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UPDATED: January 16, 2015 NO. 5 JANUARY 30, 2014
Al Qaeda Moves Into Iraq
The creation of a self-proclaimed state further complicates the region
By Liu Yueqin

Al Qaeda's future in Iraq

The strategic aim of Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq is to open a "strategic corridor" between Iraq and Syria to allow for Al Qaeda's free passage and interaction between the two countries. But Al Qaeda wants more than that: Its ultimate goal is to establish an Islamic state in an expanded geographic range known as the Levant. Levant is an imprecise historical term that generally refers to the vast coastal area in the eastern Mediterranean including today's Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, south Turkey and other places in the region.

Iraq's antiterrorism capabilities have been on the decline since U.S. troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2011. As a result, terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda rose from the ashes. The spillover effects of the crisis in Syria have made terrorist activities in Iraq more complex. Currently, Al Qaeda militants are swarming into Iraq from Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. They have greater combat experience, better training and more advanced weapons than those in Iraq.

Al Qaeda maintains a very offensive posture in Iraq due to the country's chaotic political situation, sectarian conflicts and crumbling social structure. In 2013, at least 9,000 people, including civilians, were killed in attacks. For Al Qaeda, Iraq is the perfect place to recruit new members, further challenging the task of antiterrorism in the country.

Both the Maliki administration and local Sunni tribes in Fallujah firmly oppose Al Qaeda's ambition to expand the influence of terrorism. The Iraqi Government has been fighting Al Qaeda in an effort to regain control in Fallujah. Although the Sunnis don't want to see government troops and federal police in the city, they are even more opposed to Al Qaeda. Thus, the two major powers in Iraq have chosen to join hands to fight Al Qaeda.

It is impossible for Al Qaeda to get support from the local Fallujah people. Terrorist activities conducted by the organization stir up a common hatred in all Iraqi people. Some anti-U.S. militants from the Sunni group once joined Al Qaeda to fight against U.S. troops in Iraq after 2003. But these tribal forces soon realized their mistake and turned to assist U.S. troops and Iraq's security forces to strike Al Qaeda, because of their resentment for Al Qaeda's cruel and unscrupulous terrorist attacks targeting civilians.

The Maliki administration has now appealed to the United States for assistance in weapons, training and personnel to confront rebounding Al Qaeda terrorist activities. The Iraqi Government asked the United States to provide F-16 fighters, Apache attack helicopters, missiles, interceptors and training projects that aim to strengthen the Iraqi intelligence department's capabilities. Moreover, Iraq may ask the United States to dispatch special troops or advisers from the Central Intelligence Agency to assist with Iraq's antiterrorism missions.

Al Qaeda's act of establishing a self-proclaimed state in Iraq also greatly challenged the United States. Washington harshly condemned Al Qaeda's brutal attacks against civilians and security troops in Ramadi and Fallujah. It considers Al Qaeda as the biggest threat in the Middle East, and it is offering support to tribal forces as much as possible to strike Al Qaeda strongholds to regain lost areas. For example, the United States provided Iraq with Hellfire missiles and surveillance aircraft.

For now, Fallujah is still under Al Qaeda control, but the battle is not over yet. The "Islamic state" that Al Qaeda established in Fallujah will not be recognized by the international community because it is illegal. The organization's farcical attempt to establish a "state" in Iraq will inevitably end in failure.

The author is a senior research fellow on Middle East studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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