Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Al Qaeda's Foreign Fighters In Iraq

Bill Roggio considers the significance of foreign al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, and makes note of the opportunity it provides the American military:

While the presence of foreign al-Qaeda in Iraq is often underplayed in the press, numerous veteran al-Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured inside the country. Most recently, Asharq Alawsat reports Abdallah Salah al-Harbi, one of the suspects in last week’s attacks on the massive Saudi oil facility in Abqaiq, was arrested attempting to cross at the Saudi border. Abu al-Farouq al-Suri (the Syria), likely an al-Qaeda cell leader was arrested in Ramadi. And perhaps the biggest catch is Saad Hussaini, who was arrested in Syria while trying to recruit and facilitate jihadis to fight in Iraq.

However, the presence of foreign al-Qaeda in Iraq is not all good news. Roggio sees it as a type of double-edged sword:

The influx of jihadis into Iraq is both a blessing and a curse. The positives: the influx of terrorists into Iraq has given the United States access to kill or capture experienced terrorists and jihadi sympathizers, where they were previously lying dormant in their home countries, beyond the reach of the U.S. military. This has given the U.S. intelligence on al-Qaeda’s networks and exposed the terrorist group’s support mechanisms and lines of communications. U.S. and Iraqi military and intelligence services are gaining valuable experience in identifying and fighting terrorists.

The negatives: there is the very real concern about ‘bleedback’, where jihadis gain experience on the battlefields of Iraq and return to their home countries to train others and conduct terror attacks. Coalition soldiers and the Iraqi people are paying with their lives, and the future of Iraq remains in doubt as the terror campaign continues.

One of the goals in the GWOT (and subsequently in Iraq) is to put an end to or at least curb the influence of al-Qaeda. The capture of major operatives aids this pursuit, and we continue to inch closer towards this goal everyday.

But the fact that there is a presence of foreign al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq isn't surprising. Iraq is where the fight is. In Iraq, al-Qaeda jihadists can carry out attacks against Americans on their own soil. This requires less effort as there is no need to infiltrate the United States and carry out an elaborate attack.

But when the fight moves, so will al-Qaeda. The more stable the Iraqi democracy becomes, the less likely it becomes that al-Qaeda will pour all of its resources into Iraq. So while we are fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, we must continue to take advantage of the intelligence opportunities it provides us, but realize that in time we will be able to push al-Qaeda out of Iraq.