The death of Benazir Bhutto and the recent rash of suicide attacks do not bode well, says Cruickshank.
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.