The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies reports that invading Iraq made al Qaida stronger.
Basing its findings on information from its specialist contacts, including sources in governments and intelligence agencies, the institute said the invasion of Iraq had “enhanced jihadist recruitment and intensified al-Qaida’s motivation” to mount terrorist operations.
The organisation estimated that al-Qaida had more than 18,000 potential terrorists in 60 countries, sympathetic, in varying degrees, to its cause.
“Furthermore, the substantially exposed US military deployment in Iraq presents al-Qaida with perhaps its most attractive ‘iconic’ target outside US territory,” the report, The Military Balance, concluded.
“Galvanised by Iraq, if compromised by Afghanistan, al-Qaida remains a viable and effective ‘network of networks’,” the institute warns. After losing its training and command base in the Afghanistan war, al-Qaida dispersed, its leaders relinquishing operational initiative and responsibility to “local talent”, according to the report.
But intelligence obtained by the US suggested that some of al-Qaida’s activities, particularly bomb-making, had become more centralised and therefore “potentially more efficient and sophisticated”.
The report dismissed claims by US officials that the influx of jihadists into Iraq brought more terrorists into a smaller “killing zone”. The al-Qaida movement was unlikely to concentrate forces in any one country, the institute said, adding that the 1,000 foreign fighters estimated to be in Iraq were a “minute fraction of its potential strength”.