- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

A leading authority on terrorism yesterday told the panel investigating the September 11 attacks that the U.S. invasion of Iraq may have worsened the threat of terrorism.

Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, also criticized the failures of intelligence and policy he said had turned Afghanistan into a “terrorist Disneyland,” and allowed al Qaeda and other terror groups “a free rein.”

Mr. Gunaratna testified at a public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, where he was asked by commission member Max Cleland, the war-wounded Vietnam veteran and former Democratic Georgia senator, to comment on the impact of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.

Mr. Gunaratna said that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might be a bigger threat now than before the war.

“You have not taken him out,” he said of Saddam. “He is still there … with finance and perhaps with access to certain special weapons [he] may be a greater threat today than he was in power in that country.”

Noting opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Gunaratna said, “The terrorist organizations will harness that displeasure and that resentment and that anger in the Muslim world and they will grow in strength and they will become a greater threat to you.”

But another witness who gave evidence during the daylong hearings on al Qaeda, terrorism and the Islamic world disagreed.

Asked by a panel member whether the invasion might be a “recruiting poster” for al Qaeda and other extremists, Mamoun Fandy, from the U.S. Institute for Peace, said, “the jihadists are the losers” in the Iraq war, because it had sent the message that the United States was capable of and willing to deploy in force in the Middle East.

“The different poster, the poster that people read also in the region, [is] that the United States is … here to change bad regimes that committed huge crimes against their own peoples,” he added.

In common with the others testifying, Mr. Fandy argued for a huge U.S. public-diplomacy initiative, to help create what Mr. Gunaratna called “a societal norm and ethic against terrorism” in the Islamic world.

Referring to the inculcation of values, “what is in the Muslim world’s head, how people are being raised and educated,” as “the software” of Islamic societies, Mr. Fandy said, “We have to rewrite that software, if you will. And if we don’t rewrite it, nobody else will rewrite it.”

But he cautioned that much previous good work had been undone because U.S. officials didn’t follow up their efforts carefully enough.

Using the example of schools built with U.S. funds that were named after radical Islamic leaders, he said, “We have to follow up. We have to follow our money. Even our money can go to al Qaeda, believe it or not.”

He said that a big problem was a lack of foreign policy expertise in the United States.

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