Iraq seen to fuel Islamic militants


An unidentified protester wears sunglasses with dollar signs on them during a demonstration during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 11:51 p.m.
DAVOS, Switzerland - The war in Iraq has become a homing beacon for Islamic militancy, threatening to destabilize neighboring countries and embolden terrorists to attack elsewhere, a senior RAND Corp. analyst told business and political elites at the World Economic Forum Saturday.
The head of Human Rights Watch echoed that sentiment, warning high-profile abuse scandals such as Abu Ghraib have become the ''recruitment poster'' for terrorists around the globe.
''In terms of perception, we've already lost the war,'' said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst who heads the Washington office of RAND Corp., a think tank known for its problem-solving research. ''I believe that a cult of the insurgent has emerged from Iraq.''
Hoffman did not say whether he thought the 2003 invasion was justified, but did criticize the Bush administration for failing to consider it's consequences.
''Our failure there was to not anticipate the repercussions and the blowback that Iraq could bring, and the fact that Iraq would become a clarion call for the Islamist cause,'' Hoffman said.
He said the success of the insurgency has shown potential terrorists everywhere how best to defeat a superpower. That, he added, will come back to haunt the West.
''The insurgents have been able to inflict a degree of pain on the United States military, the most vaunted military in the world, that Saddam Hussein's conventional forces couldn't have achieved,'' Hoffman said.
''The foreign jihadists who have come to Iraq, when this ends, are going to go back to their own countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, but also Europe .... These people are going to have been trained in urban terrorism.''
Kenneth Roth, the chairman of Human Rights Watch, cautioned that human rights violations in Iraq are also likely to spur more bloodshed.
''The pictures from Abu Ghraib have become the recruitment posters for terrorists around the world,'' said Roth, referring to photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by American jailers.
He said the scandal ''was not an aberration ... Abu Ghraib was the predictable consequence of policy decisions taken at senior levels of the Bush administration.''
Hoffman said the American military has to quickly change its approach to fighting the insurgency.
''The main problem for us is that time is running out,'' he said.
He suggested sealing the borders to stop the flow of money, bombs and bombers into the country, and to abandon the policy of moving a large conventional force into trouble spots.
''Let's concentrate on those parts of Iraq where the government does have control, completely solidify them, and then gradually move out of there and isolate the harder areas,'' he said, using the example of Fallujah.
When the U.S. military launched a massive invasion late last year against the town in the bloody Sunni triangle, most insurgents simply slipped away and took their operations elsewhere, like to Mosul in the north.
Hoffman cautioned against holding out too much hope that Sunday's Iraqi elections will do much to calm the situation, saying officials have raised the same hopes before, only to see them fail.
''There was tremendous optimism that once Saddam Hussein was caught that the insurgency would collapse and it didn't,'' he said.
''There was tremendous optimism that once the (Coalition Provisional Authority) went away and there was an interim Iraqi government the insurgency would end, and it didn't.
''We're putting tremendous hopes now on the election.''

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