The war in Iraq probably helped boost al-Qaeda recruitment, according to a report from leading Western think-tank.
But it does consider its effects and has some highly critical comments.
It says that the risks of terrorism to Westerners and Western assets in Arab countries “appeared to increase after the Iraq war began in March 2003″.
It says that al-Qaeda was forced to disperse after the invasion of Afghanistan but remained “a viable and effective ‘network of networks’ “.
“It is probable that recruitment generally has accelerated on account of Iraq,” the report concludes.
“Al-Qaeda has added Iraq to its list of grievances. With Osama Bin Laden’s public encouragement, up to 1,000 foreign jihadists may have infiltrated Iraq.”
The editor of the report, Colonel Christopher Langton, said there were too few US and other foreign troops in Iraq for the task.
Dr John Chipman, director of the IISS, said that the strategy for regaining control was to use air power and long range artillery to “break morale in areas of intense insurgent activity” while at the same time trying to negotiate with community leaders.
Success in Iraq would depend on three things, he said. First, it was “essential that Iraqi security forces become the primary instrument of law and order”.
“At the moment, they number 36,000 and it may take five years for them to obtain the aptitude necessary to guarantee stability,” he said. The implication of that comment is that foreign troops might be in Iraq until then.
Second, the Iraqi government had to move quickly to build up its administrative capacity so that Iraqis experienced the “civil benefits” of local rule.
Thirdly, “Iraqi insurgents need to be brought into the political process. The elections (in January) could play a crucial part in this process.”
Dr Chipman also predicted that al-Qaeda would increasingly target Europe because US territory had become less vulnerable since 11 September.
“Accordingly, Europe, where Islamic radicalisation is on the rise and whose southern exposure makes it vulnerable to terrorist infiltration from the Middle East and North Africa, may figure more prominently in jihadist targeting,” he said.
The emphasis in this year’s Military Balance continues a trend away from the old concentration on the balance of conventional forces around the world.
These are still listed but so, too, are the estimated strengths of “non-state armed groups” whose activities now dominate strategic thinking for many governments.
But getting information on such groups is obviously hard in some cases. The one led by the man most sought after in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is simply said to have “several hundred” members.
Dr Chipman said that if Senator John Kerry was elected US president, “for allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the subject matter of their dealings with the US would not dramatically change.”
However, he believed that a Kerry administration would take an immediate interest in non-proliferation issues. Mr Kerry favoured bilateral talks, for example, with North Korea and Iran.
As for a second Bush term, Dr Chipman picked up on a theme which is currently being much discussed among foreign policy watchers – whether Mr Bush would have “less to prove” in a second four-year administration.
Dr Chipman said that some changes “in the inflections and focus of security policy” might be expected if Mr Bush was re-elected.