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Amid US Troop Debate, Iraq's Neighbors Fear Wave of Terrorism


Amid unrelenting violence in Iraq, debate over the future withdrawal of American forces from the country is increasing - among Iraqi political factions as well as in the United States. At the same time, there is growing concern among Iraq's neighbors about the broader regional implications of that violence and instability.

For many Jordanians the triple suicide bombings in their capital, Amman, earlier this month confirmed what they had feared for the past few years - the war in neighboring Iraq was spilling across its borders.

The attacks on three hotels in the city were carried out by Iraqis on the orders of Jordanian fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has become the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, and with the explicit support from al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Some fear the Amman bombings could mark a new wave of exported terror attacks by al-Qaida.

"We are aware of the new strategy of al-Qaida to spread terrorism from Iraq," says Jordanian political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman. "You remember the message from Ayman Zawahiri to Zarqawi a few weeks before when he suggested to him to concentrate on Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia - other countries, not only Iraq."

The Amman bombings were the first attacks of that magnitude in Jordan, but al-Qaida and its supporters have carried out bombings and other attempted attacks in Jordan as well as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And, al-Qaida leaders make no secret of their aim to overthrow existing Muslim governments and establish a caliphate based on what they view as pure Islamic principles.

In a speech in Washington this week, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, said there should be no doubts about what al-Qaida's is trying to do.

"Iraq is part of a larger plan of imposing Islamic radicalism across the broader Middle East, making Iraq a terrorist haven and staging ground for attacks against other nations," he said.

Mr. Cheney and other supporters of the Iraq war say these terrorist attacks show the threat is real and must be confronted. He rejects the notion that the situation created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a root cause of the violence.

"Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we have simply stirred up a hornet's nest," he said. "They overlook a fundamental fact. We were not in Iraq on September 11, 2001 and the terrorists hit us anyway. The reality is that the terrorists were at war with our country long before the liberation of Iraq and long before the attacks of 9/11."

But many in the Middle East and other critics of the Iraq war say, by invading Iraq, the United States opened up another front," he said. "Some say it created another Afghanistan where Islamic radicals, jihadis, have found a new base and cause to rally around.

The Middle East director of the independent International Crisis Group, Jost Hiltermann, told VOA from his office in Amman the fear that violence will spread from Iraq is real.

"There is a serious risk that Iraq is going to export jihadis that have been fighting in Iraq over the last couple of years, especially if instability in Iraq continues as is now the prognosis," he said. "And, so they may go back to their home countries and carry out attacks against the regimes here in the Middle East or in Europe."

But Mr. Hiltermann says there is another danger lurking - namely that the unrelenting violence in Iraq might draw other nations into a bigger conflict.

"If sectarian fighting cannot be contained in Iraq in the immediate coming period, it may well be that Iraq can no longer be held together and if that happens then the neighboring states, which have had a strategic interest in the territorial integrity of Iraq, may have no choice but to intervene," he said.

And that sort of intervention, according to Mr. Hiltermann, could lead to a broader Middle East war and include several of Iraq's neighbors, among them Iran, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration argues that is precisely why American troops cannot leave Iraq too soon. Mr. Hiltermann agrees. A precipitous withdrawal would likely ignite civil war, he says, but he also says that a timetable for withdrawal should be put in place to give Iraqis an incentive to take over and to reassure others in the region that the U.S. has no ulterior motives to stay around.

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