Al Qaeda Terror Won't Stop If US Pulls Out of Iraq, Expert Says

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Paris, France ( - Al Qaeda will not stop carrying out acts of terrorism if the U.S. pulls its troops out of Iraq or if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, according to a Middle East expert here. But an American withdrawal will likely open the door to a new regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, he predicted.

Islam expert Olivier RoyOlivier Roy, a political scientist and expert on Islam at the French National Center of Scientific Study (CNRS), says it is a mistake to view al Qaeda as a political organization fighting for a political cause like the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq or an independent Palestinian state.

When people link al Qaeda to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to the war in Iraq they are displaying a Western mindset, Roy argued in an interview. And Muslims who tend to agree with that viewpoint are not the terrorists themselves but leaders such as Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak or Jordan's King Abdullah, he added.

Videos that have been used for the recruitment of terrorists are less likely to highlight issues relating to the Palestinians than executions or children with limbs blown off in places like Chechnya or Kashmir, Roy said.

"Kashmir plays a bigger role than Palestine in recruitment, especially in Great Britain," he added, noting that relatively few al-Qaeda attacks had targeted Israelis or Jews.

"With al Qaeda, we are in a global fight between two worlds," he said. "Al Qaeda is not a territorial organization. It's not Hamas, it's not Hizballah and it's not the Taliban."

Instead, it should be compared to the Marxist revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s that attracted young Westerners to fight in places like the jungles of South America. Al Qaeda, Roy said, is in fact part of a global revolutionary tradition.

"Today the narrative of the revolt is religious. Forty years ago it was Marxist. Today it is religious and particularly Muslim. But we are still in a global revolt against the system, without having a clear vision of an alternative system," he said.

Roy contended that al Qaeda members are anti-American only because America incarnates the "world order" -- and this "world order is perceived as unjust."

Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a specialist on the Middle East from the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris (IFRI), identified al Qaeda terrorists as "people who don't think they have their place in globalization."

What makes al Qaeda so dangerous, she said, is its capacity to renew itself continuously.

The terror network recruits from among the "excluded," but also from among those -- like the doctors involved in recent terror plots in Britain -- who feel they have a duty to defend Islam and Muslims anywhere across the globe against an armed Western presence.

"The big question is how the capacity of these cells to recruit and renew themselves is maintained," Mohsen-Finan said. "This is what's most dangerous, that the cells are constantly renewed, that young people are ready to go to Iraq or wherever and they're ready to get blown up."

Sunni-Shi'ite clash foreseen

Roy took issue with those who suggest the al Qaeda threat was a consequence of American military intervention in Iraq, pointing out that al Qaeda declared war on America, and carried out the 9/11 attacks, before the March 2003 invasion.

What he did agree with, however, was the view that the Iraq war has likely laid the groundwork for a future conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A strong Sunni-dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein had been the only regional brake to Iranian expansion, Roy asserted. Its removal had left space for a confrontation between Wahabbist Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran.

"Iran's expansionism is a mechanical outcome of the U.S. intervention Iraq. If the Americans leave," he speculated, "there will be a confrontation between intermediaries -- between Saudis and Iranians."

"An American departure from Iraq won't mean a stabilization of the region," he concluded grimly.

On the likelihood of open war between the two Islamic sects in the event of an American departure, Mohsen-Finan was a little less pessimistic.

"This conflict would not necessarily be an open conflict or a war but could be an ideological conflict," she said. "It could continue through armed groups or only ideologically."

Mohsen-Finan also said conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in the region had been latent since the 1980s.

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