.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Impact of the War in Iraq on Islamist Groups and the culture of Global Jihad


The war in Iraq and the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had a
major impact on the ideology, activities, and mindset of Islamist terrorist
groups, and on the political culture of Global Jihad at large.
The quick and
unexpected fall of Saddam Hussein and his government brought about by the
United States and its Western allies, and the elimination of the Iraqi army
and security forces, created a vacuum in Iraq that attracted a flow of
Islamist volunteers to the country. Various old and new local Iraqi
groupings have since rapidly turned Iraq into a new battleground.
Furthermore, the United States has weakened the basic structure of the
former Iraqi regime and society - i.e. the Iraqi army - thus triggering the
emergence of fundamental conflicts and disputes in various respects.
Post-Saddam Iraq presented to these predominantly Sunni Arab Jihadist
groups, a golden opportunity to reinforce their struggle by combining
several basic elements:


- Increasing anti-American and anti-Western sentiments.


- Advocating a violent struggle against most Arab national/secular or
"infidel" regimes.


- Viewing the struggle in Iraq as a return to the heart of the Arab world
and thus a "return home," after years of struggle in "exile" including in
Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Central Asia.

- Seizing the opportunity to take advantage of political, social, religious,
and cultural elements beyond global Jihad, to recruit a growing number of
Islamic youth to support their political aspirations and Islamist
interpretations.


- Concentrating the struggle on a "core triangle" consisting of three Arab
countries - Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

- Using the Internet to promote the solidarity of the "Islamic virtual
nation (Ummah)" among large Islamic publics, throughout the Arab and Muslim
world, as well as Muslim communities in the West.


The war in Iraq and the Jihadi and Ba`thist struggles that followed there,
affected Islamist groups throughout the Arab and Muslim world by supplying
new interpretations of Jihad. These interpretations altered so-called "red
lines" that were previously set. The new interpretations were accompanied by
strategic policies and Modus Operandi. Among the more significant of these
are:


- Non-discriminatory killings of both "infidel" foreigners and Muslims, and
the adoption of more radical interpretations and doctrines of
ex-communication or Takfir, including of Muslims. Furthermore, the barbaric
killing of civilians by beheading became a widespread phenomenon in Iraq in
the past year. It included Muslims and non-Muslims as well, and was carried
out by various Islamist groups, under different names. Each execution was
videotaped and, within hours, was circulated as video clips to Islamist web
sites and forums on the Internet. At the beginning of September 2004,
propagandists for Al-Qaeda and Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Iraq edited a
"movie" that contained a collection of all the executions. They added
subtitles and then posted the movie on various sympathizing web sites.
Approximately 20,000 people downloaded the "movie" so far, and many others
the various clips. Thousands of Muslim youngsters, mainly in the Arab world
publicly stated their support for these barbaric executions, including of
innocent Turks, Egyptians, or Nepalese, whose only "sin" was the fact that
they came to Iraq to look for employment. They were all perceived as serving
the American occupation forces and the global conspiracy against Islam, and
hence, to be part of the combating forces.


- The war opened up new fronts in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, such as
Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, and above all Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly or not,
the only significant Arab country where the Islamist militants failed is
Egypt, probably as a result of the "iron fist" that the Egyptian authorities
had employed in handling the Islamist phenomenon during the past 20 years.
Another important example where the war and the radical Islamists have
little influence now is Algeria. There are signs of improved cooperation and
heightened mutual influence between Algerian and Saudi radical groups, but
this has not affected the struggle within Algeria.


- The war broadened opportunities for recruitment among Muslim communities
in the West.


- The war broadened opportunities to influence the Islamist struggles in
Central Asia and the Caucasus, and above all in Chechnya, long before the
most recent attack on a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in early
September 2004.


- It seems that in the past year, the war in Iraq has inherited the role of
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major factor in anti-Westernism. The
Iraqi issue has become the most important criterion for carrying out
terrorist operations even outside Iraq. Examples include the attacks in
Madrid in March 2004, or in Jakarta in early September this year. In a
declaration published in Islamist web sites in Arabic on September 10th, the
Indonesian Jama'ah Islamiyyah stated clearly that the bombing nearby the
Australian embassy in Jakarta took place as a lesson for the Australian
government, which participates in the "war against our brothers in Iraq."
Other plans, thwarted in Europe, or threats against other countries such as
Italy, Denmark, or Honduras, were all made against the background of the war
in Iraq. The only major terrorist attacks that had nothing to do with Iraq
were those that were in Moscow and Beslan, carried out recently by Chechen
terrorists and their Arab supporters, who bombed also two planes in Southern
Russia.


The entire process of radicalization that followed the war in Iraq is
accompanied by a massive indoctrination by Islamist scholars, clerics, and
intellectuals, who promote the building of a new system based on Jihad and
the doctrinal interpretations of this Islamist struggle. This process
creates a larger distinction between radical Islamists on the one hand, and
other Islamic doctrines and trends that do not advocate the violent radical
Jihadi line in the Arab world, on the other hand. This process, which is
currently at its beginning, might in the future, be useful in creating the
Islamic answer to the radical Jihadi groups.

Curtailing this phenomenon must come from within the Arab and Muslim world,
and not be led by an outside force. The present situation in Iraq does not
only bear the prospect of heightened Islamist radicalization, but it also
contains the seeds for finding the reaction of Islamic moderates. Such a
reaction however, depends both on the behavior of the Islamists, and the
American policy vis a vis the Arab world in general, and Iraq in particular.