Imad Mughniyah reportedly is in Iraq. You may not have heard of him, but every intelligence officer in the West has.
Born in Lebanon in 1962, Mughniyah got his start working for Yasser Arafat, but soon switched to the Iranian/Syrian backed Hezbollah, for whom he currently is operations chief.
Mughniyah masterminded the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina a decade later. Many think he was behind the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996.
Though a Shi’ite Muslim for whom Wahhabis like Osama bin Laden purportedly have disdain, Mughniyah has had connections to al Qaeda since the early 1990s. During his trial for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, al Qaeda operative Ali Muhammad testified he introduced Mughniyah to bin Laden in Somalia in 1993. German terrorism expert Rolf Tophoven said last year that bin Laden has put Mughniyah in charge of al Qaeda operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Mughniyah was in Iran until early August, according to the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. While in Iran, Mughniyah met with Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, and with Osama’s son Said bin Laden, said Michael Ledeen, a terrorism expert for the American Enterprise Institute.
U.S. authorities have said the truck bombs used to attack the U.N. compound in Baghdad Aug. 19 and the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf Aug. 29 were virtually identical. Mr. Ledeen sees Mughniyah’s fingerprints on both.
Many doubt a Shi’ite Muslim would attack the holiest of Shi’ite shrines. But, Mr. Ledeen notes, the leader of Hezbollah in Iraq, Ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr, was conveniently absent from the Friday prayers where his archrival, the Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, was murdered.
Wahhabis have no love for Shi’ites, and vice versa. And Islamist terrorists of both faiths despise the Ba’athists, whom they regard as apostates. But terrorists who hate each other will work together if united by a greater hatred, or a greater fear. The oldest adage in diplomacy is: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
There is no doubt that the enemies of freedom and democracy are being drawn to Iraq, like moths to a flame. I’m skeptical of reports that “thousands” of foreign terrorists have entered Iraq in the last month, but hundreds certainly have, and it only takes dozens to conduct suicide truck bombings.
The foreign terrorists should remind us we are in a world war with Islamic terrorists. Their presence in Iraq means it will take us longer, and cost us more, in blood and treasure, to achieve our objectives there. But the short-term problem may be a long-term blessing. By concentrating their forces in Iraq, our adversaries are making it easier for us to defeat them.
The terrorists are drawn to Iraq out of weakness, not strength. “Two years after the attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden’s leadership cadre has been isolated and weakened and is increasingly reliant on the violent actions of local radicals around the world to maintain its profile,” wrote Peter Finn and Susan Schmidt in The Washington Post last Sunday. “But the al Qaeda network is determined to open a new front in Iraq to sustain itself as the vanguard of radical Islamic groups.”
The terrorists — and the governments that sponsor them — realize that if freedom and democracy take root in Iraq, they are doomed. They have to fight there, even though it isn’t good ground for them. As the terrorists concentrate, they become easier for our intelligence analysts to track. And our soldiers can kill them there without reading them their Miranda rights first. Geography, time, and — increasingly — the Iraqi people, are on our side.
In Iraq, the United States is on the tactical defensive, but the strategic offensive. The famed British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart said this was the very strongest posture in which to be. The terrorists understand this. Too bad so few of our journalists and politicians do.
Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.