But, but, but, I thought al-Qaeda was on the run? Al-Qaeda claimed credit for a sophisticated attack on two Iraqi prisons, including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, that freed 500 prisoners including numerous al Qaeda leaders and members considered by U.S. officials to be dangerous terrorists.
Free Beacon The prison break is expected to sharply increase the regional and possibly global threat posed by al Qaeda terrorism. It also highlighted the U.S. government’s failure to fully stabilize and secure Iraq after the 2003 U.S. military intervention and pullout of troops in 2011, according to officials and analysts.
The raids on the prisons, including Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib and a second facility near Baghdad, involved a large number of armed men equipped with suicide car bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and assault rifles. An estimated 20 guards were killed along with 21 prisoners.
“These coordinated prison breaks are troubling,” (Troubling? That’s an understatement) said a U.S. official involved in counterterrorism efforts. “Clearly, there’s a concern that escaped inmates—who may include former al Qaeda members and other convicted terrorists—will seek to join al Qaeda in Iraq, strengthening the group.” Iraq continues to face an increasing number of terrorist attacks along with growing Iranian influence since the pullout of U.S. troops that began in 2009 and ended in 2011.
Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institute counterterrorism specialist, said the breakout highlights al Qaeda’s growth. “The prison break dramatically illustrates al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq and that the gains of the [U.S. military] surge were temporary,” Riedel said.
“Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse in Iraq, they will,” Cowan said. “Moreover, some of these al Qaeda leaders will likely find their way to Syria, adding to the bloodshed and to the confusion about what the United States role there should be there.” Al Qaeda in Iraq is estimated to have around 2,500 terrorists and the group has been behind a series of deadly car bombings and other attacks across Iraq since the spring of 2013, killing at least 2,000 people.
Al Qaeda in Iraq recently merged with an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, to create a new group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is gaining strength in Syria as hundreds of foreign jihadists traveled to Syria in recent months to join the Islamist rebels.