Baghdad — From the vantage point of downtown Baghdad at the end of a long, hot summer six years later, September 11, 2001 continues to be the battle call for all Americans fighting in Iraq.
Whether one approves of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 or not, the reality we face on the ground here is that al Qaeda is present in force and in all its nihilistic evil. Just look to the suicide car bombs and can you not hear the clear, ringing echoes of the Towers crashing down and the people — normal men and women who left home that morning just to go to work to feed their families, now leaping to their sure deaths just to avoid the inferno within? An inferno wrought by jihadis predominately from and funded out of Saudi Arabia, just the type the people of Iraq now confront when they, in turn, try to go about their daily lives and feed their families. Suicide car-bombers are not Iraqi; this is al Qaeda.
As a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, the al Qaeda trap we have created in Iraq is part of what I call The Field of Dreams strategy: Build it and they will come. First we knocked off Saddam’s tyrannical rule, and then we drew every jihadi worth his salt to fight us in Iraq. From shadowy figures hiding and plotting against us in the dark alleys of the Middle East, they have become fodder in the kill zone of the U.S. military.
In the radical Islamist theory of war, there is the “near enemy” and the “far enemy.” Bin Laden had decided to concentrate on the far enemy — America — thinking he could knock off a super power, as the mujahideen did with the USSR in Afghanistan, and thereby give rise to a world-embracing Islamic caliphate. The near enemy was the non-jihadi Arab governments, such as those of Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. The far enemy became the near enemy, however, the moment the American army invaded Iraq. How could al Qaeda think of attacking America when the U.S. Army was occupying one of the inner lands of Islam? Yet the difference now is that the jihadis are not facing Americans going about their everyday business, but soldiers and others ready for a fight. This is the primary reason we have not seen an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in the U.S. in the six years since 9/11.
After the al Qaeda attacks on the U.S., we were no longer Festung Amerika, protected by wide oceans from the violent chaos and suicidal fanaticism rampant in the Middle East. America was now target number one. Once the Taliban ceased to rule Afghanistan in late 2001, the leaders of al Qaeda fled to other safe havens. Many ended up in the lawless Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, others in Iran. Both locations, however, restricted their operational movement.
One leader, however, went to Iraq, where Saddam was gloating publicly over the success of al Qaeda in New York City and Northern Virginia. This leader’s nom de guerre was Abu Musa al-Zarqawi. There is clear evidence that Osama bin Laden had funded, at least in part, Zarqawi’s operations in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Zarqawi then came here to Baghdad — a city so well controlled at the time by Saddam’s secret police that not one single effective U.S. spy operated in the city. Almost no accurate information leaked out to Western intelligence services after UNSCOM departed in 1998, and this dearth of intelligence was not for lack of trying or financial resources.
Zarqawi made his way to the far southeastern corner of Kurdistan, occupied at the time by the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, another known al Qaeda affiliate. In 2004, Zarqawi publicly declared his fidelity to bin Laden and changed the name of his group to “al Qaeda in Iraq.” Connect the dots.
The casus belli — the cause for the war — is intimately tied up with September 11, 2001. We entered this war to engage decisively the aggressive, genocidal actions of a totalitarian dictator who used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and that of a neighboring country, then celebrated the 9/11 attacks while allowing a known al-Qaeda-affiliated leader to pass through his capital and seek sanctuary within his country’s borders. This is why the United States is and must be in Iraq.
At this point in the struggle against al Qaeda — four-plus years into the Iraq war and more than three years since I first came, employing hundreds of Iraqi citizens as a U.S. Department of Defense contractor — we are seeing great progress against our largest enemy: the international jihadi. The Iraqi people are exhausted with the nihilistic violence of al Qaeda. As a result, they have turned against the foreign jihadi terrorists that are the suicide car-bombers. This you can see in the growing security of the city where I now live and in the end of sanctuary for al Qaeda in Anbar province, its former base of operations.
All Americans should take pride in the willingness of our nation to sacrifice much in the cause against the perpetrators of 9/11 and in support of the Iraqi people’s natural desire to be free of our mutual enemy — al Qaeda.
– Carter Andress, CEO and principal owner of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, is author of Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist.