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Jihadis View Iraq as the Place to Slay the Great Satan

The United States must not bow in the face of escalating attacks.

August 20, 2003|Avigdor Haselkorn | Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of "The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence" (Yale University Press, 1999).

The United States and its allies have been facing difficult days in Iraq. On top of the daily shootings of coalition soldiers, a new phase seems to have begun with the bombings of the Jordanian Embassy and the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Though it is not clear who is behind these attacks, there should be little doubt that the struggle underway transcends the "liberation" of Iraq from Western "occupiers."

The U.S. is facing much more than disorganized attacks by remnants of a dying regime that seek revenge or act simply out of despair given that they have no future in the new country.

Iraq post-Hussein has become a flash point where regional interests have joined in the common goal of ousting the West. Even if the effort is not coordinated, those involved are unwavering in their aim to defeat the U.S., and at least some see Iraq as a test case of American fortitude.

From a strategic point of view, the ouster of the Hussein regime and the deployment of the U.S. military in Iraq for the foreseeable future have brought a geopolitical transformation in the global struggle between Islamic extremists and the West. By positioning itself militarily in this area, the U.S. has turned the tables on its enemies. It seized the strategic initiative and, instead of radicals holding it and its allies hostage, it is regimes such as those in Iran and Syria that have been boxed up.

The mullahs in Tehran, for instance, who have staked their survival and Iran's regional designs on Iran building nuclear weaponry, are now afraid to do so. They are aware that pursuing this course would probably end their political longevity. After all, the U.S. military is now poised on Iran's western and eastern borders. Moreover, as long as U.S. forces are patrolling the Syrian border, Iran can't use Hezbollah to distract Israel from going after Tehran's nuclear efforts.

The Syrians have been under heavy U.S. pressure to cease their support for Hezbollah and an array of Palestinian terrorist groups. But Damascus is even more nervous that the U.S. example in Iraq -- the forceful disarming of an extremist regime believed armed with weapons of mass destruction -- signals that its vast stores of chemical weapons could become the next casus belli for the Bush administration.

The downfall of the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan is also worrisome to Islamic radicals who now see that Osama bin Laden's grand design of the U.S. being destroyed and an Islamic hegemony established has backfired. In the wake of the "global jihad" proclaimed by Al Qaeda and its ilk, there should be no surprise that with the escalation of attacks in Iraq has come a new phase of guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan as well.

Even if the U.S. military presence in Iraq were viewed as benign by the rest of the Arab world, it is unlikely that it would have been tolerated. Were the U.S. to be successful in establishing a functioning democracy in Iraq and rehabilitate the country's economy, the political danger of the new regime serving as an example to the rest of the neighborhood would have led to intensive efforts to subvert the experiment. The extensive campaign of sabotage underway in Iraq, exemplified just recently by new bombings of the oil pipeline to Turkey and the water main in Baghdad, should be seen as confirmation of this trend. It is imperative that the U.S. prevail in this conflict. Were the American forces to pack up and leave Iraq under pressure, as some have already called for, the war on terror would crumble.

If the U.S. forces were to retreat now, the perception that the U.S. is nothing but a paper tiger unable to sustain casualties would prove itself. Such a realization would open the gates to a relentless onslaught against the U.S. itself, its interests worldwide and its regional allies.

Even Washington's two-faced allies like Germany and France, or Russia, which sees itself as embroiled in its own version of jihad in Chechnya, should realize that they must act so that this does not happen.

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