by Rowan Scarborough
The al Qaeda-linked army now conquering territory in Syria and Iraq ultimately wants its emerging Islamic state to be a launching pad for attacking the U.S. homeland, says a new congressional report.
Four analysts at the Congressional Research Service made that assessment, citing intelligence reports and the words of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The CRS report, delivered to members of Congress, makes the point that ISIL is a well-organized, well-funded terrorist group with definite goals to take territory and kill people it considers nonbelievers.
“Several leading representatives of the U.S. intelligence community have stated that [ISIL] maintains training camps in Iraq and Syria, has the intent to attack the United States and is reportedly recruiting and training individuals to do so,” says the June 20 report.
It quotes al-Baghdadi threatening the U.S.: “Know, O defender of the Cross, that a proxy war will not help you in the Levant, just as it will not help you in Iraq. Soon, you will be in direct conflict — God permitting — against your will.”
What makes ISIL even more dangerous is its ability to raise, and steal, money. Wealthy Sunni sheiks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have funneled money to ISIL to help it bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Mr. Assad aligns himself with Shiite-dominated Iran, and its proxy in Lebanon, the militant group Hezbollah.
Oil-rich, Sunni-dominated Gulf states consider the Shiite-led regimes a threat.
ISIL also is coercing money from businesses in the cities it conquers. Media reports say it may have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from banks in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
It now controls many of the Sunni-majority towns in the north of Iraq and is expanding its conquest in Anbar province, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
The Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki mostly has watched and retreated, unable to field army units that can blunt or reverse the assaults.
“[ISIL] attempts to assert control over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, and its June 2014 offensive in northern Iraq underscored the group’s lethality and ability to conduct combat operations and manage partnerships with local groups in multiple areas over large geographic distances,” the CRS report states.
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and military analyst, said ISIL is planting the seeds for attacks on the West.
“It already has many hundreds of jihadists with Western nation passports,” Mr. Maginnis said. “Those battle-proven jihadists will eventually return to their Western homelands to carry on the jihad using the violent ways learned in Syria and Iraq. And now that [ISIL] controls a giant swath of the Middle East, the Western jihadists have a training platform, financing and [a] cheerleading state sponsor.”
ISIL is partly an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, which American forces virtually defeated in 2007-2011 before a complete U.S. troop pullout.
Without U.S. guidance and intelligence, Iraqi security forces have shown themselves unable to deal with the new al Qaeda fighter influx. The invaders and Iraqi Sunni allies waged a new war based on terrorism, unleashing waves of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. The remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq have now hooked up with ISIL.
The Pentagon on Tuesday conceded that ISIL now controls vast stretches of territory in Iraq, as 90 more special operations, intelligence officers and planners arrived in Baghdad.
President Obama said as many as 300 U.S. troops ultimately will go to Iraq to create a new joint Iraqi-U.S. operations center. The Americans first will assess the situation, then advise U.S. commanders on what is needed, and then advise Iraq’s security forces themselves. The mission’s duration is sketchy.
Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said ISIL is “well resourced” and “better organized” than most terrorist groups.
“If you look at the map of Iraq, I mean, sort of the central swath going from north of Samarra around Tikrit all the way up to Mosul — that’s [ISIL]-controlled territory, by and large, and we’re seeing them try to solidify those gains and to continue to threaten Baghdad,” Adm. Kirby said. “That’s kind of the general lay down.”
The CRS report concluded: “The offensive in northern and central Iraq, led by the Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group [ISIL], has raised significant concerns for the United States. These concerns include a possible breakup of Iraq’s political and territorial order and the establishment of a potential base for terrorist attacks in the region or even against the U.S. homeland.”