September 26, 2006 | SFGate.com

No Iraq War = Easier War on Terror?

No Iraq war = easier war on terror?

The latest National Intelligence Estimate says the Iraq war is making the war on terror tougher. Democrats pounced on the report and said the U.S. must “change course” in Iraq.

Ok, what if we “changed course,” which presumably means pull out sooner rather than later? What if the Iraq war were no longer a factor — would that make the war on terror any easier?

Via email, we put those questions to Walid Phares, who heads the Future of Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and is the author of “Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against the Wes,” out in paperback next month.

If the U.S. pulled out of Iraq would what you have referred to as “jihadi terror” decrease?

Well, it would cease against US troops [in Iraq] since they will be gone. But it would target Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and sporadically Shiite militias.

But there are deeper causes for the increase in jihadi terror than the US military presence in Iraq (and, presumably, Afghanistan)– for example, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, or in the U.S. stated goal to establish democracy in the Middle East.

The core problem is essentially related to the rise of jihadism as an ideology and movement prior to 9/11 and the subsequent wars. It even preceded the Arab-Israeli war since 1948. Modern jihadism was born in the 1920s in its salafi form and in 1980 in its Khomeini form. It is impacted by the Palestine question but it doesn't originates from that exclusively. It has multiple battlegrounds around the world, such as Kashmir, Sudan, Philippines, Chechnya, Algeria, and also Palestine.

The war with the US is only from the 1990s, and exploded in 2001. The jihadi war in Iraq is not about a “national liberation struggle” for Iraq, it is one of the many battlefields of the jihadists … There is a worldwide jihadi strategy, things aren't random. Certainly the “spreading democracy” policy of Washington increases their opposition … for ideological reasons.

Are there other reasons to wage international jihad, and recruit militants?

Yes, their initial project is to create “emirates” around the Muslim world as a prelude to reestablish the Caliphate. That comes ahead of all other reasons.
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And would the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq open new possibilities to, say, set up jihadi training camps there?

Depends. If the US leaves with an Iraqi ally army behind in control of the country and with a political consensus among the main Iraqi political forces, they, the Iraqis, won't allow the jihadists to create camps, or at least they will limit their capacity. But if the US leaves Iraq without a strategic plan, including a Iraqi strategy to handle the terror war, than of course the expected thing to happen is the setting up of camps in the Sunni triangle.