Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer argued in the July 18 edition of Time magazine that the claim that the war in Iraq has increased Al Qaeda recruitment amounted to "nonsense." But Krauthammer ignored recent reports by the U.S. intelligence community that the Iraq conflict has been -- and will likely continue to be -- an effective recruitment tool and training ground for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
In a column titled "... Why That's Ridiculous," Krauthammer wrote:
For the next decade, whenever there is a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, there will be those blaming it on America: if only America had not been distracted from the war on terrorism by the war in Iraq, if only America had not stirred Muslim resentment and increased al-Qaeda recruitment by invading Iraq.
Krauthammer then labeled such arguments "nonsense." On the topic of recruitment, he argued that the 1990s represented "the seminal period of Al Qaeda recruitment -- indeed, the period during which it created its entire worldwide infrastructure":
Yet it was precisely during that era of good feeling that al-Qaeda not only recruited for but also conceived, planned and set in motion the worst massacre of Americans in history. So much for the connection between American perfidy and anti-American terrorism.
But Krauthammer's argument that Al Qaeda increased its ranks during the 1990s does not address the claim that the war in Iraq has boosted the organization's recruitment efforts. Indeed, as recently as this year, U.S. intelligence sources have supported that claim, noting that Iraq is now a significant terrorist "training ground" and that Al Qaeda's membership consists of an increasing number of fighters from the Iraqi conflict.
The CIA's National Intelligence Council -- "the Intelligence Community's (IC's) center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking" -- identified Iraq as succeeding Afghanistan as the major new training ground for terrorists. "The al-Qa'ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq," the council stated in a report titled "Mapping the Global Future." At the time of the report's release, NIC chairman Robert L. Hutchings stated that Iraq is currently "a magnet for international terrorist activity."
A January 18 Knight Ridder article further reported that "Islamic militants allied with or inspired by Osama bin Laden were forging ties to Iraqi nationalists and remnants of former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime," citing two "senior intelligence officials with access to classified reporting." One of the officials was quoted saying, "The sad thing is we have created what the administration claimed we were intervening to prevent: an Iraq/al-Qaida linkage."
Other analyses have perceived a similar trend in terrorist recruitment. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British think tank that focuses on political-military conflict, concluded in the 2004-05 edition of its report, The Military Balance, that it "is probable that [Al Qaeda] recruitment generally has accelerated on account of Iraq." "Al-Qaeda has added Iraq to its list of grievances," the report stated. "With Osama Bin Laden's public encouragement, up to 1,000 foreign jihadists may have infiltrated Iraq."