Iraq’s Long-Term Impact on Jihadist Terrorism

Daniel L. Byman and
Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman Director and Professor, Security Studies Program - Georgetown University, Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy

Kenneth M Pollack
Kenneth M Pollack Former Brookings Expert, Resident Scholar - AEI

July 1, 2008

This article appears in a special volume of the
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science titled “Terrorism: What the Next President Will Face”.


This article argues that the problems facing Iraq could have tremendous consequences for the broader “war on terror,” particularly if they return to or exceed levels seen at the height of the violence in 2006. Salafi militants, followers of an extreme interpretation of Islam who want to use violence to unite Muslims under religious rule, have been fighting in Iraq and may use the country as a base for operations and attacks elsewhere in the region. In addition, refugees from Iraq might spread terrorism, radicalize neighboring populations, and contribute to strife and instability throughout the region. While a U.S. troop withdrawal may inspire fewer young men to take up terrorism against the United States, it would also increase militants’ operational freedom in Iraq itself, allowing terrorist groups to recruit, train, and plan with relative impunity. As a result, if the United States withdraws from Iraq without leaving behind a stable Iraqi government, it should still maintain a regional military presence and help bolster other regimes in the Middle East from the threat of terrorism from Iraq.

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