Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Adam Schreck
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Security forces inspect the site of a car-bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday. A string of bombings in mostly Shiite-majority cities across Iraq on Sunday killed and wounded dozens of people.
The Associated Press
Iraqi officials acknowledge the group is growing stronger.
Al-Qaida has begun actively recruiting more young Iraqi men to take part in suicide missions after years of relying primarily on foreign volunteers, according to two intelligence officials. They said al-Baghdadi has issued orders calling for 50 attacks per week, which if achieved would mark a significant escalation.
One of the officials estimated that al-Qaida now has at least 3,000 trained fighters in Iraq alone, including some 100 volunteers awaiting orders to carry out suicide missions. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to disclose intelligence information.
‘EXTREMELY VIGOROUS, RESILIENT, CAPABLE’
A study released this month by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said al-Qaida in Iraq has emerged as “an extremely vigorous, resilient, and capable organization” that can operate as far south as Iraq’s Persian Gulf port of Basra.
The group “has reconstituted as a professional military force capable of planning, training, resourcing and executing synchronized and complex attacks in Iraq,” author Jessica Lewis added.
The study found that al-Qaida was able to carry out 24 separate attacks involving waves of six or more car bombs on a single day during a one-year period that coincided with the terror group’s “Breaking the Walls” campaign, which ended in July.
It carried out eight separate prison attacks over the same period, ending with the complex, military-style assaults on two Baghdad-area prisons on July 21 that freed more than 500 inmates, many of them al-Qaida members.
“It’s safe to assume a good percentage of them ... would flow back into the ranks,” boosting the group’s manpower, said Floyd, the military analyst.
American troops and Iraqi forces, including Sunni militiamen opposed to the group’s extremist ideology, beat back al-Qaida after the U.S. launched its surge strategy in 2007. That policy shift deployed additional American troops to Iraq and shifted the focus of the war effort toward enhancing security for Iraqis and winning their trust.
By 2009, al-Qaida and other Sunni extremist groups were “reduced to a few small cells struggling to survive and unable to mount more than token attacks,” Kenneth Pollack, a Clinton administration official who is now a Middle East analyst at the Brookings Institution, noted in a report earlier this year.
Now there are fears that all the hard work is coming undone. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite, say they are losing faith in the government’s ability to keep the country safe.
“Al-Qaida can blow up whatever number of car bombs they want whenever they choose,” said Ali Nasser, a Shiite government employee from Baghdad.