The Iraq Effect: The War in Iraq and Its Impact on the War on Terrorism – Pg. 5

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Iraq Effect (continued)

Our survey shows that the Iraq conflict has motivated jihadists around the world to see their particular struggle as part of a wider global jihad fought on behalf of the Islamic ummah, the global community of Muslim believers. The Iraq War had a strong impact in jihadist circles in the Arab world and Europe, but also on the Taliban, which previously had been quite insulated from events elsewhere in the Muslim world. By energizing the jihadist groups, the Iraq conflict acted as a catalyst for the increasing globalization of the jihadist cause, a trend that should be deeply troubling for American policymakers. In the late 1990s, bin Laden pushed a message of a global jihad and attracted recruits from around the Muslim world to train and fight in Afghanistan. The Iraq War has made bin Laden’s message of global struggle even more persuasive to militants. Over the past three years, Iraq has attracted thousands of foreign fighters who have been responsible for the majority of suicide attacks in the country. Those attacks have had an enormous strategic impact; for instance, getting the United Nations to pull out of Iraq and sparking the Iraqi civil war.


Emblematic of the problem is Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old Belgian woman who on November 9, 2005, near the town of Baquba in central Iraq, detonated a bomb as she drove past an American patrol. In the bomb crater, investigators found travel documents that showed that she had arrived in Iraq from Belgium just a few weeks earlier with her Moroccan-Belgian husband Hissam Goris. The couple had been recruited by “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Goris would die the following day, shot by American forces as he prepared to launch a suicide attack near Fallujah.

The story of Muriel Degauque and her husband is part of a trend that Harvard terrorism researcher Assaf Moghadam terms the “globalization of martyrdom.” The London suicide bombings in July 2005 revealed the surprising willingness of four British citizens to die to protest the United Kingdom’s role in the Coalition in Iraq; Muriel Degauque, for her part, was willing to die for the jihadist cause in a country in which she was a stranger.

This challenges some existing conceptions of the motivations behind suicide attacks. In 2005 University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape published a much-commented-upon study of suicide bombing, “Dying to Win,” in which he used a mass of data about previous suicide bombing campaigns to argue that they principally occurred “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.” (Of course, terrorism directed against totalitarian regimes rarely occurs because such regimes are police states and are unresponsive to public opinion.) Pape also argued that while religion might aggravate campaigns of suicide terrorism, such campaigns had also been undertaken by secular groups, most notably the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, whose most spectacular success was the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide attacker in 1991.

Pape’s findings may explain the actions and motivations of terrorist groups in countries such as Sri Lanka, but his principal claim that campaigns of suicide terrorism are generally nationalist struggles to liberate occupied lands that have little to do with religious belief does not survive contact with the reality of what is going on today in Iraq. The most extensive suicide campaign in history is being conducted in Iraq largely by foreigners animated by the deeply-held religious belief that they must liberate a Muslim land from the “infidel” occupiers.

While Iraqis make up the great bulk of the insurgents, several studies have shown that the suicide attackers in Iraq are generally foreigners, while only a small proportion are Iraqi. (Indeed, the most feared terrorist leader in Iraq until his death earlier this year, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was a Jordanian.) The Israeli researcher Reuven Paz, using information posted on Al Qaeda-linked websites between October 2004 and March 2005, found that of the 33 suicide attacks listed, 23 were conducted by Saudis, and only 1 by an Iraqi. Similarly, in June 2005 the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute of Washington, D.C. found by tracking both jihadist websites and media reports that of the 199 Sunni extremists who had died in Iraq either in suicide attacks or in action against Coalition or Iraqi forces, 104 were from Saudi Arabia and only 21 from Iraq. The rest were predominantly from countries around the Middle East. And Mohammed Hafez in his previously cited study of the 101 “known” suicide bombers in Iraq found that while 44 were Saudi and 8 were from Italy (!), only 7 were from Iraq.

In congressional testimony this past November, CIA Director General Michael Hayden said that “an overwhelming percentage of the suicide bombers are foreign.” A senior U.S. military intelligence official told us that a worrisome recent trend is the rising number of North Africans who have joined the ranks of foreign fighters in Iraq, whose number General Hayden pegged at 1,300 during his November congressional testimony. A Saudi official also confirmed to us the rising number of North Africans who are being drawn into the Iraq War.


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