganize the nation’s priorities to drive al Qaeda out of Iraq, end the US occupation with reduced levels of violence, and advance a strategy that counters the global expansion of terrorism.

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