Training Grounds, Magnets, and Hunters in Iraq

A CIA report leaked to the press indicates Iraqi is becoming a training ground for terrorists on par with or exceeding that of Afghanistan in the 1990s. This isn’t news, however, as the National Intelligence Council came to a similar conclusion in January of this year. The latest report indicates that terrorists are gaining “a broad range of skills, from car bombings and assassinations to coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets” and are likely to take their skills with them to their home countries, and even infiltrate Western societies “once the insurgency ends.”

This fact is often used as a criticism of the invasion of Iraq, however it also provides credibility to the “Flypaper” or “Magnet” theories attributed to the invasion: bringing the war to the heart of the Middle East would issue a challenge to al Qaeda that cannot be ignored, forcing them to commit fighters and resources to the battle, where US forces can fix and kill them.

Michael McNeil from Impearls cites an unlikely source for confirmation of the Flypaper/Magnet theory: the BBC. Not only has Iraq become a magnet, but it has increased Europe’s security by redirecting fighters from their European soil.

A BBC interviewee, Jeremy Binnie of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, put it thusly:

The war in Iraq has minimized the threat to Europe [emphasis added] because everyone who’s Jihad-inclined wants to go fight over there. So even though some of these  the guys suspected of involvement in the train bombings have reportedly gone over to lodge themselves in Iraq. So there are these radicals sort of coming out of Europe and actually going to a different theater altogether.

The death of Abdullah Mohammed Rashid al-Roshoud in Qaim, number 24 out of 26 on Saudi Arabia’s list of most wanted terrorists provides backing to the Flypaper theory. So does the arrest in Spain of 11 al Qaeda fighters; the influx of terrorists from Africa; and Evan Kohlmann’s chart of known foreign fighters killed in Iraq (keep in mind this does not include captured foreign fighters, estimated at about 400).

The use of Iraq as a training ground for foreign terrorists has its pluses and minuses. No doubt those who survive the crucible will have a honed skill set. No doubt Iraq is being used as a recruiting campaign for aspiring jihadis. And Iraqi is “awash with weapons” , making it easy for the terrorists to access the materials used in their attacks, which are increasing in sophistication.

But the advantage does not favor al Qaeda alone. Iraq has given American intelligence an opportunity to study and penetrate al Qaeda’s operations. The CIA, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Special Operations Forces operating against al Qaeda in Iraq are learning the tactics of al Qaeda, and are developing their skills and familiarity with the Middle Eastern culture. These servicemen, once returning to civilian life, will retain their skills which can be used in civil defense and in the defense and intelligence community. Iraq is a hot zone, and it gives the military the ability to actively hunt al Qaeda, which is impossible in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other nations hostile to direct US intervention.

And hunt them we are. The latest deployment to Iraq is the 4,000 man force of the 28th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, from the Pennsylvania National Guard. Their destination is the Anbar province, and they will join the 3,000 plus Marines currently there, essentially doubling the combat power in the region. And the Iraqi Army has yet to enter the battle in the province.

Good hunting and best of luck to my neighbors in the 2/28 BCT.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram