"When The Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell young men waited in lines to get a haircut and when Saddam fell barbers became targets."
My father offered this simple example during a discussion we had about war on terror the other day. Although the example is very simple but the idea behind it is deep and aims at identifying the change of the main battleground for war with terror.
I wanted to talk about this because recently we've been watching the debate in America about redeployment of troops and identifying the real front we must focus on.
I see that al-Qaeda and terrorists in general didn't hide their position in this respect—despite the fact that they still operate in many parts of the world, they are clearly redirecting most effort and resources to the war in Iraq.
The war here has a lot that to do with drawing the future prospects of spreading religious extremism and this in turn is connected to the agendas of countries that have mutual goals with al-Qaeda in spite of the difference in ideology. This collaboration is complex but it clearly shows the priorities of the terrorists and rogue regimes and in turn suggests what our strategic priorities should be.
There are greater examples than killing barbers of course so I'd like to include some more to remind those who try to naively oversimplify the issue in the context that the commanders of al-Qaeda are hiding in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan far away from civilization.
Al-Qaeda and its supporters are using most of the capabilities of their propaganda machine to cover their effort in Iraq, and so is the case with financial resources. All evidences indicate that most of the money is used to support the terror activity in Iraq.
Let's not forget recruiting networks that are discovered constantly in many European and Arab countries; we rarely, if ever, hear that those networks were sending recruits to Afghanistan because recruits are being sent to Iraq all the time. Even more telling, some of the prominent lieutenants of al-Qaeda left Afghanistan to fight in Iraq. One example I remember was Omar al-Farouk who escaped from Bagram to be later captured in Basra!
Al-Qaeda itself boasts about the great "sacrifices" of more than 4,000 "martyrs" to emphasize the importance of the war here. And the hundreds of suicide bombers preferred to blow themselves up in Iraq than anywhere else should remind us that if al-Qaeda considers this the main war then why talk about redeployment?
Walking away from the main war is not redeployment, it's quitting.
But why Iraq became the main front?
Iraq can simply not be equated with Afghanistan which the bulk of al-Qaeda largely abandoned after few weeks of battles—that doesn't sound like al-Qaeda!
Iraq, weak after a war that toppled the regime but rich-relatively-with resources and scientific base is a greater temptation than Afghanistan, and at the same time the possibility of a democracy arising in Iraq posed a great threat to the ideology of caliph state. Therefore al-Qaeda and whoever is backing it directly or indirectly felt they had to move the front to Iraq instead of staying in Afghanistan.
Let's imagine that the world left Iraq alone before the country is able to defend itself and let it fall in the hands of extremists, what would happen then?
Can we compare the opium fields with the massive oilfields of Mesopotamia? Can we afford to leave these resources in the service of the terrorists?
The other point is scientific infrastructure, especially when it comes to military technology such infrastructure almost doesn't exist in Afghanistan while Saddam celebrated 17 years ago in launching a rocket to space. The same "accomplishment' Iran claimed to have made just days ago.
This infrastructure, while still humble compared to advanced countries, could be very dangerous if captured by terrorists.
An Islamic state in Iraq whether to be led by al-Qaeda or one of the local extreme religious parties would be an enormous threat to the security of the region and the world and a turning point that might encourage fence-sitters to join the terrorists…the tide would be much more difficult to stop then.
It's true that what's happening in Iraq doesn't meet the ambitions of Iraqis or Americans and everyone admits that many mistakes were made.
I agree that the Iraqi government should be pressed to speed up the effort to establish rule of law and achieve reconciliation. And I also agree that the American administration needs to revise the way it's been handling and planning for this critical war.
But abandoning this front or failing to recognize its priority is a terrible mistake that can lead to disastrous consequences to all of us.