- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

As the Senate continues its surreal debate over Iraq, anti-war lawmakers are getting remarkably glib about suggesting that the U.S. military shouldn’t dirty its hands as Iraq spirals toward an all-out civil war. “We cannot continue to feed our troops into the middle of a civil war,” says Sen. Chuck Hagel. Similarly, Sen. Barack Obama declares that American soldiers have no business trying to “solve the differences at the heart of somebody else’s civil war.” Such comments might make sense if Iraq were some sort of remote island backwater and the fighting there had no relationship to this country’s larger, existential war against radical Islamists. But in the real world, as opposed to the Senate, it is nonsensical to talk about Iraq this way — as if U.S. troop withdrawals or “redeployment” won’t have destabilizing, even catastrophic, consequences for American interests.

The new study by the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, “Things Fall Apart: Containing The Spillover From An Iraqi Civil War,” makes a powerful implicit case that one result of letting American troops stand aside while Iraq implodes will be the creation of much stronger terrorist movements. Over the past quarter-century, the longstanding “connection between terrorism and civil wars has become even more dangerous because of the rise of radical Islamist movements that have a strong anti-American agenda,” write Brookings scholars Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and a National Security Council staffer in the Clinton administration. “The Lebanese civil war became a front in the war Shi’i[te] extremists were waging to spread Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution. Most famously, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) helped create Hizbollah to secure Shi’i[te] goals in Lebanon and then turned it into an international terrorist organization that attacked Americans, Israelis and others on four continents. Hizbollah and a number of smaller radical Shi’i groups found a cause, a sanctuary, and a recruiting center in the chaos of the Lebanese civil war.”

There’s also the Sunni Muslim Salafist jihadist movement that spawned the likes of al Qaeda and Hamas. “In Afghanistan, the Balkans, Chechnya and elsewhere, insurgencies that grew out of local civil conflict steadily became enmeshed in a broader international movement whose figurehead is bin Laden,” the Brookings study notes. “The most worrisome terrorism-related problem should Iraq descend into all-out civil war is that Iraq could become a sanctuary for terrorist groups of all stripes, possibly even exceeding the problems of Lebanon in the 1980s or Afghanistan under the Taliban… Iraq would become an Afghanistan-like field of jihad, a place where radicals come to meet, train, fight, and forge bonds that last when they leave Iraq for the West or for other countries in the region. Although many Sunni jihadists travel to Iraq to fight today, the situation could easily get worse.”

Currently, the presence of more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq makes it very difficult for Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists to use Iraqi territory to menace neighboring countries. But if the number of American soldiers in Iraq is dramatically reduced or eliminated, that situation is likely to change for the worse, with Shi’ite terrorists launching strikes against Arab regimes in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait or encouraging their Shi’ite populations to revolt. Non-jihadist terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq might seek to capitalize on growing anarchy and violence in the country to step up attacks against Turkey, a NATO ally.

These are but a few examples that could result from a weakened U.S. military presence in Iraq. It is foolish for politicians to pretend that we can stand by while Iraq descends into civil war.

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