Last week's terror attacks in Iraq, killing more than 60 people, ignited a public discussion regarding a possible new wave of terror attacks in Iraq, which is coming as part of an Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) led plan in conjunction with US latest announcement regarding its troops' withdrawal timetable. The latest attacks stroke Iraq after a steady decrease in the level and intensity of violence during the last two years, which came as a result of successful counter terrorism measures taken by Coalition Forces and the Iraqi government, accompanied with support they received from local tribes.
While the White House has quickly dismissed allegations claiming that the latest attacks were conducted as a response to President Obama’s statement on the planned withdrawal, it seems that the potential importance of such a development requires a deeper analysis.
The battle for the hearts and minds is one of enormous importance in the modern world. Both Al-Qaeda and the West have put great efforts and funds in propaganda, trying to create an image of victory in the Iraqi arena. The importance of the success in the Iraqi arena surfaced once more with the new statements released on Saturday March 14th by Osama Bin Laden in which the Al Qaeda leader portraited the way to liberate Palestine originating from the success in Iraq via the neighboring Jordan and all the way into the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupations in the west bank.
Even though coalition forces in Iraq were able to limit significantly the Jihadi organization’s operational capabilities during the last two years, an image of Coalition Forces bleeding their way out of Iraq can cause serious implications for the “Global war on terrorism” and refuel Global Jihad elements in the Middle East and worldwide with new waves of religious enthusiasm and operational zeal.
Indeed, one might say Al-Qaeda's resistance to US presence in Iraq has already proved to be successful solely by looking at the death toll and the calls for a withdrawal made in the west. However, the last two years constant decrease in AQI's capabilities, led Jihadis and radical Islam circles to doubt the route AQI and alike choose to perform in Iraq. This dissatisfaction was reflected in numerous statements made by religious scholars, Jihadi internet forums users, and to some extent even by Al-Qaeda's senior leaders themselves.
The importance of creating a public image of success cannot be underestimated. AQI's vital interest in pursuing such an image of victory is clear. Their capability to do so, however, is a different question. The implications of a Jihadi victory illusion can seriously undermine the recent US successes in Iraq and may have long term effects on the global struggle against Islamic radicalism and Jihadi terror. Among those implications one can find the following:
- "The Jihad works" – strengthening the notion that the method of Jihadi armed struggle is the sole successful way to push back an "occupying force". That myth, starting with the success of jihadis in the first Afghan war against the soviets, is of great importance among Jihadi circles.
- Increase in worldwide recruits for Al Qaeda, inspired by what they will perceive as a Jihadi triumph.
- Growing attempts to implement the “Iraqi lesson” in other countries. That may result in more revolt-like actions in Muslim countries led by "infidel" regimes, and the latest rise of violence in Pakistan can be seen as the first indicator of the extent of the abovementioned risk.
- Growth in the financial support to Al-Qaeda and alike, that dropped rapidly in recent years as a consequence of the rapid setbacks in AQI's actions in Iraq.
- Rise in the status of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda within the organization, and a continuous transfer of operational focus to other targets and countries, along with continuing the fight against the Iraqi government and Shiite targets.
- "Iraq veterans", especially of non-Iraqi origin, are expected to join other Jihad potential arenas such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, North Africa and even the Palestinian Territories.
However, the abovementioned outcomes are far from being absolute. With calculated, careful and well planned actions, the Coalition Forces are capable of minimizing and perhaps even preventing the creation of an image of victory by Al-Qaeda. Using Increasing Counter Terrorism operations, taking protective measures, providing accurate intelligence, maintaining cooperation with its allies and pursuing a wide propaganda campaign, the Coalition Forces may be able to leave Al-Qaeda in Iraq weaker and internally divided. That would contribute to some extent, in the process of rebuilding Iraq and will minimize the effects the withdrawal can have on Global Jihad elements throughout the world.
At any rate, according to our assessment the coming few months are going to be crucial within this framework of the battle for the hearts and minds. We believe that the different Jihadi organizations led by AQI would strive to portrait the coalition forces withdrawal from Iraq in colors of defeat and a coward bleedy runaway.
We beileve the operational consequences of this strive will be reflected by a sharp rise in the efforts of the Jihadi elements in Iraq to increase the volume of terrorist attacks in the country, while using different operational methods in order to increase dramatically the number of casualties.
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