Foreign Policy Blogs

The IRAQuum: The Great Terror Vacuum has Begun to Breakdown

The Iraqi debate continues throughout American politics. Has the "surge' succeeded? Are security gains temporary of permanent? Will the Iraqis continue on the road towards reconciliation? Whatever your opinion, facts are facts. Both proponents and opponents of the "surge' acknowledge that Iraq of 2008 is a far safer place than Iraq of 2005. To claim contrary is an act of willful ignorance. While certainly a positive trend in the lives of everyday Iraqis and Coalition forces, these developments can spell disaster for the entire Muslim world. The security blanket that continues to quell sectarian violence throughout Iraq is the very mechanism exporting terror to other countries of the region.

For the past five years, Iraq has acted as a fundamentalist vacuum, sucking up extremists from across the globe. Want to kill Sunni Muslims? Go to Iraq. Want to kill Shi'ite Muslims? Go to Iraq. Want to kill Americans? Go to Iraq. The list goes on. Of course Muslim regimes across the region publicly express their disgust towards the Coalition invasion and their revulsion of terrorist attacks. But the fact remains that Iraq has acted as a great sponge, soaking up would-be jihadists from Pakistan to Morocco. The American military estimates that nine out of ten suicide bombers come from outside Iraq, most often Saudi Arabia. 90% is a hard number to ignore.

Security improvements across Iraq, and particularly Baghdad, have slowed this process. But this newfound safety can spell disaster for the region at large. Surprisingly, very few officials have posed the question, "what will happen when this great terror vacuum turns off?' Not only has this vacuum shut down, but new evidence suggests it has begun to operate in reverse, spewing out radical extremists in every direction. Last April, the American military expressed concern that militants trained in Iraq posed a far greater danger than those trained in Afghanistan, mostly due to their extensive experience in urban guerilla tactics. The concerns are not uniquely American. "If any country says it is safe from this, they are putting their heads in the sand," said one Lebanese Military commander.

Unfortunately, current trends would prove this theory correct. Lebanon is engaged in a prolonged conflict with various terror organizations, including Fatah Islam, a group composed of many Iraqi War veterans with links to al Qaeda in Iraq. Similar experiences are reported in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and India. As Coalition forces destroy militant strongholds, regain lost neighborhoods, and gain the support of average citizens, jihadists are either returning to their home countries or setting up new cells throughout the region.

As destabilizing as the War in Iraq was, it had actually eased internal pressure on many countries throughout the Muslim World. It united fundamentalists in a greater cause. To kill westerners they no longer had to obtain difficult visas, smuggle weapons across oceans, or attend flight training. The enemy had come to them. Saudi fundamentalists certainly hate their rulers, but they truly detest Americans. Which was a more attractive target? Now, as the great vacuum of hate begins to shut down, what becomes of these battle-hardened militants? Do they hand in their rifles and IEDs, or simply pick up their weapons and relocate to a spot not occupied by the world's largest military? The countries of the region must realize their growing investment in the conflict, something that has been absent since the start of the War in Iraq. If not, it will certainly be an example of chickens coming home to roost.

 

Author

Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;

Contact

Great Decisions Discussion group