Friday, October 28, 2005

Iraq War Blowback

After the mujahadeen helped drive Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, they distributed their Islamist ideology and their technical knowledge all over the globe. The Afghan war amounted to a catalyst for the formation of a global Islamist militant community, by concentrating like-minded militants in one place, where they networked and trained together. Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds argue that Iraq may serve a similar function for the next generation of Islamists:

Several factors could make blowback from the Iraq war even more dangerous than the fallout from Afghanistan. Foreign fighters started to arrive in Iraq even before Saddam's regime fell. They have conducted most of the suicide bombings--including some that have delivered strategic successes such as the withdrawal of the UN...

Fighters in Iraq are more battle hardened than the Afghan Arabs, who fought demoralized Soviet army conscripts. They are testing themselves against arguably the best army in history, acquiring skills in their battles against coalition forces that will be far more useful for future terrorist operations than those their counterparts learned during the 1980s.

Mastering how to make improvised explosive devices or how to conduct suicide operations is more relevant to urban terrorism than the conventional guerrilla tactics used against the Red Army. U.S. military commanders say that techniques perfected in Iraq have been adopted by militants in Afghanistan.

It would be Pyrrhic indeed if after strenuous efforts we finally pacify Iraq, only to find that international Islamist organizations had been replenished with veterans of that very war.

I think we are very close to the point where our continued presence in Iraq does more harm than good. Whenever we choose to withdraw, there will be some who feel it is too early; that can't be helped. But if we linger too long, we may find ourselves proving the old medical adage, "the longer you stay, the longer you stay."


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