In every terrorist war there comes a time when even the deadliest operations begin to lose impact. Every human endeavor is subject to the law of diminishing returns. In the case of terrorism, whose aim is to cow the adversary into submission, this means a growing refusal by the adversary to be cowed.
In time, terror also loses whatever initial support it might have enjoyed as more and people discover its ugly face. This maybe what is happening in the Muslim world now. The latest surveys show that support for suicide-murder operations is in steady decline everywhere.
The terrorist knows that it cannot win by waging any form of conventional warfare. Thus, he is constantly looking for weapons and methods designed not to help him seize and control territory but to restrict the adversary’s psychological safety space.
Seen from that angle, the car bomb is the ideal weapon: it can be directed precisely at a chosen target, and delivered at minimum human and material cost to the terrorist. As far as method is concerned, suicide-murder is even more effective. By annulling man’s basic instinct for survival, it points to a world in which all rules are negated.
The hashasheen (assassins) in medieval Islam and the Narodniks (populists) in 19th century Russia introduced an individual version of suicide-murder.
In the 1960s, the Tamil “Tigers” of Sri Lanka expanded the concept by organizing suicide operations aimed at killing large numbers of enemy combatants in surprise attacks.
In the 1980s, Khomeinist terrorists in Lebanon pushed the method further by organizing suicide attacks that targeted civilians and military personnel indiscriminately.
More recently, Al Qaeda and its copycat versions have pushed it still further by introducing suicide operations designed solely to kill civilians. The 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington remain the most spectacular example of a method of terrorism that has also produced tragedies in Bali, Madrid, and, on an almost daily basis, Baghdad.
The remnants of Al Qaeda make no secret of their belief that Iraq today represents the principal battlefield between their nihilistic vision and a world they wish to destroy.
Al Qaeda’s ideology has already been defeated in many places- from Algeria and Egypt to Central Asia and The Philippines, and passing by the Gulf and the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. It is still thriving in some remote parts of Afghanistan but has little hope of scoring any significant victory.
Thus, it is only in Iraq that it hopes to stay alive and, if and when its adversaries lose heart, achieve the victory that has eluded it everywhere else.
What if Al Qaeda is starting to lose in Iraq as well?
The question will not please all those who, for a range of reasons, wish new Iraq to fail. Some may also regard the question as premature, if not provocative, while we are treated to daily TV images of carnage from Baghdad.
Right from the start Al Qaeda designated two key adversaries that it sought to terrorize in Iraq.
The first was represented by Shiite and Kurdish communities that provide the two pillars of new Iraq.
Almost four years later, however, the two communities are far from terrorised. The mass exodus of Shiites and Kurds that Al Qaeda had hoped for has not materialized. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), over 200,000 Iraqis have registered as refugees since the all of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The overwhelming majority are Arab Sunnis or Christians. In the same period, an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, almost all Shiites or Kurds, have returned home, mostly from Iran and Turkey.
Al Qaeda has failed to stop the flow of volunteers to join the new Iraqi police and army that now number over 300,000 men.
The terrorists also failed to stop or even delay the political process in Iraq. They managed to keep part of the Arab Sunni community out of the process for a while. However, now even the most diehard opponents of new Iraq have either joined the process or are negotiating terms to join. Cynical attempts at provoking a massive sectarian war have failed as Iraqis of all persuasions have seen through the terrorists’ diabolical scheme.
Worse still from Al Qaeda’s point of view, Arab Sunni tribes are now taking the lead in fighting the foreign Jihadists, especially in the troubled province of Al Anbar.
With a courage and resilience not witnessed since Algeria’s heroic war against terror almost a decade ago, the people of Iraq have refused to be terrorized into slavery. Whatever happens in Iraq next, one thing is certain: regardless of their sectarian and ethnic differences, the people of Iraq will not submit to Al Qaeda.
The second adversary that Al Qaeda tried to cow into submission was the United States, more specifically the American people.
Last November, when President George W Bush lost his majority in both houses of the Congress, for a brief moment it looked as if Al Qaeda had achieved its goal in Iraq. Support for the war was at its lowest among the Americans while some leaders of the new Democrat majority were airing all sorts of hare-brained schemes to cut-and-run from Iraq.
However, that moment, too, may have passed.
According to the latest New York Times-CBS opinion poll, support for the war rose from 35 per cent in May to over 42 per cent in June. Some 29 per cent of the Americans even think that the war is going “somewhat well” while the number of those who think it is going badly has dropped from 45 per cent to 35.
Almost 10 months after Al Qaeda promised that the Americans would soon start to cut and run, the US-led coalition has more troops in Iraq than it did in autumn 2003. True, some allies have left. The Spaniards fled after the Madrid bomb attack terrorized them into electing an anti-American government. Others, however, have sent in new troops. The US has brought in 25,000 more soldiers with, perhaps, a further 10,000 ready to come in early next year. The tiny Caucasian republic of Georgia has doubled its contribution from 1500 to 3000 men.
Despite massive efforts by radical anti-war militants, the new Democrat leadership in the US has refused to help Al Qaeda realize its goals in Iraq. The new emerging consensus in the US is that the American-led coalition ought to remain in Iraq at least until the next Iraqi general election in 2009. The idea is also backed by the Iraqi government and parliament. Terror fails when people refuse to be terrorized. And this may be happening in Iraq.