CIA'S con­tra­dic­tion shows con­fused US strat­egy

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Fran­cis Matthew

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.

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