In the week of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, we've seen a series of bleak reports relating to the myriad of conflicts unleashed as a result of that day. The latest comes from the International Institute for Strategic Studies who, as today's Guardian reports, believe al-Qaeda has "revived, extended its influence, and has the capacity to carry out a spectacular strike similar to the September 11 attacks".
The report states that "the US and its allies have failed to deal a death blow to al-Qaeda; the organisation's ideology appears to have taken root to such a degree that it will require decades to eradicate". Obviously the key here is Iraq, which in 2003 was turned into a ready-made battlefield and recruitment ground for al-Qaeda, allowing it to expand and recover from the blows taken in Afghanistan.
Old ground, yes, but the reason I bring it up is because I'm currently reading George Packer's excellent book The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq. Whatever your views on the invasion of Iraq it's hard to deny that, had things been handled differently, something good might just have come of the whole thing. Packer's book highlights the naivety, complacency, and in many ways sheer negligence shown by Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and co at a time when looting, power cuts, and general lawlessness were busy ruining any hope of progress in Iraq. The Assassin's Gate is by far and away the best thing I've read about the war and its aftermath, and should be read by anyone looking for a sensible opinion on the subject.
As it stands, al-Qaeda is well and truly back in business, and Europe's right on the frontline, as Timothy Garton Ash writes in today's Guardian. Stressing that Iraq is a sideshow in the larger struggle against terror, Garton Ash points out that much depends on winning the hearts and minds of young British Muslims who risk being sucked into Islamism. Encouragement can be drawn from recent high-profile defections from groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, but more must be done to ensure that young men are not pushed into the arms of extremists.
Along with Europe, Garton Ash views Pakistan as the other frontline in this struggle. As Maruf Khwaja writes in the new issue of New Humanist, with "Iraq and Afghanistan ruined forever" the fall of Pakistan to Islamists could mean disaster for us all.