West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has published its fifth “Harmony Report” on the inner workings of al-Qaeda, this time its Iraqi variant, AQI. Based on the Sinjar Records and written in clear and concise language, it’s an extremely important paper everyone interested in Islamic terrorism should read. Some key findings:
There is a strong risk of blowback from Iraq. Relatively small numbers of Jihadis will ‘bleedout’ to fight elsewhere, but they will likely be very dangerous individuals.
The Iraq war has increased Jihadi radicalization in the Muslim world and the number of al‐Qa`ida recruits. Foreign fighters in Iraq have also acquired a number of useful skills that can be used in future terrorist operations, including massive use of suicide tactics, organizational skills, propaganda, covert communication, and innovative improvised explosive device (IED) tactics.
AQI has produced fewer, but far more skilled, fighters than the ’Arab‐Afghans’ did in the 1980s.
The foreign fighters in Iraq share important similarities—such as country of origin and ideology—with the so‐called ’Afghan Arabs’ that traveled to Afghanistan to fight Soviet and Afghan‐communist forces in the 1980s. But there are important differences as well. Foreign fighters in Iraq have seen more combat than their predecessors in Afghanistan. In addition, they have shown greater ability to innovate critical tactical skills, such as IED development and suicide bombings.
The report also notes that although AQI is “a wounded organization”, American withdrawal from Iraq “may not end the flow of foreign fighters” as long as parts of the country remain ungoverned and opportunities for humiliating the U.S. abound.
This was the point I was trying to make rather crudely last week in my post about Iraq being a country-sized training ground for foreign jihadis. On the other hand, the report quite spectacularly disproves my theory that Iraq is a “sideshow” for AQ Central.