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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Withdrawal from Iraq Could Make it a Safe Haven for al Qaeda -- Experts warn power vacuum in Iraq presents opportunity for al Qaeda -- By Daniel Wiser, The Washington Free Beacon

Al Qaeda linked group on Syria-Iraq border / APThe full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 and spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria has again presented al Qaeda with the prospect of erecting a safe haven in Iraq, experts said on Wednesday.

The complete pullout of American forces created a vacuum that al Qaeda has now begun to fill, the experts said at the Heritage Foundation. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, has also exacerbated sectarian tensions by alienating Sunni politicians and citizens, they added.

Levels of violence and civilian deaths last year were the highest since 2008.

Douglas Streusand, professor and historian at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, said President Barack Obama’s administration must recognize the significance of Iraq as part of the region’s broader security.

“A haven in Iraq would be of far greater importance to the al Qaeda network than Somalia, Sudan, or Afghanistan, both because of historical significance and because of resources potentially available to them,” he said. “This has happened on the watch of the current administration and the current administration has yet to demonstrate that it has either the will or the capacity to deal with it.”

 Iraq has a much larger economy than other al Qaeda targets due to its oil resources, Streusand said. And al Qaeda insurgents, who he said espouse a “totalitarian Islamist” ideology, view Iraq as a crucial power center in their efforts to reestablish the historical Caliphate of Muslim rule in the Middle East.

However, he said the Obama administration still does not understand the threat of al Qaeda or its goals. He called the group a “network with multiple nodes that cooperate and compete.”

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