Eye on Iraq: Al-Qaida alive and kicking

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  July 3, 2006 at 11:12 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- The massive Baghdad bombing serves notice that despite the attrition inflicted upon al-Qaida in Iraq, the Iraq insurgency's capabilities remain as formidable as ever.

Some 66 people were killed and around 100 injured in the attack Saturday in a market in the Sadr City part of Baghdad. Sadr City is a large section of Baghdad overwhelmingly Shiite in its population and where the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and other Shiite militia groups enjoy a great deal of support.

The bombing was followed by another wave of insurgent attacks across Iraq Monday in which at least another 10 people were killed.

The attacks confirm that al-Qaida and its allied extreme Sunni insurgent groups retain the capability to carry out devastating terror strikes against Shiite civilians, even in the largest Shiite ethnic strongholds in the capital.

The success of Saturday's attack is likely to be a major blow to the credibility of the embattled new U.S.-supported government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Maliki suffered another blow over the weekend when the Iraq Accordance Front, the largest parliamentary Sunni political grouping, announced on Sunday that it would boycott talks with the government following the kidnapping of a prominent Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, Tayseer al-Mashhadani, Saturday

"We have decided, after careful consideration, to suspend participation until her release," IAF leader Adnan Dulaimi announced.

The continued and growing alienation of Iraq's 5-million-plus Sunni minority from the Shiite-dominated parliamentary system and government is a major gain for al-Qaida and its insurgency allies.

And although Bush administration policymakers and their cheerleaders in the U.S. media remain confident that al-Qaida in Iraq is a broken force following the killing of its longtime operational commander, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, last month, leading parliamentary experts in Britain, America's sole remaining major military ally on the ground in Iraq, don't agree.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, Britain's equivalent of the House International Relations Committee in the United States, announced in a new report issued Monday that al-Qaida was still successfully using the Iraq insurgency as a training ground for its global operations.

The committee confirmed reports that successful al-Qaida and general Sunni insurgency tactics in Iraq, such as attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops with vehicles packed with explosives, were already being implemented by al-Qaida-affiliated groups fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Further, even if al-Qaida is on the defensive in Iraq, the continuing conflict between Sunni Muslim groups allied with it against U.S. forces there has proven a highly effective motivational and recruiting tool for al-Qaida and other Islamist extremists groups around the world, the report warned.

"Despite a number of successes targeting the leadership and infrastructure of al-Qaida, the danger of international terrorism, whether from al-Qaida or other related groups, has not diminished and may well have increased," it said.

The report was issued just a few days before the first anniversary of the first Islamist suicide bombing in mainland Britain. Four young British Muslims blew themselves up along with 52 innocent people in almost simultaneous attacks on three London Underground or Tube trains and a London bus on July 7, 2005.

The attacks caused the British domestic security services to radically revise overnight their previously complacent assessments about the low probability of Britain suffering serious terror attacks from within its indigenous population of around 2 million Muslims who were recent immigrants or second and third generations born in the country.

The report concluded that al-Qaida continued "to pose an extremely serious and brutal threat to the United Kingdom and its interests."

But the report had far wider implications and warnings that were also relevant to the United States and to U.S. policymakers. It confirmed the evolution of al-Qaida since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed 2,800 Americans in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on four hijacked airliners into a decentralized, global movement, even less organized than any franchise system in which small local cells in different nations around the world operated entirely independently but were still motivated by the same ideology.

And through the Internet and its own still effective and very loose international communications structure, al-Qaida has been increasing its capability to replicate and spread around the world the tactical lessons its forces and allies are learning in their war against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, the report said.

Therefore the report concluded that the continuing Sunni insurgency in Iraq was making other Islamist uprisings around the world more dangerous.

"We have seen methods copied from the terrorist campaign in Iraq being used in Afghanistan by Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups and their Afghan warlord allies to attack," the report said.

The London Daily Telegraph concluded Monday that "the report will place more pressure on (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair after the death at the weekend of two British soldiers in Afghanistan and (the latest) series of bombings in Baghdad ...."

The report also confirmed a development we have predicted and monitored in these columns over the past year: The degree to which the U.S. policy of empowering the Shiite and Kurdish communities in Iraq has radicalized and alienated even previously mainstream members of the Sunni minority in that country, and played into the hands of the insurgents there.

"Relying on Shia and Kurdish communities to build up the Iraqi security forces has contributed to the development of sectarian forces ... This is regrettable in the volatile security and political environment in Iraq," the report said.

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