CIA: Iraq May Be Prime Place for Training of Militants, C.I.A. Report Concludes
A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda’s early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat. The assessment, completed last month and circulated among government agencies, was described in recent days by several Congressional and intelligence officials. The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict.
Congressional and intelligence officials who described the assessment called it a thorough examination that included extensive discussion of the areas that might be particularly prone to infiltration by combatants from Iraq, either Iraqis or foreigners. They said the assessment had argued that Iraq, since the American invasion of 2003, had in many ways assumed the role played by Afghanistan during the rise of Al Qaeda during the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a magnet and a proving ground for Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries.
The officials said the report spelled out how the urban nature of the war in Iraq was helping combatants learn how to carry out assassinations, kidnappings, car bombings and other kinds of attacks that were never a staple of the fighting in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet campaigns of the 1980’s. It was during that conflict, primarily rural and conventional, that the United States provided arms to Osama bin Laden and other militants, who later formed Al Qaeda.
The assessment said the central role played by Iraq meant that, for now, most potential terrorists were likely to focus their energies on attacking American forces there, rather than carrying out attacks elsewhere, the officials said. But the officials said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries would soon have to contend with militants who leave Iraq equipped with considerable experience and training.
Previous warnings of this kind have been less detailed, as when Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, told Congress earlier in the year that jihadists who survive the continued fighting in Iraq would leave there “experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism,” and form “a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.”
This is hardly surprising, really. Iraq is both the training ground and the battle ground for Islamist terrorists. If they can defeat the U.S. effort to create a democratic government in the heart of the Arab Middle East, they will have achieved a major victory. If not, their cause is set back immeasurably.