IISS Strategic Survey on Al-Qaeda, WMD: "Iraq" upped dangers

Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 09:48 am
"Terror thrives both on arrival and departure of US [in Iraq]",
the Dutch Volkskrant today headlined its article on the annual Strategic Survey of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. What they meant is: the invasion of Iraq has "strongly helped Al Qa'ida recruiting new fighters" - but a possible early retreat would cause "a strategic nightmare".

Here's the relevant bits from the summary of the survey, as published on the IISS site. It doesnt mince its words, and there's some tough news both for the Bush administration's "good news brigade" and those advocating immediate withdrawal (emphases mine):

Overall, risks of terrorism to Westerners and Western assets in Arab countries appeared to increase after the Iraq war began in March 2003. With the military invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States sought to change the political status quo in the Arab world to advance American strategic and political interests. Al-Qaeda seeks, among other things, to purge the Arab and larger Muslim world of US influence. Accordingly, the Iraq intervention was always likely in the short term to enhance jihadist recruitment and intensify al-Qaeda's motivation to encourage and assist terrorist operations. The May 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, the gathering of foreign jihadists in Iraq, and the November 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey confirmed this expectation.The Madrid bombings in March 2004 reinforced the perception that al-Qaeda had fully reconstituted, set its sights firmly on the US and its closest Western allies in Europe and established a new and effective modus operandi that increasingly exploited local affiliates. Al-Qaeda must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will suffice. Given the group's maximalist objectives, its ubiquity and its covertness, stiff operational counter-terrorist measures, inter-governmentally coordinated, are still acutely required. Progress in marginalising transnational Islamist terrorists will come incrementally. It is likely to accelerate only with currently elusive political developments that would broadly depress recruitment and motivation, such as the stable democratisation of Iraq or resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The survey summary also highlights developments re: WMD PROLIFERATION. It notes foremost that "Most successfully, Colonel Qaddafi agreed [..] to abandon Libya's clandestine nuclear weapons programme in exchange for pledges from London and Washington to lift economic and political sanctions"- "a brilliant success for British diplomacy".

It also notes, however, that "Unfortunately, neither Tehran nor Pyongyang seem inclined to follow Libya's path", partly because of "more deep-seated [..] motivations" and "more advanced [..] capabilities"; partly because "Washington's leverage over both Tehran and Pyongyang has eroded, as the US found itself pre-occupied with an increasingly desperate situation in Iraq and as the Bush Administration remained deeply divided over policies towards Iran and North Korea. As a result, the US ceded diplomatic initiative to third parties: to China in the case of North Korea and to Europe in the case of Iran."

Iran, in fact, "appears to be taking a harder line, perhaps believing that the US is sidelined by Iraq and the Presidential elections and that the Europeans are reluctant to press for sanctions in the Security Council", while "it seems clear that Pyongyang took advantage of the invasion of Iraq [..] to reprocess its stockpile of spent fuel and extract enough plutonium for a handful of nuclear weapons."

All in all, Reuters summarises the IISS conclusions, "the jury [is] still out on the geopolitical benefits of toppling Saddam. [..] Whether the omen of regime change will tame perennially roguish regimes in Iran, North Korea and Syria remains to be seen".

Finally, there's a long paragraph in the summary on IRAQ with lots of sensible observations that is too long to post in full here - but here's the link again.

Note in any case though, how all the press reports on the survey highlight its conclusion that "A failed Iraqi state would be a strategic nightmare for the United States and the West".

On the one hand it's true (as per the CAP's summary) that "In counter-terrorism terms, the intervention has arguably focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda and its followers", while it diluted "the global counter-terrorism coalition that appeared so formidable following the Afghanistan intervention in late 2001." But on the other hand, as De Volkskrant summarises, with an estimated "thousand Al-Qa'ida fighters" fighting in Iraq now, a retreat by the US and its allies now could "make the country a basis for terrorism, like Afghanistan was". Now it really is "key to regional security - and the stability of the international system - that the U.S. and its allies get Iraq right".

In general, the Americans should also "do more to win conservative Muslims over, to keep them from switching to the radical camp".
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Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 09:51 am
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Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 09:53 am
Lots of good info, thanks.
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Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 09:56 am
What bothers me about this survey is that it seems to reflect more the current sense that people have about the way events are trending than it is analysis backed up by hard data.
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Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 10:04 am
For the hard data you'd probably need to look through the full report, Acquiunk ...

Unfortunately, it's not online except for subscribers, so you'd need to order it. At a hefty price.

Edited post above to make it easier to read - that red is really red, huh?
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Reply Wed 26 May, 2004 10:16 am
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