Opinion
              FILE - This Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 file citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows rebels from al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra waving their brigade flag as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter, at Taftanaz air base that was captured by the rebels, in Idlib province, northern Syria. he head of the al-Qaida-linked group fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad was once a teacher of classical Arabic who joined the insurgency after he moved to Iraq, regional intelligence officials say. State media reported the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front leader, was killed last week, but rebels deny that, saying it was propaganda. His whereabouts are kept so secretive that no one seems to be able to say with certainty whether he is alive or dead or where he is based. But his resume, as outlined by the officials, shows him rising through al-Qaida’s ranks in Iraq before moving to Syria shortly after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)
              FILE - This Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 file citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows rebels from al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra waving their brigade flag as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter, at Taftanaz air base that was captured by the rebels, in Idlib province, northern Syria. he head of the al-Qaida-linked group fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad was once a teacher of classical Arabic who joined the insurgency after he moved to Iraq, regional intelligence officials say. State media reported the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front leader, was killed last week, but rebels deny that, saying it was propaganda. His whereabouts are kept so secretive that no one seems to be able to say with certainty whether he is alive or dead or where he is based. But his resume, as outlined by the officials, shows him rising through al-Qaida’s ranks in Iraq before moving to Syria shortly after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)   

Al-Qaida Establishes Islamic Caliphate Across Syria, Northern Iraq

Joseph Miller
Contributor

Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.

Al-Qaida has established a new Islamic Caliphate.

The Obama administration’s failure to secure a status-of-forces agreement with the government of Iraq, or to take decisive action in Syria to end that civil war, has provided al-Qaida an opportunity to fulfill its dream of creating an new Islamic Caliphate governed under Sharia law — and it is a direct threat to U.S. national security.

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, just days shy of the two and a half year anniversary of the departure of the last U.S. combat forces from Iraq, news broke that hundreds of al-Qaida-linked terrorists belonging to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) had taken Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and possibly all of the surrounding Nineveh Province. Iraq security forces abandoned their posts, leaving advanced military equipment and weaponry to al-Qaida. As they advanced, 500,000 civilians out of an estimated two million that live in Mosul fled, and al-Qaida now controls the city — a gateway to Iraq’s oil rich north.

Less than 24 hours later, reports indicate that al-Qaida has now taken the city of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Al-Qaida militants are said to have driven into the city Wednesday in an organized convoy and taken over the government’s provincial headquarters building. The infamous black flag of al-Qaida now flies atop. The rapid destabilization of Northern Iraq is very alarming and dangerous. A very bloody civil war appears to be inevitable, similar to the one being fought in neighboring Syria.

Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists now control an area in Eastern Syria all the way through parts of Western and now Northern Iraq. They have subjected the locals in the areas they control to Sharia law and have engaged in acts of violent barbarism. They have beheaded locals for failing to adhere to their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and have set up training camps to train additional terrorists to conduct operations and external attacks. This is exactly what al-Qaida has always wanted, and the Obama administration is allowing them to have it.

Tikrit is now the third major Iraqi city to fall into the hands of al-Qaida terrorists, as the city of Fallujah was taken over in January. The United States Marine Corps fought two major battles for control of the city of Fallujah, and many Americans lost their lives or were injured fighting there. At the moment, all of that effort and sacrifice appears to have been made in vain.

Why? Because the Obama administration failed to sign a status-of-forces agreement with the government of Iraq that would have allowed for a stay-behind counterterrorism force to maintain security gains and kill al-Qaida terrorists while Iraq got on her feet.

President Obama inherited a war in Iraq that was on its way to successful conclusion thanks to security gains made by the U.S. military under the Bush administration’s now famed “surge” of U.S forces, a move then Senator Barack Obama opposed. Never the less, when the Obama administration first took office, it set out to make good on a campaign pledge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the rush to end the war, the administration did not make a significant effort to secure a status-of-forces agreement with the Government of Iraq. The administration was happy to point the finger at the Iraqis for not signing the document because President Obama was being hammered by democratic colleagues like Nancy Pelosi for wanting to leave troops in Iraq. It provided the President and his team with a political way out of a war that was unpopular and costly.

Without a status-of-forces agreement in place, the United States was forced to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by December 2011. The U.S. military informed the administration that it felt that a U.S. counterterrorism force should remain in Iraq for several years after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in order to give the Iraqis some space to build additional capacity, and to ensure al-Qaida did not mount a comeback. It appears as though the U.S. military was correct in its assessment, as al-Qaida has made a comeback and it is now a threat to the U.S. homeland.

Without a U.S. force on the ground to track and prevent al-Qaida, the terrorist organization was able to recover from its near death-like state imposed upon it by the U.S. military over the course of eight years of warfare. Al-Qaida members in Iraq began conducting attacks against the Government of Iraq as part of a Sunni insurgency with the goal of overthrowing Iraq’s Shia lead government, and installing a Sunni regime similar to the Taliban in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

The Iraq branch of al-Qaida then joined with its Syrian brothers to form Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in an effort to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, who is also a Shia Muslim. Over the past three years, ISIS and other al-Qaida affiliated terrorist groups have seized control of large swaths of territory in Syria and established terrorist training camps. Al-Qaida members from across the globe have traveled to Syria and have settled in these areas with their families. As previously reported, that is something that has not been seen since the days of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

The reason that this situation is a direct threat to U.S. national security is that al-Qaida affiliated terrorist groups have stated that their long term goal is to attack the United States. Their intentions lay beyond the borders of Iraq, Syria and the greater Middle East and include killing Americans on U.S. soil. To compound this problem, it has been reported that hundreds of U.S. citizens have traveled to fight in Syria for various warring factions.

We now have al-Qaida in control of a large area of lawless territory in the Middle East, setting up training camps, Americans engaged in fighting alongside our enemies and a threat to attack the United States. There could not possibly be a scarier combination of events. The United States is at risk as a result of the inaction by the Obama Administration in either Syria or Iraq. This situation could have been prevented long ago had the President simply secured a status-of-forces agreement and left a U.S. counterterrorism force to prevent al-Qaida from reemerging.

In addition to leaving the nation at risk of another terrorist attack, let us not forget that Operation Iraqi Freedom, more commonly known as the Iraq War, was very costly in terms of blood and treasure for the United States. Between 2003 and 2012 the United States spent over a trillion dollars and saw 4,486 brave Americans die on the field of battle. Millions more served there over the course of eight years. The administration had an opportunity to ensure that their sacrifices were not made in vain, but instead it chose to turn tail and run at the first available opportunity.