During his State of the Union address last year, U.S. President Barack Obama triumphantly declared that al-Qaida was in retreat and that the U.S. was on its way to victory in Afghanistan. He received roaring applause. Obama, the terminator of wars, was already looking ahead to Asia and the Pacific.
Meanwhile, just two years after the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- an al-Qaida branch operating in the Middle East -- declared over the weekend that it had taken "control" of the city of Fallujah, which lies only 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Baghdad. Obama is probably not going to get much applause over that piece of news. Fallujah, which has long outgrown its 20th century 10,000-person population, has transformed into a 300,000-person symbol for resistance against the U.S. occupation in the Iraq War. Even after it was occupied by U.S. forces in 2004, violent clashes continued to erupt between U.S. soldiers and local Sunni groups.
But U.S. troops won the battle and radical Sunni groups were forced to flee the city. The Americans never, in their wildest dreams, imagined that the jihadis would re-enter through the back door. Under U.S. auspices, a Sunni militia was established in 2006 to protect Iraqi sovereignty and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from al-Qaida. It took a lot of naiveté for Washington to actually believe that Iraq could undergo a political transmutation, becoming a neo-Switzerland, post-U.S. withdrawal.
Just as in Lebanon, the number of terrorist attacks inside Iraq directly related to the war in Syria has substantially grown. Encouraged by their Syrian victories, al-Qaida's operatives are dreaming of the day when the proud flag of a united Islamic state waves from Iraq to Syria, encroaching on the Israeli border. Some observers rightly see this awful scenario as Syrian President Bashar Assad's only lifeline, given that the only alternative seems to be the Syrian regime's protracted slaughter of its own civilian population.
The Sunni minority in Iraq today feels suppressed. It rejects the relationship with Baghdad, resenting the Maliki government for blaming the escalation in violence on Sunni groups. In light of the circumstances, al-Qaida has had no issue combing the local population for new recruits, even though most residents are less than enthused with the fact that, post-al-Qaida takeover, Fallujah has been disconnected from fresh water and electricity. Add to that the major crisis that exists today regarding the very idea of a state in the Arab world, and one can easily understand the violence, terror and deep divisions that observers anticipate in Syria and Iraq's near future.
But the main thing is that the Americans won the war.