Al-Qaida’s greatest fear may be U.S. leaving Iraq
Experienced observers were unsurprised by the recent U.S. intelligence report that Iraq has become “the cause clbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of the U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”While many Americans believe we’re in Iraq to fight terrorism and bring freedom to the region, polls reveal that the Arab street sees America is an “arrogant, unilateralist nation” waging a “war against Islam.” Indeed, last year’s Pew Research Center report to Congress stated, “Anti-Americanism in the region is driven largely by aversion to U.S. policies, such as the war in Iraq…”The Quran’s definition of a “just war” includes the right, even the obligation, to defend one’s home against invaders and occupiers. Unfortunately, to many Muslims abroad, the U.S. is a textbook “unjust occupier.” Every television image of U.S. troops battling Iraqis, regardless of provocation, inflames Muslim anger towards America and becomes a new al-Qaida’s recruiting poster. To win back mainstream Muslims and reduce support for terrorism – the sooner U.S. troops leave Iraq, the better. But since even NATO troops would be viewed as “non-Muslim occupiers,” who else could arrest the slide toward civil war and provide critically needed security while Iraq rebuilds? One alternative: to “Arabize/Islamize” the peacekeeping.The Iraqi government, together with prominent Sunni and Shia leaders, could invite a U.N. peacekeeping force composed of Arab League (AL) and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt to replace American coalition troops. These Muslim peacekeepers – excluding Iraq’s immediate neighbors – would continue training and rebuilding Iraqi security forces. Remaining only as long as the government and a majority of the Iraqi people wished them to stay, they would be invited guests, not occupiers.This approach, akin to hiring African American police officers to patrol African American neighborhoods, would eliminate for most Iraqis the Quranic arguments underpinning the insurgency and give Muslim peacekeeping forces a better chance of averting a civil war. Rather than a “cut and run” American departure, this orderly transition of power could represent the best remaining hope for a stable and democratic Iraq.The U.S., its allies, and Middle East nations could fund the new peacekeeping forces through the UN with tough safeguards against financial corruption. No longer entangled in a counterinsurgency war with no clear exit strategy, our cost would plummet.Islamizing the peacekeeping would require broad support from Iraqi leaders – and perhaps even a general election – but Iraqis might welcome the idea of replacing American “occupation forces” with a peacekeeping force of fellow Muslims, whose perceived neutrality could better position them to stem the internecine bloodletting.Likewise – if invited by the Iraqis themselves – the OIC and AL might participate out of self-interest, exactly as the Arab League did in brokering the end to Lebanon’s civil war in 1989. Terrorism within the Muslim world has underscored the urgent need to rebuild a peaceful Iraq that is no longer a training camp for future jihadis.Are Muslim nations capable militarily of bringing security to Iraq? Not all insurgents would lay down their arms, but international Muslim peacekeepers would enjoy vastly greater street support than the U.S. Army. Because most Iraqis desperately want improved security, support for the insurgency might wane rapidly, once “foreign” troops had departed.Freed from the street fighting in Iraq, the U.S. could finish rebuilding Afghanistan. Although little noted at the time, key Islamic jurists actually approved our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, because we were then the injured party, defending ourselves after the 9/11 attacks on our home. President Hamid Karzai urgently needs greater U.S. assistance to stabilize Afghanistan and build its economy – two powerful ways to combat an ominously resurgent Taliban. Refocused on helping the Afghan people, we could still win that elusive high ground of shared moral values that could unite the Muslim world and America. In Afghanistan, where America has been more welcome, we could prove that our true goal is not domination, but improving the lives of ordinary Muslims. … And that would be al-Qaida’s worst nightmare.John S. Bennett is executive director and co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative, a multi-faith effort to bridge the abyss between the U.S. and the Muslim world and address the root causes of international terrorism. Previously, Bennett was mayor of Aspen, executive director of the Garrison Institute, and vice president of the Aspen Institute. Feisal Abdul Rauf is Imam of New York’s Masjid al-Farah mosque, chair of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, and co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative.
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