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Al-Qaeda in Iraq May Not Be Threat Here

Asked by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) whether "al-Qaeda-type elements" would follow U.S. forces as they withdraw from Iraq into Kuwait, McConnell answered with one word: "Unlikely."

Zarqawi adopted the al-Qaeda name for his terrorist organization in 2004. But, under his leadership, AQI was frequently estranged from al-Qaeda, and its separation has increased since his death last year.

Yet bin Laden has continued to reap benefits from the Iraq war. After a lull following his ignominious retreat from Afghanistan in 2001, bin Laden appears to have regained his stature among Muslim extremists and bolstered his ability to draw recruits. "As people around the world sign up to fight jihad," the intelligence official said, "before they were always going to Iraq. Now we see more winding up in Pakistan."

As al-Qaeda recoups its numbers and organizational structure in the lawless and inaccessible territory along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, it is seen as having little need for major bases in western Iraq, where the flat desert topography is ill-suited for concealment from U.S. aerial surveillance.

Al-Qaeda has also learned tactical lessons from AQI, adopting the suicide-bombing and roadside-explosive techniques perfected in Iraq and putting them to use in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"That genie is already out of the bottle," Hoffman said. "The lesson of Iraq," he said, is that "a bunch of guys with garage-door openers and cordless phones can stymie the most advanced military in the history of mankind."

According to the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released in January, a "rapid withdrawal" of U.S. forces in Iraq could lead to intervention by neighboring countries and an attempt by AQI to "use parts of the country -- particularly Anbar province -- to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq."

But intelligence officials said they have been puzzled by the absence of such attacks since a 2005 bombing attributed to AQI in Amman, Jordan. "We've recently tried to wrestle with that," said one official. "Certainly, Zarqawi had an agenda outside Iraq, and Ayyub has publicly stated that he envisions one day attacking the U.S. . . . [But] I think what we determined was that they're so busy inside Iraq . . . they really are focused on internal things."

"It is very likely that the effects of the current jihad in Iraq will, like the earlier one in Afghanistan, be felt for years to come in the form of inspiration, skills and networking opportunities for a new generation of jihadis," said Paul Pillar, the CIA's former national intelligence officer for the Middle East and author of previous intelligence assessments on Iraq. "That does not mean that a U.S. withdrawal would make AQI more likely to attempt attacks against the United States."

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