Last week, three suicide bombers blew themselves up in hotels in Amman, Jordan, killing about sixty people. While tragic, this is hardly a new event in the middle east, where suicide bombers seem to strike somewhere on almost a daily basis. What is new, however, is the nationality of the bombers. They were all Iraqi nationals.
Now, in the past, Iraqi nationals have not become terrorists. Of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, twelve were Saudis, and the other seven were from other middle eastern countries-- but none from Iraq. Other al-Qaeda operations have featured Yemenis, Egyptians and North Africans. Other Islamic terrorists have included Chechens, Palestinians and others-- but Iraqis were conspicuously absent from stories about terrorist attacks in past years.
One reason why in past years there were no international terrorists from Iraq was frankly, Saddam Hussein. His brutal but secular regime cracked down hard on the kind of fundamentalist fanaticism that breeds terrorists.
But this is the new Iraq.
A January CIA report concluded that
"Iraq has replaced Afghanistan" as the training ground for the next generation of 'professionalized' terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.
Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."
Since we have about eight times as many troops in Iraq as we do in Afghanistan, it seems that far from stamping out training ground, our army seems to create it. The reason is obvious. We have over 100,000 troops primarily as an occupation force (meaning that they are mostly defending and the terrorists can decide when, where, how and whether to attack). And, now it is clear that Iraq is also a prime recruiting ground.
We have heard and read a great deal about the position the past few days of Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), a former marine colonel who was decorated in Vietnam and who had supported the war early on. But perhaps we should listen to his words:
Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency, he said, in listing one of his main reasons for the switch.
And let's consider the reason why President Bush himself has said we have to stay there: He says that Iraq has become the main front of the war on terrorism.
He may be right, at that. Certainly, terrorists have been crossing into Iraq. But two things to consider are that 1) It was George Bush, not Osama bin Laden or other terrorists who decided to light that fuse (what did he think-- we were going to send thousands of American troops to invade a muslim country and create a vacuum, and the terrorists wouldn't come?), and 2) with their successes in recruiting and training terrorists (so that, for example, there are plenty who now have enough experience that they could take the place of Zarqawi if he is killed or captured, something that wasn't true two years ago) our army seems to be serving more as fuel for the insurgency than to extinguish it. If, in fact, as conservatives sometimes claim, we attacked Iraq as a part of the war on terrorism, then we have failed spectacularly on that account. We seem to be making more terrorists there than we get rid of.
The Bush policy instead, seems to be like a fire crew arriving at the scene of a fire with a tanker full of butane to spray on it.