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Iraq war has helped al-Qaida

War in Iraq has swollen the ranks of al-Qaida and galvanized the Islamic militant group's will, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in its annual report. The 2003-2004 edition of the UK think-tank's defense analysis, The Military Balance, said Washington's assertions after the Iraq conflict that it had turned the corner in the war on terror were "over-confident".

The report, widely considered an authoritative text on the military capabilities of states and militant groups worldwide, could provide fodder for critics of the US-British invasion and of the reconstruction effort that has followed in Iraq. Washington must impose security in Iraq to prevent the country from "ripening into a cause celebre for radical Islamic terrorists", it concluded. "Nation-building" in Iraq was paramount and might require more troops than planned.

The report said the war in Iraq had denied al-Qaida "a potential supplier of weapons of mass destruction" and had discouraged state sponsors of terrorism from supporting it. No evidence has emerged of significant collaboration between the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida or other extremist groups. But the war had inflamed Muslim passions and increased al-Qaida's recruiting power, morale, and its operating capability, the report said.

The US intervention in Afghanistan had netted some al-Qaida leaders and deprived al-Qaida of bases, but had also "impelled an already highly decentralized and evasive international terrorist network to become even more 'virtual' and protean and, therefore, harder to identify and neutralize," the IISS report said. It said 18'000 veterans of al-Qaida's Afghan training camps were still probably operating worldwide "with recruitment continuing and probably increasing following the war in Iraq". (Reuters, 10/16/03).

Ronald Hilton - 10.26.03