The central front in the war on terror? It is now

According to a new CIA report, George W. Bush has done what Saddam Hussein couldn't: He's turned Iraq into the world's best training ground for terrorists.

Published June 22, 2005 7:23AM (EDT)

George W. Bush likes to say that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror." He was wrong about that when he decided to go to war in Iraq -- Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and no "collaborative relationship" with al-Qaida -- but Bush may finally be right now: A classified CIA assessment says that Iraq is becoming the terrorists' best testing and training ground.

According to a report in today's New York Times, the CIA assessment says that the Iraq war will leave a dangerous legacy -- fighters from inside Iraq and out who will disperse to other countries having learned the art of war firsthand while fighting and killing American soldiers.

Maybe that's why the U.S. military is focusing many of its Iraq operations now on simply killing large numbers of insurgents. It's not quite as appealing as winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, but a dead insurgent won't live to fight another day, and the body counts sure look good in the newspapers back home.

Still, some U.S. military officers serving in Iraq realize that killing insurgents is like topping off a weed without taking out the roots. U.S. Marines declared victory in Karabila Tuesday after four days of fighting aimed at driving foreign fighters out of the city, but an Iraqi citizen told Reuters that the insurgents will move back in as soon as the Marines leave. Capt. Thomas Sibley didn't disagree. "Yeah, in a couple of weeks they'll be back and they'll make up for these losses," Sibley told Reuters. "But that's fine, because we're not beating them in two weeks. We're beating them in two years."

That's not the kind of long slog the Bush administration wants to advertise, and it's probably not what CIA analysts want to hear, either. With another couple of years' worth of practice in Iraq, international terrorists just might become the sort of threat that the president and his people once made out Saddam Hussein to be.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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