CIA'S contradiction shows confused US strategy
THE Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has got itself into the confused position of fighting Sunni fighters in Iraq, but supporting some of them in Syria. It is also working with the Shiite government in Iraq to limit Sunni success in Syria to Iran's long-term benefit. All this underthe-table activity comes at a time when US President Barack Obama is claiming that the US has withdrawn from Iraq and does not want to get involved in Syria.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an important story pointing out how the CIA was ramping up support to elite Iraqi anti-terrorism units to better fight Al Qaida affiliates, amid alarm in Washington about spillover from the civil war in neighbouring Syria, according to US officials. The newspaper reported that in a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq's Counterterrorism Service (CTS), a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
The CIA has since ramped up its work with the CTS - taking control of a mission run for a long time by the American military, according to administration and defence officials. For years, US specialoperations forces worked with CTS against Al Qaida in Iraq. However, the military's role has dwindled since US troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2011. However, this CIA activity to support Al Maliki's crackdown on Sunni opposition has an important link to the violence in Syria. Al Qaida in Iraq, which is the target of the CIA activity, has close ties to the opposition Syrian Al Nusra Front. This radical Islamist group has successfully attacked Syrian government installations and recently took control of a government base and an airfield in northern Syria. The group is the most powerful force in rebel-controlled areas of Syria along the Turkish and Iraqi borders. The US State Department placed Al Nusra on its list of foreign terror organisations in December, quoting its links to Al Qaida in Iraq. The violence in Syria is already spilling over into Iraq, such as when more than 50 soldiers fighting for the Syrian government sought safety in Iraq from rebel fighters earlier this month, but were killed in an ambush on Iraqi territory by fighters likely to be belonging to Al Qaida in Iraq.
The Iraqi government and US officials saw the attack as an ominous sign of growing collaboration by militants on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border. "Right there, along the border, they have a potential for a spillover of violence. What we just saw happen there is a reminder it is real. It is not just an imagined threat," a senior defence official said.
The noted investigative writer, Robert Dreyfuss, has commented on the confusion in US policy illustrated by two newspaper reports. The Wall Street Journal has shown that in Iraq, the US is secretly fighting Al Qaida and their radical Sunni allies. However, in Jordan, as the New York Times has reported, the same CIA is training Sunni fighters in Jordan to do battle against the government of President Bashar Al Assad.