Iraq, the new Afghanistan

Published January 14, 2005 6:19PM (EST)

Indeed, it's not exactly earth-shattering news at this point, but a new report out Thursday from the CIA's National Intelligence Council confirms that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the world's number-one breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. (To what degree militants continue to spring up around a still-shaky Afghanistan isn't getting much mention in today's coverage, and presumably isn't a big part of the NIC report, either.)

David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said at a press briefing Thursday that Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, [and] the opportunity for enhancing technical skills." He added, "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."

The Washington Post's Dana Priest compares the Bush vision for Iraq with the Pandora's box that the region has become.

"Bush described the war in Iraq as a means to promote democracy in the Middle East. 'A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East,' he said one month before the invasion. 'Instead of threatening its neighbors and harboring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both.'

"But as instability in Iraq grew after the toppling of Hussein, and resentment toward the United States intensified in the Muslim world, hundreds of foreign terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders. They found tons of unprotected weapons caches that, military officials say, they are now using against U.S. troops. Foreign terrorists are believed to make up a large portion of today's suicide bombers, and U.S. intelligence officials say these foreigners are forming tactical, ever-changing alliances with former Baathist fighters and other insurgents.

"'The al-Qa'ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq,' the report says."

Perhaps most striking, from the report's longer view, is the way it characterizes the nature of global conflict today: "Among the report's major findings is that the likelihood of 'great power conflict escalating into total war ... is lower than at any time in the past century.' However, 'at no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949 have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state of flux as they have in the past decade.'"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Mark Follman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room