Tags: Experts: | Iraq | Key | Battleground | Terror | War

Experts: Iraq Key Battleground in Terror War

Monday, 11 September 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- "Iraq and Afghanistan still remain the central fronts in the war on terror. A premature withdrawal from either would only embolden Islamic radicals and terrorist extremists in their efforts, leading to more death and destruction for Americans and others."

That's what Peter Brookes, senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation, told lawmakers Sept. 7 during a program titled, "9/11: Five Years Later -- Gauging Islamist Terrorism."

Brooke's testimony before the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation complemented that of Dr. Walid Phares, Middle East expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who also emphasized the importance of Iraq in the war on terror: "The enemy who flew airliners against the twin towers and the Pentagon, the one the U.S. defeated in Tora Bora and is still engaging in the Sunni triangle in Iraq, is the enemy which is still striking against democracies and allies around the world," said Phares.

The highlighting of Iraq before the House committee came just before Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed a newly declassified October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam Hussein's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.

Aside from the ongoing debate about links between Saddam and al-Qaida before 9/11, the message delivered to the House committee was clear: "If the U.S. stops, wavers, or confuses its vision of its enemies and their plans, the entire progress can be reversed to the advantage of the jihadi terrorists," pronounced Phares.

Phares noted that inside the United States and its allies in Europe, the jihadist movement is absorbing the counterterrorism pressures, analyzing the measures, and mutating to bypass them.

The expert defined two stages in the enemy's warfare: the development stage, which covers the spread of the ideology and the recruitment from the indoctrinated pools of militants, and the penetration of the national systems. The second stage, he said, occurs when the strikes are prepared and launched.

"U.S systems are countering them only at the final stage; that is, in their preparation for terror activities," Phares concluded.

Brookes basically agreed, saying, "[W]e have to be more imaginative and innovative in our defense of our interests than the terrorists are on offense. We shouldn't only be looking for terrorists under the proverbial lamppost because that is where the light is brightest. We have to continue to be imaginative and innovative in fighting terrorism."

Brooks characterized the evolving enemy as now often "homegrown," being radicalized both at home and abroad by terrorist recruiters, clerics and over the Internet -– with terrorist groups now including women, pregnant mothers, and converts to Islam.

"Al-Qaida -- which was a terrorist group on 9/11 -- is now a global terrorist movement. Much to his frustration, Osama bin Laden is now more of a worldwide inspiration to his terrorist ‘disciples' than an active commander, directing day-to-day terrorist operations," Brookes said.

Phares noted that the final report of the 9/11 Commission missed two major historic failures:

"The U.S and its allies must deliver and win the battle of identifying, defining and naming the enemy," added Phares. "Legislative branches in America and within democracies worldwide must have the political courage, the right knowledge and the wisdom to address this challenge.

"The current state of national and international laws is not able to provide a historic basis for governments, media and public to mobilize fully against an enemy living and thriving within these societies," Phares concluded.

Brookes emphasized that while the U.S. has made significant progress in securing the homeland and fighting terrorism overseas, complacency about the challenge of Islamist terrorism "will prove to be deadly, potentially making the horrors of 9/11 seem minor in comparison." The Heritage fellow pointed to a continuing need for new security procedures, education, technologies and intelligence sources that can detect and prevent terrorist attacks against American interests and citizens -- especially overseas -- where counterterrorism or security may not be as vigilant or effective as it is in the homeland.

Lawmakers at the House committee hearing praised Phares' presentation as a "teacher lecture on the mind of the jihadists."

Indeed, the expert went into detail about the enemy jihadists, explaining that they are of two ideological types: Salafist, who are radicals who developed within Sunni societies, and Khomenists, who are radicals who developed within Shiia communities.

The Salafists, he added, have various ideological and political branches: Wahabis, Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi and others.

"From this ‘tree' came al-Qaida, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Jemaa Islamiya, Salafi Combat Group, and dozens of smaller groups around the world," Phares explained.

"The Khomeinists are the radical clerics in control of Iran," Phares added. "They have created Hezbollah in Lebanon, and along with the latter expanded cells around the world. The head of Salafi Jihadists today is al-Qaida; the head of Khomeinist jihadism is the Iranian regime."

Whatever progress the U.S. has made in the war on terror, both internationally and domestically, hangs on the ability of the U.S. and its allies to move forward, faster and with a strategic mutation in the next stage of the war with al-Qaida, while also preparing for the possibility of the engagement by the Khomeinist threat abruptly, concluded Phares.

For his part, Brookes concluded with a warning about the well-intentioned hopes and wishes that Islamic terrorism is something that now only happens overseas, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.K. or Spain, or as limited to the horrors of 9/11:

Such hopes "are not based in reality -- in my view," he cautioned.

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WASHINGTON -- "Iraq and Afghanistan still remain the central fronts in the war on terror. A premature withdrawal from either would only embolden Islamic radicals and terrorist extremists in their efforts, leading to more death and destruction for Americans and...
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Monday, 11 September 2006 12:00 AM
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