WASHINGTON — The al-Qaida threat in Iraq has grown more menacing, according to the House Foreign Affairs Committee which met Wednesday to discuss the severity of terrorism in the region.
In 2013, there were 9,000 deaths related to the conflict in Iraq, the highest toll since U.S. troops departed, said committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. In January, al-Qaida took control of Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad in the Anbar region where its militant forces have “blossomed.”
“This committee will play a central role as the United States moves to send military equipment to Iraqis to fight these terrorists,” Royce said.
Suicide bombings in Iraq have increased dramatically over the past year. In November, 50 suicide attacks were carried out, compared to four in November 2012, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq Brett McGurk. Many of these attacks were initiated by al-Qaida’s primary offshoot in Iraq, called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“The violence may appear indiscriminate, but it is not,” McGurk said. “From what we are seeing, [al-Qaida] attacks are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader.”
Al-Qaida in Iraq gained power as a result of the civil war in Syria, which has made it easier to add resources and recruits as terrorists travel frequently across the porous border between the two countries, McGurk said.
The terrorist group’s goal, McGurk said, is to destroy the Iraqi government and take control of the western region. To do this, the group is attacking Shia, Sunni and Kurd groups in an effort to ignite a civil war in Iraq, a country that has typically experienced tense sectarian divides. The group recently threatened in a January radio statement that it would head toward Baghdad.
“We have found that ISIL has such a strong media presence that it can sustain itself through recruitment,” said New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the committee’s leading Democrat.
McGurk added the tribes of Fallujah and Anbar have requested assistance and are preparing to fight the al-Qaida group. The Iraqi government asent weapons and supplies to the tribes in the region resisting al-Qaida.
“The tribes will fight, but they must be confident that they are going to win,” McGurk said. “For this to happen ISIL [al-Qaida] networks must be constantly pressured.”
Committee members expressed conflicting views about returning American forces to the region.
“Let them kill each other,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “We’ve done enough. I am so happy we don’t have a bunch of American troops in that mess.”
“I ‘ll make very clear that the U.S. withdrawal of troops in Iraq was the biggest mistake,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who served in the Air Force in Iraq. “The U.S. should help Iraq in a limited way using air power.”
Timeline: Fallujah since 2003.
Fallujah, a city that hosted two major battles during the Iraq War and a terrorist hotbed, has been since reconquered by insurgent groups.