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Debate Centers on Relation Between Terrorism and War in Iraq


Last month, portions of a classified U.S. government intelligence estimate on global terrorism were leaked to the media, which reported the document as saying the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating. The White House says the media misinterpreted the secret information, and President Bush ordered the declassification of relevant portions so everyone, as the president put it, "can draw their own conclusions."

After it was declassified, the director of U.S. National Intelligence, John Negroponte, publicly read one of the key assessments from the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). "The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," he read. "However, should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

James Phillips, a terrorism expert at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C., says the NIE news leak was selective, and he downplayed the importance of winning the war in Iraq. "While it is true that the war itself has allowed jihadists to attract greater recruits, that same NIE also stated that a jihadist victory there would lead them to be able to attract even more. And that was ignored by whoever leaked the first sentence."

The leak, published in The New York Times newspaper, revealed the assertion of U.S. intelligence agencies that the Iraq conflict is cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

However, the declassified estimate named other factors that are also fueling the jihadist spread. They include entrenched grievances in many Muslim nations, such as corruption and injustice, as well as a slow pace of economic, social and political reforms.

Terrorism expert Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says the National Intelligence Estimate failed to address some additional concerns. "For at least the next 15 years, there is going to be very serious demographic pressure on the Middle East," said Cordesman. "Millions of young men and women will enter a labor market where there already is massive unemployment, or underemployment and few opportunities. You have hyper-urbanization in areas where the educational institutions, housing, all the conditions of life have not yet been modernized."

Cordesman said the Bush administration is not focusing enough attention on reforms to address factors that radicalize people. "We need, honestly, to look at this problem, not in terms of politics, but in terms of governance, economics, basic divisions in the country between ethnic and sectarian groups; how quickly you can actually change people," said Cordesman. "What will their values accept?"

The National Intelligence Estimate says the jihadist movement has various vulnerabilities, above all, an ultraconservative interpretation of Shariah-based governance that is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.

The Heritage Foundation's James Phillips said Afghanistan's deposed Taleban government showed the downside of the radical Islam. "In Afghanistan, what happened was a horror show of tremendous human rights abuses; where women couldn't go work outside their homes, girls couldn't be educated, men were put in jail if they weren't able to grow a beard long enough to suit the Taleban," said Phillips, "and Afghans quickly became tired of that."

Phillips said many terrorists, swept up in the emotion of the moment, go to Iraq and fight a jihad, but fail to consider what happens after the war is over.