Kimberly Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War
Ahmed Ali, research analyst, Institute for the Study of War
Elizabeth O'Bagy, senior research analyst, Institute for the Study of War
Katherine Zimmerman, senior analyst, Critical Threats Project
Al Qaeda is back in Iraq, and its reach has expanded up the Euphrates deep into Syria.
Sectarian provocations by Iraq's Shi'a Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki are precipitating the collapse of the political settlement that had brought Iraq's Sunni Arabs into the political process in 2007.
|ISW Research Analyst Ahmed Ali briefs attendees on AQI and Anti-Maliki Protests in Iraq|
Unrest has engulfed Sunni strongholds in Anbar, Ninewah, Diyala, and Salah-ad-Din Provinces, and Sunni Arabs have been protesting Malikiâs actions continuously for more than 100 days. Al Qaeda in Iraq has launched a significant campaign of spectacular attacks against Shi'a targets, as well as positioned itself to exploit the popular sentiment against the government and regenerate insurgency.
As the Iraqi political scene unravels, al Qaeda in Iraq will be able to better secure its positions in the country, and will continue support for its front-group in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra. The effect on the Syrian conflict is clear: the opposition, unified in its fight against the Assad regime, is divided over the future shape of Syria. Secular and radical elements have already sparred over control of opposition-held territory.
The expansion of al Qaeda in Syria combined with the revitalization of al Qaeda in Iraq poses a real threat to American interests throughout the Middle East and a major challenge to Western policy in Syria as well as Iraq.