American intelligence officials and analysts are concerned about a potential rebound by al-Qaida's branch in Iraq [AQI], which had been decimated by the American military, the Washington Times reports. The return of the organization, which killed thousands in a string of high-profile suicide bombings and murders, could have regional effects on Iraq's stability, Syria, and American interests in the Middle East.
"I think AQI, which had been severely battered by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign, has regained strength," said James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank. This can be traced to the "undercutting and persecuting Sunni politicians and tribal leaders" by the Shiite minority, which was in turn was persecuted under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. AQI has exploited Sunni grievances in the tit-for-tat struggle for power, claiming to champion of the rights of the recently disempowered.
The growth of mass casualty attacks undermines state building and the image of increasing stability promoted by the Iraqi government. "It is increasingly difficult to argue that Iraq, to use the president's words, is, quote, 'stable and self-reliant,'" said U.S. Sen. John McCain.
"Just consider the scale and scope of these risks," said McCain, R-Ariz. "Despite the remarkable damage inflicted on al Qaeda's core leadership by our military and intelligence professionals, al Qaeda officials - affiliates in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Maghreb - are growing stronger, more independent, more diffuse and more willing to attack American interests."
AQI's recovery also means trouble for Syria, which is fighting a civil war against Sunni rebel forces. Whereas foreign mujahideen previously used Syria as a path for recruits, weapons, and funds to fight American forces, the fighters are now moving in the opposite direction. Bombing of Syrian government troops with IEDs, improvised explosives devices favored by al-Qaida, has risen sharply in the past year.