Paul Cruickshank is a Fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law. He previously worked as an investigative journalist in London, reporting on al Qaeda and its European affiliates and was part of the CNN reporting team that covered the London July 7, 2005 attacks. He collaborated closely with Peter Bergen in interviewing acquaintances of Osama bin Laden for Bergen's 2006 oral history "The Osama bin Laden I Know" and worked with CNN on a two-hour Emmy-nominated documentary "In the footsteps of bin Laden." Cruickshank has written about al Qaeda and Islamist groups for a number of publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. He has provided on-air analysis to CNN, BBC, NBC, CBS, BBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera on national security issues. Cruickshank graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in history, and has a Masters degree with Honors in International Relations from the Paul. H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He has also worked in the European Parliament in Brussels and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
Paul Cruickshank: I mean the worst case scenario is, you know, the precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq; a civil war happening in that country on a larger scale than it’s happened in the past between two organized camps; and part of that country becoming incredibly chaotic . . . even more chaotic than it is now; a young population becoming more radicalized; and Al Qaeda sort of gaining increased control over territory by exploiting Sunni grievances against Shiia in parts of Iraq. If that’s the case, then you could see part of Iraq becoming, if you like, a laboratory for terrorism; a very radicalized area a little bit like the tribal areas in Pakistan where Al Qaeda’s ideology might hold sway. That’s certainly possible. But you’ve gotta remember that in Iraq you have a lot of different dynamics to the Pakistan tribal areas in the sense that the Sunnis are the minority of the population of Iraq. So you’re never gonna get a whole part of the country being dominated by Al Qaeda. The idea that Al Qaeda could ever take over Iraq is ridiculous. But Al Qaeda could gain control of certain parts of the country. And what we’re talking about here is a set of hypothetical things which could happen, because we’ve got to remember that Al Qaeda are really on the back foot in Iraq right now. And their behavior has been very counterproductive. But this is all about a precipitous U.S. withdrawal and what could still happen. So I think there’s a very strong argument for leaving a large U.S. troop presence which could be, say, in the high tens of thousands in the country to make sure that none of these hypotheticals have a chance to become reality. And also just for humanitarian reasons within the country, the United States is a buffer between the communities there. And it is the power which is stopping Iraqis from engaging in much worse violence than they’ve already been engaging in.