Al Qaeda Strikes Back In Iraq – And Syria

Over the weekend, al Qaeda-linked insurgents staged well coordinated attacks on Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons, freeing at many as 500 inmates, including senior al Qaeda members:

Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the [Abu Ghraib] prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

Hayes Brown thinks the consequences go beyond Iraq’s borders:

The sudden influx of a large number of trained fighters and convicted terrorists into Iraq would be a problem even if there wasn’t a civil war next door. Given the ongoing conflict in Syria, however, this could mark a radical shift in how the war proceeds.

While talks of a merger between the two have gone back and forth, AQI and Syrian rebel group Jahbat al-Nusra have been cooperating for months, to the point that the State Department has listed Nusra as a subsidiary of the terrorist group. Aaron Zelin, Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, told ThinkProgress that it will be interesting to see if those who escaped do go to Syria, whether they will bring with them some of their more radical tactics. At present, according to Zelin, there are jihadi groups who provide social services to civilians and perform other acts that could see themselves undermined by an influx of “hardened fighters” captured during the U.S. “surge” in Iraq.

Michael Crowley worries that Iraq is “living on borrowed time”:

“[Al Qaeda’s fighters have] got the wind at their backs from the Syrian rebellion,” where Sunni rebels are fighting an Alawite Shi‘ite regime, says Kenneth Katzman, a Congressional Research Service analyst who recently completed a detailed report on Iraq. “Their goal is to destabilize and bring down the Maliki government, and they think igniting sectarian conflict might accomplish that.”

Sectarian violence in the country has killed at least 2500 people since April. More evidence that nothing – not even the surge – produced anything of any long-term benefit to the US, Iraq or the Middle East. Just carnage and chaos.