Who is killing the people of Iraq?
Fri 26th Jul 2013
The United Nations recently warned that the ongoing turmoil inside Syria and Iraq has formed a situation where "the battlefields are merging” into one.
One of the reasons for this was expressed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who stated last month that the borders between the two countries were still "quite open for movement by terrorist groups, or weapons." The situation inside Syria has been further exacerbated by the presence of Iraq ’s Al-Qaeda, whose presence in Iraq only emerged after the US and UK failed to fully secure the borders upon their entry in 2003. This failure created a situation where foreign fighters were able to freely cross from Syria into Iraq and, where amongst the chaos which followed the coalition invasion, were able to conduct operations and then quite literally “fade into the night”.
When the United States left Iraq in 2011, Al-Qaeda issued a statement warning that attacks inside Iraq would remain ongoing until the Shiite dominated Government of Nouri Al-Maliki had fallen, with Al-Qaeda reaffirming their opposition to Iran ’s interference in Iraqi affairs. What has shocked many Iraq experts though is how the situation now in Syria mirrors exactly what started in Iraq ten years ago, with kidnappings, beheadings, ethnic cleansing, Youtube video’s and again, streams of foreign fighters. As most Middle Eastern countries can testify, the presence of Al-Qaeda increased dramatically after the 2001 collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with the United States warning in 2005 that Iraq is “producing better trained militants than Afghanistan”.
In a recent statement, the Pakistani Taliban claimed to have sent “hundreds of fighters” to Syria in support of local fighters against Bashar Al-Assad. While these claims have been disputed by some sources, if true these fighters would be joining hundreds of foreigners from the European Union. A survey by King's College London found that a minimum of 600 people from Europe have taken part in the conflict since it began two years ago. The response to this has caused Britain and Belgium to increase their efforts to track how people are recruited, while the Netherlands have raised their terror threat level to "substantial" - partly over concerns about radicalised citizens returning from Syria.
Similar sentiments have been echoed for the second time by Saudi Arabia, after their first predictions in 2005 that “a new generation of young Saudis drawn to the insurgency in Iraq could return home armed with even deadlier combat skills”. People have already witnessed the levels of “skill” obtained in Iraq when in 2005 London suffered multiple bombings and in 2012 Mohammed Merah killed three French soldiers and four Jewish people in Toulouse, before himself being shot by the police.
Just last year Abu Musab al-Suri, Al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Europe and the“mastermind” behind London’s 7/7 attacks, was freed from his Syrian prison. While his current location is unknown, he is still wanted in Spain for his involvement in the Madrid train bombing in 2004. In a statement released after the London attacks, al-Suri declared: “[In my teachings] I have mentioned vital and legitimate targets to be hit in the enemy’s countries … Among those targets that I speciﬁcally mentioned as examples was the London Underground. [Targeting this] was and still is the aim.”
While many in the media compared the scale of Mohammed Merah’s atrocities to events in Iraq, what has often been overlooked is the immediate family’s involvement with terror activities, from running Al-Qaeda safe houses in Syria to involvement with smuggling fighters into Iraq. His own brother Abdelkader, who was charged after the rampage in France, had a role in acquiring his younger brother's arsenal and financing his trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. In an interview with the BBC in April, Jacques Beres, co-founder of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, stated how he treated two French brothers, injured while fighting against the Syrian army, who described Mohammed Merah as “the real hero” who “was an example to follow".