Also see below:
Iraq 101: From Allawi to Zarqawi [
Civil War: Lost in Transition [
Players, Haters: Iraqi Politics at a Glance [
The Cost: Paying the Price [
Money Down the Drain [
Aftermath: Long-Term Thinking [
Breaking the Army ... [
The Iraq Effect: War Has Increased Terrorism Sevenfold Worldwide
By Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank
March/April 2007 Issue
"If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people." So said President Bush on November 30, 2005, refining his earlier call to "bring them on." Jihadist terrorists, the administration's argument went, would be drawn to Iraq like moths to a flame, and would perish there rather than wreak havoc elsewhere in the world.
The president's argument conveyed two important assumptions: first, that the threat of jihadist terrorism to U.S. interests would have been greater without the war in Iraq, and second, that the war is reducing the overall global pool of terrorists. However, the White House has never cited any evidence for either of these assumptions, and none appears to be publicly available.
The administration's own National Intelligence Estimate on "Trends in Global Terrorism: implications for the United States," circulated within the government in April 2006 and partially declassified in October, states that "the Iraq War has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists ... and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."
Yet administration officials have continued to suggest that there is no evidence any greater jihadist threat exists as a result of the Iraq War. "Are more terrorists being created in the world?" then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rhetorically asked during a press conference in September. "We don't know. The world doesn't know. There are not good metrics to determine how many people are being trained in a radical madrasa school in some country." In January 2007 Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte in congressional testimony stated that he was "not certain" that the Iraq War had been a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and played down the likely impact of the war on jihadists worldwide: "I wouldn't say there has been a widespread growth in Islamic extremism beyond Iraq. I really wouldn't."
Indeed, though what we will call "The Iraq Effect" is a crucial matter for U.S. national security, we have found no statistical documentation of its existence and gravity, at least in the public domain. In this report, we have undertaken what we believe to be the first such study, using information from the world's premier database on global terrorism. The results are being published for the first time by Mother Jones, the news and investigative magazine, as part of a broader "Iraq 101" package in the magazine's March/April 2007 issue.
Our study shows that the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third.
We are not making the argument that without the Iraq War, jihadist terrorism would not exist, but our study shows that the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the Al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.
In our study we focused on the following questions:
- Has jihadist terrorism gone up or down around the world since the invasion of Iraq?
- What has been the trend if terrorist incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan (the military fronts of the "war on terrorism") are excluded?
- Has terrorism explicitly directed at the United States and its allies also increased?
In order to zero in on The Iraq Effect, we focused on the rate of terrorist attacks in two time periods: September 12, 2001, to March 20, 2003 (the day of the Iraq invasion), and March 21, 2003, to September 30, 2006. Extending the data set before 9/11 would risk distorting the results, because the rate of attacks by jihadist groups jumped considerably after 9/11 as jihadist terrorists took inspiration from the events of that terrible day.
We first determined which terrorist organizations should be classified as jihadist. We included in this group Sunni extremist groups affiliated with or sympathetic to the ideology of Al Qaeda. We decided to exclude terrorist attacks by Palestinian groups, as they depend largely on factors particular to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our study draws its data from the MIPT-RAND Terrorism database (available at terrorismknowledgebase.org), which is widely considered to be the best publicly available database on terrorism incidents. RAND defines a terrorist attack as an attack on a civilian entity designed to promote fear or alarm and further a particular political agenda. In our study we only included attacks that caused at least one fatality and were attributed by RAND to a known jihadist group. In some terrorist attacks, and this is especially the case in Iraq, RAND has not been able to attribute a particular attack to a known jihadist group. Therefore our study likely understates the extent of jihadist terrorism in Iraq and around the world.
Our study yields one resounding finding: The rate of terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups and the rate of fatalities in those attacks increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the average fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, which accounts for fully half of the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks in the post-Iraq War period. But even excluding Iraq, the average yearly number of jihadist terrorist attacks and resulting fatalities still rose sharply around the world by 265 percent and 58 percent respectively.
And even when attacks in both Afghanistan and Iraq (the two countries that together account for 80 percent of attacks and 67 percent of deaths since the invasion of Iraq) are excluded, there has still been a significant rise in jihadist terrorism elsewhere - a 35 percent increase in the number of jihadist terrorist attacks outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, from 27.6 to 37 a year, with a 12 percent rise in fatalities from 496 to 554 per year.
Of course, just because jihadist terrorism has risen in the period after the invasion of Iraq, it does not follow that events in Iraq itself caused the change. For example, a rise in attacks in the Kashmir conflict and the Chechen separatist war against Russian forces may have nothing to do with the war in Iraq. But the most direct test of The Iraq Effect - whether the United States and its allies have suffered more jihadist terrorism after the invasion than before - shows that the rate of jihadist attacks on Western interests and citizens around the world (outside of Afghanistan and Iraq) has risen by a quarter, from 7.2 to 9 a year, while the yearly fatality rate in these attacks has increased by 4 percent from 191 to 198.
One of the few positive findings of our study is that only 18 American civilians (not counting civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan) have been killed by jihadist groups since the war in Iraq began. But that number is still significantly higher than the four American civilians who were killed in attacks attributed to jihadist groups in the period between 9/11 and the Iraq War. It was the capture and killing of much of Al Qaeda's leadership after 9/11 and the breakup of its training camp facilities in Afghanistan - not the war in Iraq - that prevented Al Qaeda from successfully launching attacks on American targets on the scale it did in the years before 9/11.
Also undermining the argument that Al Qaeda and like-minded groups are being distracted from plotting against Western targets are the dangerous, anti-American plots that have arisen since the start of the Iraq War. Jihadist terrorists have attacked key American allies since the Iraq conflict began, mounting multiple bombings in London that killed 52 in July 2005, and attacks in Madrid in 2004 that killed 191. Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London bombers, stated in his videotaped suicide "will," "What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq." There have been six jihadist attacks on the home soil of the United States' NATO allies (including Turkey) in the period after the invasion of Iraq, whereas there were none in the 18 months following 9/11; and, of course, the plan uncovered in London in August 2006 to smuggle liquid explosives onto U.S. airliners, had it succeeded, would have killed thousands.
Al Qaeda has not let the Iraq War distract it from targeting the United States and her allies. In a January 19, 2006 audiotape, Osama bin Laden himself refuted President Bush's argument that Iraq had distracted and diverted Al Qaeda: "The reality shows that that the war against America and its allies has not remained limited to Iraq, as he claims, but rather, that Iraq has become a source and attraction and recruitment of qualified people.... As for the delay in similar [terrorist] operations in America, [the] operations are being prepared, and you will witness them, in your own land, as soon as preparations are complete."
Ayman al Zawahiri echoed bin Laden's words in a March 4, 2006, videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera calling for jihadists to launch attacks on the home soil of Western countries: "[Muslims have to] inflict losses on the crusader West, especially to its economic infrastructure with strikes that would make it bleed for years. The strikes on New York, Washington, Madrid, and London are the best examples."
One measure of the impact of the Iraq War is the precipitous drop in public support for the United States in Muslim countries. Jordan, a key U.S. ally, saw popular approval for the United States drop from 25 percent in 2002 to 1 percent in 2003. In Lebanon during the same period, favorable views of the United States dropped from 30 percent to 15 percent, and in the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia, favorable views plummeted from 61 percent to 15 percent. Disliking the United States does not make you a terrorist, but clearly the pool of Muslims who dislike the United States has grown by hundreds of millions since the Iraq War began. The United States' plummeting popularity does not suggest active popular support for jihadist terrorists but it does imply some sympathy with their anti-American posture, which means a significant swath of the Muslim population cannot be relied on as an effective party in counter-terrorism/insurgency measures. And so, popular contempt for U.S. policy has become a force multiplier for Islamist militants.
The Iraq War has also encouraged Muslim youth around the world to join jihadist groups, not necessarily directly tied to Al Qaeda but often motivated by a similar ideology. The Iraq War allowed Al Qaeda, which was on the ropes in 2002 after the United States had captured or killed two-thirds of its leadership, to reinvent itself as a broader movement because Al Qaeda's central message - that the United States is at war with Islam - was judged by significant numbers of Muslims to have been corroborated by the war in Iraq. And compounding this, the wide dissemination of the exploits of jihadist groups in Iraq following the invasion energized potential and actual jihadists across the world.
How exactly has The Iraq Effect played out in different parts of the world? The effect has not been uniform. Europe, the Arab world, and Afghanistan all saw major rises in jihadist terrorism in the period after the invasion of Iraq, while Pakistan and India and the Chechnya/Russia front saw only smaller increases in jihadist terrorism. And in Southeast Asia, attacks and killings by jihadist groups fell by over 60 percent in the period after the Iraq War. The strength or weakness of The Iraq Effect on jihadist terrorism in a particular country seems to be influenced by four factors: (1) if the country itself has troops in Iraq; (2) geographical proximity to Iraq; (3) the degree of identification with Iraq's Arabs felt in the country; and (4) the level of exchanges of ideas or personnel with Iraqi jihadist groups. This may explain why jihadist groups in Europe, Arab countries, and Afghanistan were more affected by the Iraq War than groups in other regions. Europe, unlike Kashmir, Chechnya, and Southeast Asia for example, contains several countries that are part of the coalition in Iraq. It is relatively geographically close to the Arab world and has a large Arab-Muslim diaspora from which jihadists have recruited.
European intelligence services are deeply concerned about the effect of the Iraq War. For example, Dame Eliza Mannigham-Buller, the head of Britain's MI5, stated on November 10, 2006, "In Iraq, attacks are regularly videoed and the footage is downloaded onto the Internet [and] chillingly we see the results here. Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers. We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and damage our economy ... 30 that we know of. [The] threat is serious, is growing, and, I believe, will be with us for a generation." Startlingly, a recent poll found that a quarter of British Muslims believe that the July 7, 2005, London bombings were justifiable because of British foreign policy, bearing out Dame Eliza's concern about a new generation of radicals in the United Kingdom.
While Islamist militants in Europe are mobilized by a series of grievances such as Palestine, Afghanistan, the Kashmir conflict, and Chechnya, no issue has resonated more in radical circles and on Islamist websites than the war in Iraq. This can be seen in the skyrocketing rate of jihadist terrorist attacks around the Arab world outside of Iraq. There have been 37 attacks in Arab countries outside of Iraq since the invasion, while there were only three in the period between 9/11 and March 2003. The rate of attacks in Arab countries jumped by 445 percent since the Iraq invasion, while the rate of killings rose by 783 percent. The November 9, 2005 bombings of three American hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60, an operation directed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq network, was the most direct manifestation of The Iraq Effect in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has seen an upsurge in jihadist terrorism since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There were no jihadist terrorist attacks between 9/11 and the Iraq War but 12 in the period since. The reason for the surge in terrorism was a decision taken by Al Qaeda's Saudi branch in the spring of 2003 to launch a wave of attacks (primarily at Western targets) to undermine the Saudi royal family. These attacks were initiated on May 12, 2003 with the bombing of Western compounds in Riyadh, killing 34, including 10 Americans. While Saudi authorities believe that planning and training for the operation predated the war in Iraq, the timing of the attack, just weeks after the U.S. invasion is striking.
The fact that the Iraq War radicalized some young Saudis is underlined by studies showing that more Saudis have conducted suicide operations in Iraq than any other nationality. For instance, Mohammed Hafez, a visiting professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, in a study of the 101 identified suicide attackers in Iraq from March 2003 to February 2006, found that more than 40 percent were Saudi. This jihadist energy was not just transferred over the Saudi border into Iraq. It also contributed to attacks in the Kingdom. The group that beheaded the American contractor Paul Johnson in Riyadh in June 2004 called itself the "Al Fallujah brigade of Al Qaeda" and claimed that it had carried out the killing in part to avenge the actions of "disbelievers" in Iraq. In January 2004 Al Qaeda's Saudi affiliate launched Al Battar, an online training magazine specifically directed at young Saudis interested in fighting their regime. The achievements of jihadists in Iraq figured prominently in its pages. Indeed, a contributor to the first issue of Al Battar argued that the Iraq War had made jihad "a commandment" for Saudi Arabians "[because] the Islamic nation is today in acute conflict with the Crusaders."
The Iraq War had a strong impact in other Arab countries too. Daily images aired by Al Jazeera and other channels of suffering Iraqis enraged the Arab street and strengthened the hands of radicals everywhere. In Egypt, the Iraq War has contributed to a recent wave of attacks by small, self-generated groups. A Sinai-based jihadist group carried out coordinated bombing attacks on Red Sea resorts popular with Western tourists at Taba in October 2004, at Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005, and at Dahab in April 2006, killing a total of more than 120.
One of the cell's members, Younis Elian Abu Jarir, a taxi driver whose job was to ferry the group around, stated in a confession offered as evidence in court that "they convinced me of the need for holy war against the Jews, Americans, Italians, and other nationalities that participated in the occupation of Iraq." Osama Rushdi, a former spokesman of the Egyptian terrorist group Gamma Islamiyya now living in London, told us that while attacks in the Sinai were partly directed at the Egyptian regime, they appeared to be primarily anti-Western in motivation: "The Iraq War contributed to the negative feelings of the Sinai group. Before the Iraq War, most Egyptians did not have a negative feeling towards American policy. Now almost all are opposed to American policy."
Since the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan has suffered 219 jihadist terrorist attacks that can be attributed to a particular group, resulting in the deaths of 802 civilians. The fact that the Taliban only conducted its first terrorist attacks in September 2003, a few months after the invasion of Iraq, is significant. International forces had already been stationed in the country for two years before the Taliban began to specifically target the U.S.-backed Karzai government and civilians sympathetic to it. This points to a link between events in Iraq and the initiation of the Taliban's terrorist campaign in Afghanistan.
True, local dynamics form part of the explanation for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the use of terrorism, particularly suicide attacks, by the Taliban is an innovation drawn from the Iraqi theater. Hekmat Karzai, an Afghan terrorism researcher, points out that suicide bombings were virtually unknown in Afghanistan until 2005. In 2006, Karzai says, there were 118 such attacks, more than there had been in the entire history of the country. Internet sites have helped spread the tactics of Iraqi jihadists. In 2005 the "Media Committee of the Al Qaeda Mujahideen in Afghanistan" launched an online magazine called Vanguards of Kharasan, which includes articles on what Afghan fighters can learn from Coalition and jihadist strategies in Iraq. Abdul Majid Abdul Majed, a contributor to the April 2006 issue of the magazine, argued for an expansion in suicide operations, citing the effectiveness of jihadist operations in Iraq.
Mullah Dadullah, a key Taliban commander, gave an interview to Al Jazeera in 2006 in which he explained how the Iraq War has influenced the Taliban. Dadullah noted that "we have 'give and take' with the mujahideen in Iraq." Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who is writing bin Laden's biography, told us that young men traveled from the Afghan province of Khost to "on-the-job training" in Iraq in 2004. "They came back with lots of CDs which were full of military actions against U.S. troops in the Mosul, Fallujah, and Baghdad areas. I think suicide bombing was introduced in Afghanistan and Pakistan after local boys came back after spending some time in Iraq. I met a Taliban commander, Mullah Mannan, last year in Zabul who told me that he was trained in Iraq by Zarqawi along with many Pakistani tribals."
Propaganda circulating in Afghanistan and Pakistan about American "atrocities" and jihadist "heroics" has also energized the Taliban, encouraging a previously somewhat isolated movement to see itself as part of a wider struggle. Our study found a striking correlation in how terrorist campaigns intensified in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rate of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan gathered pace in the summer of 2005, a half year after a similar increase in Iraq, and in 2006 the rate of attacks in both countries rose in tandem to new, unprecedented levels.
While the Iraq War has had a strong effect on the rise in terrorism in Afghanistan, it appears to have played less of a role on jihadists operating in Pakistan and India, though terrorism did rise in those countries following the invasion of Iraq. (Of course, neither Pakistan nor India has foreign troops on its soil, which accounts, in part, for the high terrorism figures in Afghanistan.) The rate of jihadist attacks rose by 21 percent while the fatality rate rose by 19 percent. There were 52 attacks after the Iraq invasion, killing 489 civilians, while there were 19 in the period before, killing 182. The local dynamics of the Kashmir conflict, tensions between India and Pakistan, and the resurfacing of the Taliban in eastern Pakistan likely played a large role here. That said, there is evidence that the Iraq War did energize jihadists in Pakistan. Hamid Mir says, "Iraq not only radicalized the Pakistani tribals [near the Afghan border] but it offered them the opportunity for them to go to Iraq via Iran to get on-the-job training."
There is also evidence that the Iraq War had some impact in other areas of Pakistan. In the summer of 2004, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, told followers in Lahore, "Islam is in grave danger, and the mujahideen are fighting to keep its glory. They are fighting the forces of evil in Iraq in extremely difficult circumstances. We should send mujahideen from Pakistan to help them." And Pakistan, inasmuch as it has become Al Qaeda's new base for training and planning attacks, has become the location where significant numbers of would-be jihadists - including some young British Pakistanis such as the London suicide bombers, radicalized in part by the Iraq War - have traveled to learn bomb-making skills.
In Russia and Chechnya, the Iraq War appears to have had less of an impact than on other jihadist fronts. This is unsurprising given the fact that jihadist groups in the region are preoccupied by a separatist war against the Russian military. Whilst following the invasion of Iraq there was a rise in the number of attacks by Chechen groups that share a similar ideology with Al Qaeda, the total rate of fatalities did not go up. The Iraq War does seem to have diverted some jihadists from the Russian/Chechen front: Arab fighters who might have previously gone to Chechnya now have a cause at their own doorstep, while funds from Arab donors increasingly have gone to the Iraqi jihad.
Southeast Asia has been the one region in the world in which jihadist terrorism has declined significantly in the period since the invasion of Iraq. There was a 67 percent drop in the rate of attacks (from 10.5 to 3.5 attacks per year) in the post-invasion period and a 69 percent drop in the rate of fatalities (from 201 to 62 fatalities per year). And there has been no bombing on the scale of the October 2002 Bali nightclub attack that killed more than 200. However, jihadist terrorism in Southeast Asia has declined in spite, not because of, the Iraq War. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was deeply unpopular in the region, as demonstrated by the poll finding that only 15 percent of Indonesians had a favorable view of the United States in 2003. But the negative impact of the Iraq War on public opinion was mitigated by U.S. efforts to aid the region in the wake of the devastating tsunami of December 2004 - Pew opinion surveys have shown that the number of those with favorable views towards the United States in Indonesia crept above 30 percent in 2005 and 2006.
However, the main reason for the decline of jihadist terrorism in Southeast Asia has been the successful crackdown by local authorities on jihadist groups and their growing unpopularity with the general population. The August 2003 capture of Hambali, Jemaa Islamiya's operational commander, was key to degrading the group's capacity to launch attacks as was the arrest of hundreds of Jemaa Islamiya and Abu Sayyaf operatives in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore in the years after the October 2002 Bali bombings. Those arrested included most of those who planned the Bali attacks, as well as former instructors at Jemaa Islamiya camps and individuals involved in financing attacks. And in November 2005 Indonesian security services killed Jemaa Islamiya master bomber Azhari bin Husin in a shoot-out. The second wave of Bali attacks in 2005 killed mostly Indonesians and created a popular backlash against jihadist groups in Indonesia, degrading their ability to recruit operatives. And Muslim leaders such as Masdar Farid Masudi, the deputy leader of the country's largest Islamic group, condemned the bombings: "If the perpetrators are Muslims, their sentences must be multiplied because they have tarnished the sacredness of their religion and smeared its followers worldwide."
Our survey shows that the Iraq conflict has motivated jihadists around the world to see their particular struggle as part of a wider global jihad fought on behalf of the Islamic ummah, the global community of Muslim believers. The Iraq War had a strong impact in jihadist circles in the Arab world and Europe, but also on the Taliban, which previously had been quite insulated from events elsewhere in the Muslim world. By energizing the jihadist groups, the Iraq conflict acted as a catalyst for the increasing globalization of the jihadist cause, a trend that should be deeply troubling for American policymakers. In the late 1990s, bin Laden pushed a message of a global jihad and attracted recruits from around the Muslim world to train and fight in Afghanistan. The Iraq War has made bin Laden's message of global struggle even more persuasive to militants. Over the past three years, Iraq has attracted thousands of foreign fighters who have been responsible for the majority of suicide attacks in the country. Those attacks have had an enormous strategic impact; for instance, getting the United Nations to pull out of Iraq and sparking the Iraqi civil war.
Emblematic of the problem is Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old Belgian woman who on November 9, 2005, near the town of Baquba in central Iraq, detonated a bomb as she drove past an American patrol. In the bomb crater, investigators found travel documents that showed that she had arrived in Iraq from Belgium just a few weeks earlier with her Moroccan-Belgian husband Hissam Goris. The couple had been recruited by "Al Qaeda in Iraq." Goris would die the following day, shot by American forces as he prepared to launch a suicide attack near Fallujah.
The story of Muriel Degauque and her husband is part of a trend that Harvard terrorism researcher Assaf Moghadam terms the "globalization of martyrdom." The London suicide bombings in July 2005 revealed the surprising willingness of four British citizens to die to protest the United Kingdom's role in the Coalition in Iraq; Muriel Degauque, for her part, was willing to die for the jihadist cause in a country in which she was a stranger.
This challenges some existing conceptions of the motivations behind suicide attacks. In 2005 University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape published a much-commented-upon study of suicide bombing, "Dying to Win," in which he used a mass of data about previous suicide bombing campaigns to argue that they principally occurred "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland." (Of course, terrorism directed against totalitarian regimes rarely occurs because such regimes are police states and are unresponsive to public opinion.) Pape also argued that while religion might aggravate campaigns of suicide terrorism, such campaigns had also been undertaken by secular groups, most notably the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, whose most spectacular success was the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide attacker in 1991.
Pape's findings may explain the actions and motivations of terrorist groups in countries such as Sri Lanka, but his principal claim that campaigns of suicide terrorism are generally nationalist struggles to liberate occupied lands that have little to do with religious belief does not survive contact with the reality of what is going on today in Iraq. The most extensive suicide campaign in history is being conducted in Iraq largely by foreigners animated by the deeply-held religious belief that they must liberate a Muslim land from the "infidel" occupiers.
While Iraqis make up the great bulk of the insurgents, several studies have shown that the suicide attackers in Iraq are generally foreigners, while only a small proportion are Iraqi. (Indeed, the most feared terrorist leader in Iraq until his death earlier this year, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was a Jordanian.) The Israeli researcher Reuven Paz, using information posted on Al Qaeda-linked websites between October 2004 and March 2005, found that of the 33 suicide attacks listed, 23 were conducted by Saudis, and only 1 by an Iraqi. Similarly, in June 2005 the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute of Washington, D.C. found by tracking both jihadist websites and media reports that of the 199 Sunni extremists who had died in Iraq either in suicide attacks or in action against Coalition or Iraqi forces, 104 were from Saudi Arabia and only 21 from Iraq. The rest were predominantly from countries around the Middle East. And Mohammed Hafez in his previously cited study of the 101 "known" suicide bombers in Iraq found that while 44 were Saudi and 8 were from Italy(!), only 7 were from Iraq.
In congressional testimony this past November, CIA Director General Michael Hayden said that "an overwhelming percentage of the suicide bombers are foreign." A senior U.S. military intelligence official told us that a worrisome recent trend is the rising number of North Africans who have joined the ranks of foreign fighters in Iraq, whose number General Hayden pegged at 1,300 during his November congressional testimony. A Saudi official also confirmed to us the rising number of North Africans who are being drawn into the Iraq War.
The globalization of jihad and martyrdom, accelerated to a significant degree by the Iraq War, has some disquieting implications for American security in the future. First, it has energized jihadist groups generally; second, not all foreign fighters attracted to Iraq will die there. In fact there is evidence that some jihadists are already leaving Iraq to operate elsewhere. Saudi Arabia has made a number of arrests of fighters coming back from Iraq, and Jordanian intelligence sources say that 300 fighters have returned to Jordan from Iraq. As far away as Belgium, authorities have indicated that Younis Lekili, an alleged member of the cell that recruited Muriel Degauque, had previously traveled to fight in Iraq, where he lost his leg. (Lekili is awaiting trial in Belgium.)
German, French, and Dutch intelligence officials have estimated that there are dozens of their citizens returning from the Iraq theater, and some appear to have been determined to carry out attacks on their return to Europe. For example, French police arrested Hamid Bach, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, in June 2005 in Montpellier, several months after he returned from a staging camp for Iraq War recruits in Syria. According to French authorities, Bach's handlers there instructed him to assist with plotting terrorist attacks in Italy. Back in France, Bach is alleged to have bought significant quantities of hydrogen peroxide and to have looked up details on explosives and detonators online. (Bach is awaiting trial in France.)
This "blowback" trend will greatly increase when the war eventually winds down in Iraq. In the short term the countries most at risk are those whose citizens have traveled to fight in Iraq, in particular Arab countries bordering Iraq. Jamal Khashoggi, a leading Saudi expert on jihadist groups, told us that "while Iraq brought new blood into the Al Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia, this was at a time when the network was being dismantled. Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia could not accommodate these recruits so they sent them to Iraq to train them, motivate them, and prepare them for a future wave of attacks in the Kingdom. It is a deep worry to Saudi authorities that Saudis who have gone to Iraq will come back." That's a scenario for which Khashoggi says Saudi security forces are painstakingly preparing.
Several U.S. citizens have tried to involve themselves in the Iraq jihad. In December an American was arrested in Cairo, Egypt, accused of being part of a cell plotting terrorist attacks in Iraq. And in February 2006 three Americans from Toledo, Ohio, were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill U.S. military personnel in Iraq. According to the FBI, one of these individuals, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, was in contact with an Arab jihadist group sending fighters to Iraq and tried unsuccessfully to cross the border into Iraq. However, to date there is no evidence of Americans actually fighting in Iraq so the number of returnees to the United States is likely to be small. The larger risk is that jihadists will migrate from Iraq to Western countries, a trend that will be accelerated if, as happened following the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, those fighters are not allowed to return to their home countries.
Already terrorist groups in Iraq may be in a position to start sending funds to other jihadist fronts. According to a U.S. government report leaked to the New York Times in November 2006, the fact that insurgent and terrorist groups are raising up to $200 million a year from various illegal activities such as kidnapping and oil theft in Iraq means that they "may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside Iraq." Indeed, a letter from Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al Zawahiri, to Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in July 2005 contained this revealing request: "Many of the [funding] lines have been cut off. Because of this we need a payment while new lines are being opened. So if you're capable of sending a payment of approximately one hundred thousand we'll be very grateful to you."
The "globalization of martyrdom" prompted by the Iraq War has not only attracted foreign fighters to die in Iraq (we record 148 suicide-terrorist attacks in Iraq credited to an identified jihadist group) but has also encouraged jihadists to conduct many more suicide operations elsewhere. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there has been a 246 percent rise in the rate of suicide attacks (6 before and 47 after) by jihadist groups outside of Iraq and a 24 percent increase in the corresponding fatality rate. Even excluding Afghanistan, there has been a 150 percent rise in the rate of suicide attacks and a 14 percent increase in the rate of fatalities attributable to jihadists worldwide. The reasons for the spread of suicide bombing attacks in other jihadist theaters are complex but the success of these tactics in Iraq, the lionization that Iraqi martyrs receive on jihadist websites, and the increase in feelings of anger and frustration caused by images of the Iraq War have all likely contributed significantly. The spread of suicide bombings should be of great concern to the United States in defending its interests and citizens around the world, because they are virtually impossible to defend against.
The Iraq War has also encouraged the spread of more hardline forms of jihad (the corollary to an increase in suicide bombing). Anger and frustration over Iraq has increased the popularity, especially among young militants, of a hardcore takfiri ideology that is deeply intolerant of divergent interpretations of Islam and highly tolerant of extreme forms of violence. The visceral anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Shiism widely circulated among the Internet circles around ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada (both Jordanian-Palestinian mentors to Abu Musab al Zarqawi) and Al Qaeda's Syrian hawk, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, are even more extreme, unlikely as it may sound, than the statements of bin Laden himself.
Our study shows just how counterproductive the Iraq War has been to the war on terrorism. The most recent State Department report on global terrorism states that the goal of the United States is to identify, target, and prevent the spread of "jihadist groups focused on attacking the United States or its allies [and those groups that] view governments and leaders in the Muslim world as their primary targets." Yet, since the invasion of Iraq, attacks by such groups have risen more than sevenfold around the world. And though few Americans have been killed by jihadist terrorists in the past three years it is wishful thinking to believe that this will continue to be the case, given the continued determination of militant jihadists to target the country they see as their main enemy. We will be living with the consequences of the Iraq debacle for more than a decade.
Research fellows at the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law. Bergen is also a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.
Special thanks to Mike Torres and Zach Stern at NYU and Kim Cragin and Drew Curiel at RAND.
Iraq 101: From Allawi to Zarqawi
March/April 2007 Issue
Who is this Ali cat? Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds - a primer.
Iraq is 60 to 65 percent Shiite Arab, 12 to 15 percent Sunni Arab, and 18 to 20 percent Kurd. But it's not a neat breakdown: The big cities, where the majority of Iraqis live, are thoroughly mixed, and many Iraqis live in blended Sunni-Shiite families; some call themselves "Sushi." Sunnis were favored by Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, whose fall gave rise to a Shiite backlash; today, most ordinary Iraqis are horrified by sectarian violence but turn to their own groups for protection.
Shiism is a minority branch of Islam followed by about 10 percent of all Muslims, including nearly all of Iran and Bahrain as well as parts of Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan. The schism began after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632, when one group of disciples followed his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and a line of imams after him. "Shia" is short for Shiat Ali, or "followers of Ali." Many Shiites believe that the 12th imam, Muhammad al Mahdi, did not die but went into hiding, and will reappear as a messiah. Sunnis often portray Shiites as heretics - a claim that much of Western scholarship has embraced in describing Shiism as a "sect" - but the two branches' theology differs little, and both read exactly the same Koran. The Shiite branch is more centralized, with a Vatican-like hierarchy of clergymen led by grand ayatollahs. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, Shiism in the activist mold of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah has developed into a militant force across the Middle East, and that strain is now also evident in Iraq.
Islam's majority branch is dominant in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Rather than following Ali, Sunnis (from sunna, "tradition of the prophet") consider Muhammad's father-in-law, Abu Bakr, to be the prophet's legitimate successor and the first in a line of caliphs ("commanders of the faithful"); Shiites believe Abu Bakr usurped the post. The vast majority of Sunni clerics are apolitical, moderate, and concerned chiefly with religious law and theology; the minority hardline strains are associated chiefly with the back-to-basics fundamentalism of the Salafi movement and the Saudi-based Wahhabi school. The most militant and political Sunni elements emerged in the 20th century in a string of activist movements starting with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and culminating in Al Qaeda.
An ancient, mountain-dwelling ethnic group numbering perhaps 30 million in all, with 5 million in Iraq, the Kurds - who are mostly Sunnis, but politically align with whomever will support their goals - have revolted numerous times in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Ever since U.S. and British warplanes established a no-fly zone in northeast Iraq in the 1990s, Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed de facto autonomy, a privilege enshrined in the new constitution. But many want full independence, and their political leadership has staked a claim to the mixed Kurdish and Arab city of Kirkuk and its massive oil fields. Seizing Kirkuk could spark civil war with Iraq's Arabs and provoke an intervention by Turkey, which fears few things more than an oil-rich Kurdish entity on its border.
|5,000 Years of Invasions|
|c. 2750 B.C.||Gilgamesh rules Uruk, namesake of modern Iraq|
|c. 2300 B.C.||Akkadian king Sargon I conquerors Mesopotamia|
|1792 B.C.||Hammurabi takes throne of Babylon|
|689 B.C.||Assyrians destroy Babylon|
|600 B.C.||Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilds Babylon|
|539 B.C.||Persia's Cyrus the Great invades|
|330 B.C.||Alexander the Great invades|
|53 B.C.||Romans attack|
|638 A.D.||Muslim Arabs sweep to power|
|1258||Mongols besiege and capture Baghdad|
|1401||Central Asian warlord Tamerlane sacks Baghdad|
|1410||Black Sheep Turkmen take Baghdad|
|1466||White Sheep Turkmen take over|
|1534||Ottomans occupy Baghdad|
|1915||British attack Ottomans, Iraq becomes a British possession in 1920|
|1921||Hashemite monarchy installed|
|1932||Iraq gains independence|
|1952||Military coup kills King Faisal II|
|1968||Arab Socialist Baath party takes power|
|1979||Saddam Hussein becomes president|
|1980||Iraq invades Iran; eight-year war begins|
|2003||United States invades|
Civil War: Lost in Transition
March/April 2007 Issue
As Iraq has descended into civil war, it hasn't been easy to measure just how violent it has become. Estimates of civilian casualties vary by a factor of nearly 10, and both the Pentagon and the Iraqi government have been criticized for ignoring or downplaying reports of attacks and deaths. What is beyond doubt is that the bloodshed is mounting and more and more civilians are dying.
Ayatollah Sistani. A crusty old cleric whose Delphic pronouncements are received as gospel by his followers, Sistani almost never leaves his house and has spurned U.S. officials' pleas for a meeting.
His once-supreme influence is declining in favor of the Shiite militias, but he did help put together the United Iraqi Alliance bloc, by far the biggest of the multiparty coalitions that dominate Iraq's Parliament.
Islamic Dawa. One of the groups in the United Iraqi Alliance, Dawa is the party of current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was founded in 1957 by Shiite ayatollahs as a counterforce to the Communist and Baath parties. Dawa later won support from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, formed a terrorist branch, and in 1983 bombed the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. Today, it is led by Islamist scholars.
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI and its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, were founded as a fundamentalist Shiite party in 1982, under the tutelage of Ayatollah Khomeini's Revolutionary Guard; they have been supported by Iran ever since.
Party leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric and former commander of the Badr Brigade who favors autonomy for the Shiite south, was invited to the White House last year. SCIRI is blamed for torture and assassinations, and its members have infiltrated the Iraqi army and police.
Mahdi Army. A cluster of militias led by the controversial and charismatic (in a grim-faced sort of way) thirtysomething cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family that helped found Dawa. Its tens of thousands of armed men are only loosely under Sadr's control. Like SCIRI, the Mahdi Army has spawned death squads, including a possibly rogue unit in Baghdad led by Abu Deraa, "the Zarqawi of the Shiites." Sadr, who also has ties to Iran, is more of an Iraqi nationalist than other Iran-allied Shiites.
Iraqi National List. Though led by a Shiite - ex-Baathist and former CIA and MI6 asset Ayad Allawi, who was prime minister until early 2005 - the Iraqi National List is a primarily nonsectarian coalition.
It was created as an inclusive alternative to the fundamentalist Shiite parties and includes the party of top Sunni tribal leader (and former Iraqi VP) Ghazi al-Yawer.
Iraq Accord Front. Led by Adnan al-Dulaimi, scion of the largest Sunni tribe in Anbar province, the most religion-oriented of the Sunni coalitions includes the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society founded in Cairo in 1928. Because the Islamic Party participated in various transitional governments, the coalition is now seen by many Sunnis as too close to the United States; in the late 2005 elections, which many Sunnis boycotted, the Iraq Accord Front became Parliament's largest Sunni bloc.
Iraqi National Dialogue Front. Led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, a former Baath party member said to be connected to the insurgency, this bloc has 11 seats in Parliament.
Association of Muslim Scholars. This coalition of clerics straddles the gap between the Sunni establishment and the insurgency.
Its leader, Harith al-Dhari, is more nationalist than Islamist; his son has called the group "the political arm of the resistance fighting to evict American forces from Iraq." The Iraqi government has a warrant out for Dhari's arrest.
The Insurgency. A mostly Sunni "network of networks" linking disparate interests such as former military and intelligence officers, Baath party officials, tribal groups, clergymen, nationalists, and Islamists, the insurgency today has tens of thousands of men under arms. A key underground leader is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a top official under Saddam.
Al Qaeda in Iraq. Founded by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda makes up a small percentage of the insurgency, but its actions are responsible for a disproportionate number of civilian killings. Its leadership is opaque, and its relationship, if any, to Osama bin Laden is unclear. Its rapport with the rest of the insurgency is strained at best.
Kurdistan Democratic Party. The largest and most powerful Kurdish party. Founded in 1946 by a wily warlord, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the KDP and its pesh merga ("facing death") militia remain a family affair. Its founder's son, Massoud Barzani, is the president of the Kurdish government in northern Iraq, and lots of other Barzanis help run the KDP today.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The KDP's younger sibling was founded by current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani in 1975, after the collapse of a KDP-sponsored uprising supported by the CIA, the Mossad, and the Shah of Iran. The PUK has gotten support from Syria and Iran; in the '90s it was embroiled in a civil war against the KDP. An alliance between the two parties has 53 seats in Parliament; both want independence for the Kurds.
The Cost: Paying the Price
March/April 2007 Issue
The war costs American taxpayers $1.9 billion a week, or $275 million a day. If the U.S. had not invaded, militarily containing Saddam through 2015 would have cost an estimated $23 million a day.
In April 2003, the head of USAID said the cost of rebuilding Iraq wouldn't "even compare remotely with the size of the Marshall Plan." Iraqi reconstruction has cost the United States $34.1 billion to date. Rebuilding postwar Germany cost $30.3 billion (in 2006 dollars).
With a staff of nearly 1,000, it's already the largest U.S. embassy in the world. When the new Green Zone complex is completed later this year, it will include 15-foot-thick walls, its own water-treatment and power plants, and amenities such as a gym, a swimming pool, a food court, a movie theater, and an "American Club" for cooped-up diplomats.
In 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said oil exports would rebuild Iraq "relatively soon." But last year, Iraq missed its export goal by nearly 1/3 and spent only $2 billion on reconstruction, while the U.S. spent $5.4 billion. Baghdad gets an average of 4 hours 30 minutes of electricity a day. Estimated cost of boosting Iraq's power capacity by 2010: $20 billion. Estimated cost of installing enough solar panels to power every home in Iraq: $6.6 billion.
Money Down the Drain
March/April 2007 Issue
Corruption costs Iraq $4 billion annually. $8.8 billion the U.S. gave the Iraqi government cannot be fully accounted for. More than 20% of the government's Ministry of Interior staff are "ghost employees" - nonexistent workers who collect paychecks. As much as 30% of Iraq's refined oil ends up on the black market or is illegally taken out of the country. The U.S. government says the insurgency raises $25 to $100 million a year smuggling oil. $9 billion in oil revenues has been lost, almost as much as Saddam Hussein stole from the U.N. Oil-for-Food program over five years.
Coalition of the Dwindling: When the War's Supporters at Home and Abroad Got Cold Feet
|May 2004||Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua||David Brooks, Tucker Carlson|
|June 2004||Norway||Francis Fukuyama|
|December 2004||Hungary, Tonga|
|March 2005||Netherlands, Singapore|
|August 2005||Thailand||Bill O'Reilly|
|September 2005||New Zealand||Andrew Sullivan|
|December 2005||Bulgaria, Ukraine|
|February 2006||William F. Buckley Jr.|
|March 2006||Joe Scarborough|
|August 2006||Thomas Friedman, George Will|
|October 2006||Jonah Goldberg|
|November 2006||Italy||Kenneth Adelman, Eliot Cohen, David Frum, Richard Perle, The New Republic|
|Dead Enders||Australia, Denmark, El Salvador, Georgia, Poland, Romania, South Korea, *United Kingdom||Fred Barnes, William Bennett, Ann Coulter, Christopher Hitchens, Laura Ingraham, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Cal Thomas|
* Countries with more than 150 troops in Iraq.
With Friends Like These
41 cents of every dollar of American reconstruction money is spent on the Iraqi military or police. 3 cents goes to "democracy building." A newly recruited Iraqi soldier makes $60 a month. Iraqi units report that half of their soldiers go AWOL when sent to new combat areas. The Pentagon says it's trying to instill "a more deployable mindset." Of the 323,000 members of Iraq's security forces, 1/3 are considered "technically proficient" and only 10,000 are "politically dependable." American trainers report that 70% of the police force has been infiltrated by militias. 90,000 rifles and 80,000 pistols supplied to the Iraqi security forces cannot be accounted for. Coalition of the Dwindling:
France reportedly paid a total of $25 million three of its kidnapped citizens; Italy paid Germany paid $8 million to free three.
Blood Money: What a Life Is Worth in Iraq
Economists have estimated each life lost in the war to be worth around $6 million. The reality on the ground is much different.
Bill Me Later: What the White House Said the War Would Cost
Aftermath: Long-Term Thinking
March/April 2007 Issue
Has the war in Iraq increased jihadist terrorism? The Bush administration has offered two responses: First, the moths-to-aflame argument, which says that Iraq draws terrorists who would otherwise "be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders," as President Bush put it in 2005. Second, the hard-to-say position: "Are more terrorists being created in the world?" then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked at a press conference in September 2006. "We don't know. The world doesn't know. There are not good metrics to determine how many people are being trained in a radical madrasa school in some country."
Our study yields one resounding finding: The rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups, and the number of people killed in those attacks, increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, the scene of almost half the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks. But even excluding Iraq and Afghanistan - the other current jihadist hot spot - there has been a 35 percent rise in the number of attacks, with a 12 percent rise in fatalities.
Contrary to Bush's assertion, jihadists have not let the Iraq War distract them from targeting the United States and its allies. The rate of attacks on Western interests and citizens has risen by almost 25 percent, while the yearly fatality rate has increased by 4 percent, a figure that would have been higher had planned attacks, such as the London airline plot, not been prevented.
The globalization of jihad and martyrdom has disquieting implications for American security in the future. Jihadists are already leaving Iraq to operate elsewhere, a "blowback" trend that will greatly increase when the war eventually winds down. Terrorist groups in Iraq, which have learned to raise millions through kidnapping and oil theft, may be in a position to help fund their jihadist brethren elsewhere. Finally, Iraq has increased the popularity of a hardcore takfiri ideology so intolerant that, unlikely as it seems, it makes Osama bin Laden appear relatively moderate.
Though few American civilians have been killed by jihadist terrorists in the past three years, it is naive to assume that this will continue to be the case. We will be living with the consequences of the Iraq debacle for many years.
Iraq's Newest Export: Refugees
1.6 million Iraqis have been displaced within the country. As many as 1.8 million have left Iraq, with 3,000 fleeing daily. Saudi Arabia is building a 560-mile border fence to keep them out. As many as 700,000 Iraqi refugees now live in Jordan. More than 60,000 live in Sweden. Only 202 were admitted to the United States last year.
Iraq: Before and After
In 2006, 30% of Iraqi children went to school. Before the war, attendance was nearly 100%. A 2006 survey of children in Baghdad found that 47% had recently experienced a major traumatic event; 14% had posttraumatic stress disorder. An American psychiatrist says Iraqis are suffering "epidemic levels of PTSD." 40% of Iraqi professionals have fled, including 1/3 of all doctors. 2,000 doctors have been murdered since 2003. The number of Iraqis in jail or prison is up 30% since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The president of the Iraqi National Council of Women does not go out without bodyguards. "I started with 6, then I increased to 12, and then to 20 and then 30." One of the 66 women in the Iraqi Parliament told the UK Observer, "This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped."
Breaking the Army ...
March/April 2007 Issue
Half of American soldiers think we are likely to succeed in Iraq; more than 1/3 say we shouldn't have invaded in the first place. It costs $275,000 to deploy a soldier in Iraq for a year. It costs $5,840 to feed him. Army doctrine recommends deploying 20 soldiers for every 1,000 residents of an area with insurgents in it. Baghdad, a city of 6 million, would require 120,000 troops; 20,000 are there now. Nearly 1/3 of the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have served multiple tours. "I don't think they can sustain the rotations the way they are right now without really starting to have severe readiness issues in the Army much more than another year," said retired Brig. General David Grange in December. Some military equipment used in Iraq has experienced the equivalent of 27 years of use in 3 years. It costs $17 billion a year to replace worn and lost equipment.
... and the National Guard and Reserves
The Pentagon has ordered the National Guard to transfer $1.76 billion worth of equipment to the Army. Transferring gear overseas has left domestic Guard units with 1/3 of their essential combat equipment. 7,040 Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to Vietnam; 126 died. More than 100,000 have served in Iraq so far; 392 have died. Deploying reservists in Iraq costs the U.S. economy almost $4 billion in lost productivity annually.
The Home Front
The death rate for soldiers from rural areas is 60% higher than that for soldiers from cities. Between 2003 and 2005, Army divorces increased by 14%. The Miles Foundation reports that calls to its domestic violence hot line for military spouses jumped from 50 to 600 per month after the start of the Iraq War. In 2004, 1 out of 5 military spouses said they had signed up for government assistance to make ends meet. The wife of a New York National Guardsman deployed to Iraq applied for food stamps while raising three kids on $19,000 a year. "His monthly military salary does not cover one monthly mortgage payment."