Returning to Jihad in Iraq

The United States is closing Camp Bucca, a prison camp in Iraq, releasing hundreds of prisoners into the general Iraqi population. The camp once held 26,000 inmates; now only 9,600 remain, and the camp will be closed this summer. Saad Nema, mother of one of the freed prisoners, asserted: “Most of the prisoners are innocent, just like my son. I cried today in happiness.”

But not everyone is weeping for joy. Not all those who have been released are innocent — among them was Mohammed Ali Mourad, formerly the late Iraqi Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi’s driver. Fallujah’s deputy police chief, Col. Daoud Hammoud, says that “we have information that he and his cell are behind” a December bombing that killed fifteen people at a police station.

Nor is Mourad alone. According to the Washington Post, Col. Saad Abbas Mahmoud, police chief of the Iraqi town of Garma, estimates that 90% of the released prisoners have returned to the jihad, joining Sunni or Shi’ite insurgent groups. Hammoud is more sanguine, saying that only 60% of the freed prisoners in his area have returned to the front.

Still, neither estimate is positive. “These men weren’t planting flowers in a garden,” says Col. Mahmoud. “They weren’t strolling down the street. This problem is both big and dangerous. And regrettably, the Iraqi government and the authorities don’t know how big the problem has become.”

Neither do the Americans, apparently. The Post quotes an unnamed Iraqi official: “Al-Qaeda is preparing itself for the departure of the Americans. And they want to stage a revolution.” And they are doing this after the Americans unwittingly helped them lay the groundwork for their resurgence — right in the same reviled prison. For the jihadist appeal to their fellow Muslims is religious, and American authorities did nothing but encourage Islamic religious activity in Camp Bucca — which effectively meant that they were encouraging jihadist recruitment. A jihadist group calling itself the Awakening of Muslim Youth recently circulated a pamphlet in Garma appealing to Muslims: “Please return to your faith, and we will receive you in our hearts, with open hands. If you don’t, we will bring to you men who love death in the same way you love life.”

For this group, to “return” to the Islamic faith means to work to implement Islamic rule in Iraq — a political program as well as a religious one. Yet the prison allowed the teaching of Islam, and hence of jihad: U.S. officials allowed supporters of the anti-American Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr to take charge of sections of the prison; a Sadrist Islamic cleric, Kadhim Saadi, taught classes to inmates in the Qur’an, Arabic, and Islamic law. Saadi says he recruited as many as eighty men for the jihad while in Camp Bucca, and crows: “By God’s grace, we opened our institute in an American prison.”

In March 2003, just as American troops were beginning to enter Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, I wrote in Insight magazine that “there is no reason to think that any secular democracy established in an Islamic country will escape pressure from Muslims who want to restore Shariah. None has so far.” And now, six years later, Iraq’s government is under precisely that pressure from both Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic groups who are just waiting for Obama to make good on his promise to end America’s ill-fated endeavor at nation-building in Iraq so that they can go all-out once again to impose their will by force of arms upon the country as a whole. Just as the prisoners of Camp Bucca are returning to the jihad, so eventually will the country as a whole, despite our best efforts to create a pluralistic parliamentary society including all of Iraq’s disparate and warring factions.

And until American officials and other authorities worldwide dare to confront the Islamic theological and cultural beliefs and assumptions that made this relapse into infighting and infidel-fighting an inevitability, this pattern will recur everywhere. But in this age of Obama, nothing seems much less likely than the idea of American officials actually discussing openly and devising ways to confront the doctrines of jihad and Islamic supremacism that are fueling Iraq’s continued descent into renewed chaos.