Argument: Al Qaeda powerless to establish caliphate in Iraq after US withdrawal

Issue Report: Withdrawing from Iraq


To understand why it’s a mistake to assume the worst, let’s begin with the most persistent, Bush-fostered fear about post-occupation Iraq: that al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremists will seize control once America departs; or that al-Qaeda will establish a safe haven in a rump, lawless Sunnistan and use that territory as a base, much as it used Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The idea that al-Qaeda might take over Iraq is nonsensical. Numerous estimates show that the group called Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its foreign fighters comprise only 5 to 10 percent of the Sunni insurgents’ forces. Most Sunni insurgents are simply what Wayne White—who led the State Department’s intelligence effort on Iraq until 2005—calls POIs, or “pissed-off Iraqis,” who are fighting because “they don’t like the occupation.” But the foreign terrorist threat is frequently advanced by the Bush administration, often with an even more alarming variant—that al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a headquarters for the establishment of a global caliphate. In December 2005, Rear Admiral William D. Sullivan, vice director for strategic plans and policy within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a briefing in which he warned that al-Qaeda hoped to “revive the caliphate,” with its capital in Baghdad. President Bush himself has warned darkly that after controlling Iraq, Islamic militants will “establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.”
The reality is far different. Even if AQI came to dominate the Sunni resistance, it would be utterly incapable of seizing Baghdad against the combined muscle of the Kurds and the Shiites, who make up four fifths of the country. (The Shiites, in particular, would see the battle against the Sunni extremist AQI—which regards the Shiites as a heretical, non-Muslim sect—as a life-or-death struggle.)”
  • Tom Porteous. The Caliphate Myth. February 13, 2006 – “the evidence that Al Qaeda or any similar organization is in a position to re-create and control a caliphate is entirely non-existent. The only country where Al Qaeda was able to gain any kind of territorial foothold was in parts of Afghanistan. Even there, they were dependent on the goodwill of local leaders, the Taliban, who had only come to power after Afghanistan had been reduced to ground zero by the combined policies of the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War and subsequent international neglect.
In Iraq, where the U.S. military invasion and occupation has created another opportunity for Al Qaeda, Bush’s claim that Al Qaeda would take over the country in the event of a U.S. military withdrawal is nonsense. Al Qaeda has the same chance of imposing its political authority in Iraq as the U.S. does: nil.”