What if the next president quickly withdraws American troops from Iraq?
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 think the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would be a disaster, because the success against Al Qaeda is really not a complete success so far. Two thousand and seven was the record year for suicide bombings – over 350 suicide bombings in Iraq in 2007. That’s one suicide bombing attack a day. Ten thousand civilians have been killed in Iraq, and around 900 suicide bombing attacks since the war began. And those have been almost all carried out by Al Qaeda. So this is an organization with a real track record of violence; that in recent years were able to gain control of huge . . . Well not . . . They were in recent years . . . they were able to gain control of significant amount of territory within the country, especially in areas with a mixed demographic population of Shiia and Sunni. Because they’re really able to gain recruits by saying to people in these areas, “Look. The Shiia … are massacring us. You need to join Al Qaeda because we’re the only ones who can fight back against the Shiia …. We’re the only ones who can really protect you from death; from . . . from the activities of the militias of … and other militias operating in Iraq. So that was a real tool for them to gain recruits in 2005 and 2006 and the early part of 2007. Things have been going much less well for Al Qaeda in Iraq since then. They’re not now seen as the protector of Iraqi Sunnis, but really as the oppressor of Iraqi Sunnis. But if U.S. troops would withdraw precipitously from the country, and the civil war again escalates, and you see the sorts of levels of violence you were seeing in 2006, then the real problem . . . we could have a real problem because the . . . that dynamic of Shiia… killing Sunnis might come back into play. And then Al Qaeda again would have a recruiting tool in these demographically mixed parts of Iraq to . . . to again win the support of a local population. You might see other insurgent groups and Sunni tribals again coming up with a marriage of convenience with Al Qaeda; or stop fighting against Al Qaeda in these awakening councils and again ally themselves with Al Qaeda. If you have a larger Shiia-Sunni civil war emerging . . . Because right now moving forward, the U.S. and Israeli arming these tribal groups and Sunni tribal groups around the country, they’re gaining in power. But you also have the Baghdad which is dominated by the Shiia forces of…; of other . . . of other forces in Iraq. So you could have a situation where you have two armed camps and a more organized, higher …civil war emerging with a very quick U.S. withdrawal from the country. Iraq is still like a tinder box right now which can erupt. And if it does erupt and you do have a civil war again blazing in the country, then Al Qaeda can then again be the winners out of that sort of situation because the chaos and bloodshed of 2006 might return. And if it does return, then Al Qaeda again can use that as a recruiting tool – casting themselves as the protector of the local population to gain hold of territory. And if they do gain hold of the territory, there’s a real change they’re gonna use that territory not only to plan operations within Iraq, but also in the Arab world. You saw in 2005…launching attacks in Jordan. killed 60. There are some indications that the plot in the summer of 2007 to launch attacks on a Glasgow airport and also in London had links to Al Qaeda in Iraq became they clearly have out of area ambitions. The leader of the organization, an Egyptian called …, has said he (42:36) doesn’t wanna rest in this jihad until he blows up the White House. There’s a real chance that if Al Qaeda in Iraq were allowed to regenerate a capability in Iraq because of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal, they’ll again gain strength. And they’ll be able to sort of export manpower and finances to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We’ve seen increasing synergies between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda central, if you like, in the Afghan-Pakistan border area. The insurgent groups in Iraq in 2006 were raising around $200 million a year through all sorts of nefarious activities – smuggling, kidnappings, those sort of things. Al Qaeda in Iraq had some part of that pie. We don’t know how much – likely several million dollars. Even …in 2005 sent a letter to …asking for money . . . asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. So Al Qaeda in Iraq could in the future resurface just like Al Qaeda did in the Pakistani-Afghan area.
Recorded on: Jan 14 2008
Al-Qaeda would profit from the violence following a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops, says Cruickshank.