U.S. Combat Troops are Leaving Iraq, But Will al-Qaeda Return? By Gregory Hilton

U.S. combat operations in Iraq will cease at the end of this month, and the massive exodus of U.S. troops and equipment will continue. Over 90,000 soldiers have already left. Operation Iraqi Freedom will become Operation New Dawn on September 1st, and this will reflect the reduced American role.
The transition from the U.S. to the Iraqi military has been long and expensive. Terrorist attacks have not ended, and organizations such as al-Qaeda could come back in significant numbers. In his speech on Monday, President Obama noted “The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.’’ The United States still has no idea where al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hiding.
Al-Qaeda knows the American timetable and they could simply be waiting for the U.S. to leave before resuming large scale attacks. It is doubtful that will happen, and the overall outlook is positive. The Iraqi’s now have 664,000 trained and equipped security forces. The U.S. Military pulled out of all cities and towns in June of 2009, and the Iraq National Army has been doing an excellent job in maintaining security since then.
Attacks are down from 1,800 per week in 2007 to just 20 per week now. The war is not over and 17 Americans were killed in combat operations in 2010, but that is a 95% reduction from 2007.
Iraq has never had a better outlook. There is a political stalemate in the government, but it is still far better than any of its regional neighbors. Iraqi’s have political freedom they have never known before, and the change is apparent to the entire Middle East.
The nation’s GDP has tripled since 2002 and the outlook for future economic growth is excellent. The attitudes of the Iraqi people have also shifted significantly. The liberal Brookings Institute has just issued another of its monthly in-depth reports, Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq, which gives a very positive assessment of the progress. It is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion, and security data.
According to the Brookings Index:
58 percent of Iraqis say things are good or quite good.

84 percent say security is good in their area.

78 percent say crime protection is good in their area.

74 percent say freedom of movement is good in their area.

59 percent feel very safe in their neighborhood.

61 percent have confidence in the Iraqi government.

64 percent want Iraq to remain a democracy.

Among the thousands of statistics noted by Brookings were the increase of Internet users from 4,500 under to Saddam Hussein to 1.6 million today. The number of telephones have gone from less than a million to almost 20 million. There are 28 million people in Iraq.
What is the Outlook for al-Qaeda in Iraq?
According to the Pentagon, almost 10,000 al-Qaeda members were killed during the war in Iraq and less than 100 remain in Afghanistan. There has been a complete defeat of the foreign led insurgency. These were the fighters sent into Iraq by al-Qaeda.
Once again, al-Qaeda elements remain in Iraq, and they will continue to conduct bombings from time to time, but violence is the lowest it has been in years.

  • The Brookings report says “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been eviscerated.”
  • Foreign Policy magazine says “Al Qaeda’s tactics have alienated the local population, and its transnational, pan-Islamic ambition is inconsistent with most Iraqis’ desire for national reconciliation.”
  • In May, CIA Director Leon Panetta said military operations had “seriously disrupted al-Qaeda. It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run.”

Al-Qaeda is of course still in Pakistan, but DoD is no longer making as estimate of their strength. Terrorism also remains a major problem and the Pakistani Taliban have killed more than 1000 civilians this year. The Punjab-based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba is also growing in strength. The Taliban is believed to have anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 members.

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