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Arab Media Give War on Terror an F

New America Media, News Analysis, Jalal Ghazi Posted: Oct 04, 2008

U.S. policy makers and media typically suggest that the seven-year-old "War on Terror" has been a modest if tenuous success and that Americans are safer now than they've ever been.

Arab media, however, offers another perspective. Journalists, commentators, scholars and even former intelligence chiefs both Western and Eastern featured on national and satellite Arab television networks all agree on one thing: The Bush administration's War on Terror has not only failed, but also fueled Muslim outrage and anti-Americanism.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the United States has spent $602 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 to 2007. Al Qaeda and other groups seem to be fulfilling the extreme ideology and global message of Osama bin Laden: Engage the Americans and their allies in long wars of attrition on as many fronts as possible.

Many Al Qaeda leaders have been eliminated, but there seems to be no shortage of men willing to take their places. The latest Al Qaeda tape, which Al Jazeera broadcast on Sept. 8., showed three figures previously unknown to the public: Abu Yazid Al Masry, now the third man in Al Qaeda, Abu Musab Al Wadud, the organization's leader in Northern Africa, and Abu Yehya Alibi.

"Al Qaeda is regrouping in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, told Al Jazeera English. "We have Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Qaeda in Africa, Al Qaeda in Europe, Al Qaeda in North Africa and Al Qaeda in Somalia. We do not know where the next branch will be opened."

The argument that occupying Iraq has made Americans safer because it is better to fight the "terrorists" there instead of on U.S. soil is false, Arab media suggests.

Arab and Western scholars told Al Jazeera that invading Iraq to fight "terrorism" is like putting out fire with gasoline. Islamic insurgents have always used liberation from foreign occupation as a rationale for carrying out campaigns of violence.

During the 20th century, millions of Muslims were killed fighting British, French and Italian occupiers. The struggle for liberation in Algeria, Libya, and many other Arab countries is still commemorated in Arabic literature, songs and poetry.

Today, Islamic insurgency groups, including Al Qaeda, use the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a recruiting tool. Muslims are being oppressed, they say, and fighting the oppressors by all means is necessary and justified.

"The U.S. has created a situation, and this is the problem of every occupation," Newsweek Middle East editor Chris Dickey told Al Jazeera English. "It creates a situation where you can't imagine leaving, as a question of security, partially because you have created so much hatred."

Atwan of Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper agrees. He told the London-based Arab News Broadcast (ANB) that the United States has no choice but to keep large numbers of soldiers in Iraq to avoid losing it to the insurgents or Iran.

What is important to remember, however, is that Iraq is only one front in the war on terror.

Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden Unit, told Al Jazeera English, "Al Qaeda has achieved its goal in Iraq, which is not to establish some kind of caliphate, but the ability to project influence in the Levant -- into Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel."

Typically, Al Qaeda and its freelance groups use violence to project its influence. On Sept. 29, at least five people were killed when a car bomb exploded near a bus carrying soldiers in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

This was the second attack of its kind in less than two months. In August, an explosion at a bus stop killed 15 people, including 10 soldiers.

Jihadists from Arab nations are moving from Iraq to Lebanon in increasing numbers. According to Alarabiya.net, the Lebanese government rounded up a suspected Al Qaeda cell of 13 men from Sudan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, the Lebanese government fought a long and hard war against Fateh Al Islam, another extremist group in Naher Al Bared refugee camp, only to see at least two similar organizations emerge in other refugee camps.

"Northern Lebanon has turned into a hotbed for radical terrorists," Ahmad Mousalli, a professor in political studies at the American University in Beirut, told Al Jazeera.

In an interview at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Al Helweh in northern Lebanon, Abu Ramez Al Zahmarani, the leader of radical Jund Al Sham, told Lebanese New TV that he regretted that he never had the opportunity to go to jihad with Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the notorious Al Qaeda in Iraq leader killed by an American air trike in 2006.

The leader of another militant group Asbat Al Ansar said his group had provided fighters in Iraq. "There was no direct relationship between us and Sheikh Abu Musab," he told New TV. But, "our brothers asked for our help. So we sent them many of our men and our leaders to Iraq."

Al Qaeda freelance organizations have even emerged in Gaza. According to Al Arabiya television, Hamas allows Al Uma Army, which shares the same ideologies as Al Qaeda, to operate in Gaza so long as it does not intervene in Palestinian internal politics and use violence to impose its religious beliefs in Gaza.

In its seventh year, the war in Afghanistan was the first front in the U.S. war on terror.

Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies at Sarah Lawrence College, told Al Jazeera English, "The Bush administration is making another strategic blunder in Afghanistan by lumping the Pashtun tribes and the Taliban, who are fighting for their identity and liberation from foreign occupation, rightly or wrongly, with Al Qaeda."

Allies for many years, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have a fundamental difference. The Taliban calls for local jihad against foreign occupiers, and Al Qaeda calls for global jihad against America and its "crusader alliance."

Many Arab scholars argue that the United States should negotiate a power sharing deal with the Taliban as a way to re-establish security in the country.

Journalist and political writer Ahmad Asfahani told Arab News Broadcast, "There is a large segment of the Afghan people who will not accept the presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan and will not accept a government that is linked to the occupation."

He continued, the "Taliban's participation in the establishment of a new Afghan regime that can govern without relying on foreign occupation is the only option to stop the bloody conflict in the country."

Asfahani explained, "The Taliban movement is no longer just a former regime, it rather represents a large segment of the Afghan population."

Instead, the United States continues to rely heavily on its military might, which fuels the rage and violence against U.S. forces and the Afghan government.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has always stood by his American allies, and has even defended U.S. and NATO attacks that left civilians dead. But recently Al Jazeera English showed a video of him breaking into tears as he pleaded for the Americans to stop bombing civilian areas.

On Oct. 1, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Afghanistan, Wali Allah Shahin, said that Karzai called for reconciliation with the Taliban movement and asked Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to help mediate the negotiations with the Taliban.

Karzai has received support from unlikely sources. According to Al Jazeera, France and Canada, which participate in NATO's fight against the Taliban, expressed support to Karzai's reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. NATO lost 200 soldiers this year alone.

The American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan also did not rule out reconciliation with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. During a trip to Washington D.C., he said: "Ultimately, the solution in Afghanistan is going to be a political solution not a military solution." The Bush administration has not respond to the comment.

While Americans focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia is a growing hotbed of anti-Americanism and radicalism. Al Jazeera senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said, "the Bush administration supported Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia under the guise of the War on Terror. It even supported the very same warlords who humiliated the U.S. 18 years earlier by dragging the bodies of American servicemen in the streets of Mogadishu."

Al Jazeerea English's Julian Rufus said that the United States supported the warlords because U.S. intelligence believed that their rivals, the Islamic Courts Union, were spreading a "militant form of Islam."

According to Rufus, this backfired on the United States because it was undermining a regime that had the support of Somalis. When the Islamic Union controlled Mogadishu in 2006 and established security for the first time in 13 years, "Somalis began turning to local Islamic Courts as the only source of stability, education and social welfare," Rufus said.

The United States however supported Ethiopia when it invaded Somalia and overthrew the Islamic Courts Union.

This only deepened the Somali people's resentment toward the United States, according to Rufus. One Somali citizen told Al Jazeera, "Ethiopia is our mortal enemy, and now the Americans are backing them. I thought they would have remembered what happened the last time they meddled in Somalia."

Now, Somalia -- like many other Muslim and Arab countries -- is a far less safe place for American and Western interests than it was before the War on Terror, and another center of anti-Americanism and radicalism.

Immersed in their war against terror, the international community did not pay attention to the deteriorating security situation in Somalia and the development of piracy there. Al Arabiya television reported that 30 ships have been hijacked as of August 10, 2008.

This, however, changed after the Ukrainian ship transporting Russian tanks was hijacked. Dubai Television reported, "If the pirates succeed in taking the large military shipment to land, the scale of power might change in at the horn of the African continent." Chatham House, a prominent British research institution warned that the pirates of Somalia might collaborate with terrorist organizations.

Jalal Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East," and writer of the column Eye on Arab Media for New America Media.

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