Jamestown Hosts Discussion on the Iraqi Insurgency and al-Qaeda

Washington, DC — For Immediate Release

The Jamestown Foundation held a discussion on the Iraqi insurgency and al-Qaeda at the National Press Club on Thursday, October 07, 2004. The event, featuring Jamestown’s experts on the region, Stephen Ulph and Mahan Abedin, as well as retired US Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, exposed the Sunni and Shi’a elements of the growing insurgency in Iraq, the role of al-Qaeda, and challenges to the US military.

Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard welcomed the audience and underscored the significance in hosting a discussion on the multiple threats posed by the Iraqi insurgency. Howard remarked, "A dangerous witch’s brew is emerging from the Sunni and Shi’a insurgencies in Iraq mixed with the presence of al-Qaeda, all of which could eventually present a collective challenge to US military operations."

Mahan Abedin, editor of Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor publication, addressed the dangers of the surging Sadrist movement, the clerical establishment’s inability to counter the popularity of the insurgency, and the need to recognize alternative populist and nationalist political organizations within the Iraqi Shi’a population. Abedin observed that the greatest threat to the United States in Iraq would be a full scale Shi’a insurgency–a dangerous prospect which has so far been avoided, because the al-Daawa party and Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) have refrained from aligning with al-Sadr.

Jamestown senior fellow Stephen Ulph exposed the Sunni insurgency as one dominated by native Iraqi Islamists inspired by al-Qaeda. He contended that al-Qaeda’s vision is to further divisions among Iraqis by drawing the US deeper into what has become a "major Jihadi killing field." Ulph contended that the Achilles heel of al-Qaeda is its religious ideology. Accordingly, he recommended that the United States depart from its state-based conception of counter-insurgency, but rather target and pre-empt the religious ideological impulse that fuels the insurgency, most effectively through an intensive counter-propaganda operation.

Retired Air Force Colonel and military strategist, Sam Gardiner, contextualized the growing challenge of the Iraqi insurgency which may be at its "tipping point." Colonel Gardiner emphasized a number of factors which indicate that the United States has 11-13 months to implement an exit strategy in Iraq. He cautioned that policymakers could be forced to consider withdrawal in light of the consumption of US military capabilities, a weakened and politically vulnerable coalition, dwindling support of the war at home, and the added threat posed by Iran which "has the capability to make our losses in Iraq more severe."

In addition to covering developments within Iraq, the Jamestown Foundation continues to expose the threats posed by international terrorism in its Terrorism Monitor and Terrorism Focus publications. To subscribe free of charge, please email pubs@jamestown.org or visit our website at www.jamestown.org.

Founded in 1984, The Jamestown Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research institution dedicated to providing timely information concerning critical political and strategic developments in China, Russia, and Eurasia. Jamestown’s research and analysis is available to the public free-of-charge via Jamestown’s website, www.jamestown.org.