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Dec 5th, 2010

More Foreign Fighters Seen Slipping Back into Iraq

Officials say those fighters may have been behind some of the most devastating attacks this year

Image: Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, right, stands next to a television display showing a recording of six alleged foreign fighters in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. Al-Moussawi says security forces are on the lookout for six foreign fighters who helped launch horrific attacks this year that killed more than 140 people.
(Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / AP)

By Lara Jakes and Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Dec. 5, 2010

BAGHDAD — Intelligence officials say foreign fighters have been slipping back into Iraq in larger numbers recently and may have been behind some of the most devastating attacks this year, reviving a threat the U.S. military believed had been almost entirely eradicated.

It is impossible to verify the actual numbers of foreign insurgents entering the country. But one Middle Eastern intelligence official estimated recently that 250 came in October alone. U.S. officials say the figure is far lower, but have acknowledged an increase since August.

At the same time, Iraqi officials say there has been a surge in financial aid to al-Qaida’s front group in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to leave by the end of 2011. They said it reflects fears by Arab states over the growing influence of Iran’s Shiite-led government over Iraq and its Shiite-dominated government [link added].

On Sunday, security official Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi forces are searching for six foreign fighters who are among Iraq’s most wanted terrorists.

The six are suspected of involvement in the Oct. 31 siege of a Christian church that left 68 people dead and drew international outrage, al-Moussawi said [link added]. They are also suspected in two summertime attacks on an Iraqi army headquarters in central Baghdad that killed a total of 73 people [link added]. …

Last year, U.S. counterterrorism officials said the number of foreigners heading to Iraq had trickled from hundreds to “tens” in what they described as a severely weakened al-Qaida in Iraq.

But a Mideast counterterrorism official said an estimated 250 foreign fighters entered Iraq in October alone. He said they came through the Syrian city of Homs, a hub for Syrian Muslim fundamentalists that is run mostly by Tunisians and Algerians. Other fighters have come from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen.

Additionally, the official said tens of millions of foreign dollars annually are funding the Iraqi insurgency, which has received about $5 billion in aid since 2007. The money comes from al-Qaida leaders, Muslims who want the U.S. to leave, and so-called ‘Arab nationalists’ who are eager for Sunni Muslims to regain power in Shiite-dominated Iraq. …

Even at the height of the war, foreign fighters were considered a small percentage of the total insurgents in Iraq. But their presence encouraged donations from overseas, and they made up some of the most hardcore jihadists who were willing to carry out suicide bombings.

Officials see the fingerprints of foreign fighters in a spate of recent attacks:

  • Four of the church bombers who were from Libya and Syria and carried fake ID cards that identified them as mutes to avoid talking in foreign accents to checkpoint guards, Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Abu Raghef told The Associated Press. He said $70,000 cash was seized from a western Baghdad home where their cell’s leaders were operating.
  • A Tunisian who was also pretending to be mute was arrested on terror charges in August in eastern Diyala province, according to an Iraqi security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
  • A Moroccan fighter was captured and two non-Iraqi insurgents were killed in a raid last Thursday in the northern city of Mosul, said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.
  • Four Jordanian fighters were killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, according to a November claim by the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for al-Qaida.
  • A Nov. 2 string of rapid-fire blasts in Shiite neighborhoods across Baghdad killed 91 [link added]. Iraqi counterterrorism commander Maj. Gen. Fadhel al-Barwari said it must have been carried out with foreign financing to buy the explosives needed “to launch an attack with a big number of casualties.” …

Full story


Related reports in this site

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In Iraq, ‘Victory’ for Iran (Nov. 12, 2010)

Rivers of Christian Blood in Iraq (Nov. 3, 2010)

Bloodshed in Baghdad (Nov. 2, 2010)

Catholic Hostages Killed in Iraq (Oct. 31, 2010)

Muqtada al-Sadr Rises to Power (Oct. 1, 2010)

Surge in Iraq Green Zone Attacks (Sept. 29, 2010)

Twin Blasts Rip Through Baghdad (Sept. 19, 2010)

Wave of Bombings Across Iraq (Aug. 26, 2010)

Horrific Baghdad Bombing (Aug. 18, 2010)

Iraq Civilian Deaths at 2-Year High (Aug. 1, 2010)

Mayhem in Baghdad (July 18, 2010)

Explosion Rocks Iraqi Market (May 21, 2010)

‘Dark Days Soaked With Blood’ (May 14, 2010)

Cascade of Violence in Iraq (May 10, 2010)

Pro-Iran Pact Emerges in Iraq (May 5, 2010)

Muqtada al-Sadr on the March (March 31, 2010)

Iraq Set to Elect Pro-Iran Leader (Feb. 25, 2010)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 5, 2009

Iraq, AfPak Have Little in Common

Wardak Province, Afghanistan
Staff Sgt. Bobby Martin Jr., from Fayetteville, N.C., briefs his men at Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak province, Afghanistan, on Dec. 3, 2009. (Photo credit: Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press via The New York Times)

One year ago today, I reported that similarities between George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq and Barack Obama’s surge plan for Afghanistan belie the fact that there are few commonalities between the two war theaters.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — December 5, 2008

Pakistan Police Losing in Terror War

Image: Fire from car bomb
A car bomb set buildings on fire in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Friday, Dec. 5, 2008 near the city’s famed Storytellers Bazaar. (Photo credit: Mohammad Sajjad / AP)

Two years ago today, on Dec. 5 2008, I reported that the number of terrorist attacks against police in northwestern Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan had increased from 113 in 2005 to 1,820 in 2007, and that police are outgunned, out-financed, and fighting a losing battle against Taliban insurgents.

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