New York Times
January 14, 2005
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 - The war in Iraq could provide an important training ground for terrorists, according to a government forecast that also says the key factors behind terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years.
The forecast, issued Thursday by the National Intelligence Council, describes a world in 2020 in which the United States remains the world's foremost power and political Islam remains a potent force. It describes the prospect of a terrorist attack using biological agents or, less likely, a nuclear device, as the greatest danger facing the United States.
"A counterterrorism strategy that approaches the problem on multiple fronts offers the greatest chance of containing - and ultimately reducing - the terrorist threat," the report says. Beyond military force, the report advocates the promotion of education and political and economic development across the Muslim world.
The report, a consensus of American intelligence agencies, says that the rise of China and India will transform the geopolitical landscape and that forces including globalization will increase economic, political and cultural insecurity.
In the former Soviet Union and in Southeast Asia, the report says, democratization may be partly reversed, but democracy could gain ground in the Middle East.
The report also sketches alternative outcomes, including the prospect that a new Islamic religious leader could emerge in the Middle East with broad, transnational political authority, and the prospect that security measures intended to combat terrorism and weapons proliferation could lead to an assault on civil liberties, possibly introducing an Orwellian world.
The discussion of the war in Iraq is limited to two paragraphs in the 119-page report, and its potential impact on terrorism is described only in general terms. But the report says that the war, as well as other possible conflicts, "could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself."
"Even in the best of scenarios, there is a likelihood that jihadists not killed in Iraq will dissipate to various countries or sanctuaries," David Low, the National Intelligence Office for Transnational Threats, said in response to a question during a briefing on Thursday at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters.
President Bush has described the war in Iraq as the central front in the campaign against terrorism, and he has said its role in attracting foreign fighters has had the beneficial effect of luring Islamic militants who might otherwise have plotted attacks against the United States.
The report says "experienced survivors of the war in Iraq" may supersede current leaders of Al Qaeda to become major players in international terrorism, a possibility neither Mr. Bush nor his top advisers have given prominence to.
More broadly, the report says, "we expect that by 2020 Al Qaeda will have been superseded by similarly inspired but more diffuse Islamic extremist groups, all of which will oppose the spread of many aspects of globalization into traditional Islamic societies."
The report says the danger of a conflict between great powers that could develop into total war is now less likely than at any time since 1900.
The United States "will retain enormous advantages, playing a pivotal role across the broad range of issues - economic, technological, political, and military - that no other state will match by 2020."
But it says the likelihood that Iran, North Korea and possibly others may possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons increased the threats to the United States.