Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Mr Steven Simon, Assistant Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)


  1.  Since the battle against al-Qaeda involves intelligence, law enforcement and immigration agencies rather than military forces, a campaign against Iraq should not impede the so-called "war on terrorism."

  2.  U.S. forces now or recently deployed on counter-terrorism missions include less than 1000 troops in the Philippines, a handful of rotary wing flight instructors in Georgia, and a naval patrol off Somali waters. (Military forces administering Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, for example, are drawn from Army reserve, rather than active duty units.) Personnel allocated to the counter-terrorism mission are primarily special operations forces (SOF). These are in fact in short supply and combat operations in Iraq will require most of them, or so the current concept of operations would suggest. Nevertheless, their utility in the war on terrorism at this point is quite limited. The U.S. has yet to conduct probes of militant camps in contested areas, such as Yemen or Somalia—operations that would require SOF—or arrest terrorist suspects, a function for which SOF are trained, but not yet authorized to carry out.

  3.  Combat operations in Iraq will require intensive intelligence support. This theater of operations is already fully covered by national technical collection assets as well as fixed wing high and low altitude platforms, including U-2 aircraft. During wartime, these assets would be augmented by a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including long range high endurance models such as Predator. The data collected by these systems can be integrated and interpreted at USCINCCENT in near real time by teams separate from those that collect against the Sunni terrorist target.

  4.  To the extent that terrorism related intelligence is collected by tactical assets during combat operations in Iraq, or in the post-conflict period, it will likely be shared quickly with CT analysts because (a) operators have become sensitized to the need for rapid dissemination of threat information and (b) the force protection implications of such information are immediate and potentially severe.

  5.  A campaign against Iraq will nonetheless affect the war on terrorism in two important ways:

    (a)  Depending on the pace and scope of allied occupation of Iraqi territory and seizure of WMD stocks, some of these weapons or materials might be "privatized" by enterprising renegade military personnel for transfer or sale to Islamic militants. Al-Qaeda veterans are numerous in northern Iraq and would be receptive to such deals. The movement has pursued a WMD capability since the mid-1990s and possibly earlier. If it acquired these weapons, al-Qaeda or like-minded militants would almost certainly use them against Western targets. The group's spokesman has stated that millions of Americans must die and senior figures within al-Qaeda are known to have spoken about creating a "Hiroshima" for the U.S. An alternative scenario, according to US intelligence, would be the transfer of weapons or material by the regime itself to militants as allied forces closed in. In either case, swift identification of WMD sites and isolation of military units that have weapons or material would be absolutely essential.

    (b)  The war will be seen by many Muslims, especially militants, as evidence of the systematic conquest of the Muslim world that al-Qaeda theoreticians—and many others—allege is taking place. This perception will complicate the war on terrorism over the longer term by increasing the pool of recruits not only in remote areas, but within the UK and Europe. Recruitment in the UK has been quite vigorous through the 90s, judging by the Security Service estimate of 3,000 Britons passing through Afghanistan and Kashmir in the 1990s for "study" or military training. A war against Iraq will generate an increase in conversions from either moderate to more radical Islam practice, or from Christianity to Islam in local mosques and within HM prisons. If the war is prolonged, radicalization could lead to attacks on British soil. A parallel process of radicalization has also been unfolding in France, Germany and the Netherlands and Belgium. In the short run, the war will no doubt spur a surge in attacks against US, UK and French assets in the region as well as opportunistic attacks against Westerners elsewhere. British diplomatic missions abroad will be at risk as well as areas or sites frequented by British tourists, who are perceived by the militants as defying local mores and tempting local Muslims to transgress religious laws. Businesses that are believed to be British may also become targets of spontaneous violence as well as terrorist attack. British military personnel will also be subject to risks on par with the one they faced at the height of violence in Northern Ireland.

Mr Steven Simon

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

October 2002

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