Serious claims need serious thinking before they are made. The recent claim by the CIA Director, Michael Hayden, that Al-Qaeda had essentially been defeated in Iraq is astonishing. ‘Near strategic defeat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, near strategic defeat in Saudi Arabia and significant setbacks globally’ was Hayden’s message in an interview published in the Washington Post on 30 May 2008. Was his message driven by evidence on the ground? Or was it a product of anxiety in Washington to point to a legacy before George W Bush moves out of the White House?
The credibility of Hayden’s claim was quickly shattered. On the same day, a suicide attack in the Iraqi city of Mosul, an Al-Qaeda stronghold, killed sixteen people and wounded many more. Another suicide attack killed ten people at a police checkpoint in Anbar province, west of Baghdad – a province hailed as a success story since 2007 for a sharp decline in the recorded number of terrorist attacks. Anbar is among Iraqi provinces where Sunni tribesmen under the banner of Awakening Councils are financed by the Bush administration, and armed, as a counter to Al-Qaeda. This American operation is no different in its design, explosive nature and future risks from the CIA operation to provide weapons and training to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union. Only this time, it might be easier for the Iraqi Sunni tribesmen, who are financed and armed with American help, to return to fellow-Arabs of Al-Qaeda or other anti-US Sunni groups. More