As the American withdrawal date from Iraq looms closer on the horizon, concerns about Al Qaeda’s presence in the country are increasing. Although Al Qaeda as an organization is significantly weaker than it was in previous years, it still poses a threat to the development of Iraq post American occupation. Two top Iraqi Al Qaeda leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in April 2010, but the group sought to prove its resilience by a bombing campaign, and have maintained influence in the region. They average 30 attacks a week in the country, and one large scale attack once a month or so. These have included suicide attacks against the Foreign Ministry and other Iraqi governmental institutions, in an effort to prove loopholes in Iraqi national security.
Al Qaeda forces in Iraq have adapted their terroristic techniques as the war has evolved, and are making an effort to exploit gaps left by withdrawing American soldiers. Al Qaeda forces are reverting to a more traditional terrorist group structure (underground organization, occasional large attacks) in order to become more effective in the changing conditions. They are also working to reignite sectarian violence in the country to invoke further conflict, and have attempted to strengthen relations with the Baath Party. These actions have fueled the argument that a small amount of American military trainers and Special Operations forces should continue to operate in Iraq after the December withdrawal date.
An estimated 800 to 1000 people associate themselves with the Al Qaeda operative in Iraq, and recruiting efforts have been amplified in the past year. The weak economic conditions in the country are contributing to a surge in vulnerable young men that al Qaeda is seeking to recruit, and the organization is having a significant amount of success in their recruitment efforts.
As the American withdrawal is carried out, the security of Iraq must be ensured. It seems that in order to fight the Al Qaeda influence in the country, a small number of American military trainers and Special Operations forces should be left in the country to continue to build up the Iraqi government and security apparatus. Al Qaeda has proved that security holes exist in Iraqi national security, and American officials can work to remedy these before leaving the country. This being said, American forces should be expedient in their efforts and not further prolong the project more than that which is necessary.
Additional interesting tidbit of info…. In May, two Iraqi refugees living in Bowling Green were charged of sending money and arms to Iraq’s Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Michael S. Schmidt, “Leaving Iraq, U.S. Fears New Surge of Qaeda Terror,” The New York Times, November 5, 2011.
Kim Gamel, “Al-Qaida in Iraq adopting Taliban tactics” The Associated Press, June 17, 2010.