Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution has a piece in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, “Al-Qaeda Strikes Back,” which finds, “By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11.” While still supporting the Afghanistan mission, Riedel sees the Iraq war as counter-productive, and warns that attacking Iran would play into al-Qaeda’s hands. He also has an interesting take on the notion of “false flag” operations, so beloved of the conspiracy industry:
Bin Laden might also be nurturing bolder plans, such as exploiting or even triggering an all-out war between the United States and Iran. Indeed, there is evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq — and elements of the Iraqi Sunni community — increasingly consider Iran’s influence in Iraq to be an even greater problem than the U.S. occupation. Al Qaeda worries about the Sunni minority’s future in a Shiite-dominated Iraq after the Americans leave. Propaganda material of Sunni jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere openly discusses their fear that Iran will dominate a postoccupation Iraq and seek to restore the type of regional control that the Persian Empire had in the sixteenth century. In a remarkable statement last November, Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Hamza al-Masri, thanked President George W. Bush for sending the U.S. Army to Iraq and thus giving al Qaeda the “great historic opportunity” to engage Americans in direct fighting on Arab ground. (He also said that Bush was “the most stupid and ominous president” in U.S. history.) But he warned that the invasion had “revived the glory of the old Persian Safavid Empire in a very short period of time.” Similarly, the self-proclaimed emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, issued a statement in February 2007 welcoming news that the U.S. government was considering sending more troops to Iraq and saying that he was eagerly looking forward to an American nuclear attack on Iran.
A war between the “crusaders” and the “Safavids” would benefit the jihad against both groups: by pitting two of its worst enemies against each other, the Sunni Arab jihadi community would be killing two birds with one stone. Al Qaeda would especially like a full-scale U.S. invasion and occupation of Iran, which would presumably oust the Shiite regime in Tehran, further antagonize Muslims worldwide, and expand al Qaeda’s battlefield against the United States so that it extends from Anbar Province in the west to the Khyber Pass in the east. It understands that the U.S. military is already too overstretched to invade Iran, but it expects Washington to use nuclear weapons. Baghdadi has told Sunnis in Iran to evacuate towns close to nuclear installations.
The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a “false-flag” operation, say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran’s doing. The United States should be extremely wary of such deception.
As we’ve said before, the terrorists love the GWOT!