By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 19, 2007 – Al Qaeda bombings and other acts of violence conducted across Iraq are designed to incite sectarian strife and create enough chaos and instability to bring down the country's central government, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq told a panel of U.S. legislators here today. "I have seen attacks from al Qaeda that have been aimed at virtually every community in Iraq," Ryan C. Crocker, who is now about four months into his tour as the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Deadly al Qaeda-mounted attacks in Iraq have targeted Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds in an attempt to provoke ethnic or tribal retaliations, said Crocker, who spoke to the legislators via satellite from Baghdad.
The Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra touched off sectarian violence across Iraq. Terrorism experts point to the Samarra bombing as a classic example taken out of al Qaeda's playbook. The terrorists returned June 13, 2007, to blow up the mosques' two minarets, or praying towers.
Fortunately, he said, al Qaeda "has had fairly limited success in re-igniting" large-scale sectarian violence as was experienced in the immediate aftermath of the first Samarra mosque bombing.
The terror group also targets coalition troops, as well as members of Iraq's military and police forces, which are important symbols of the Iraqi government, Crocker said.
Al Qaeda also has targeted a number of Baghdad's bridges and other civic infrastructure, Crocker said. In addition, al Qaeda is responsible for a recent suicide-vest attack on the Iraqi parliament, he said.
Yet, things are looking up, Crocker said, noting many Sunni tribes in Anbar province now are rejecting al Qaeda and cooperating with the Iraqi government.
Iraq's neighbors can play an important role in lessening al Qaeda's influence in the region, Crocker said, especially in regard to the situation where foreign fighters and ordnance are entering Iraq from Syria and Iran.
Recently initiated regional conferences are promising mechanisms where Iraq and its neighbors can discuss issues of mutual concern, Crocker noted. One such conference, on border security, is slated to be held in Damascus, Syria, in early August, he said.
"This is an opportunity to get all of Iraq's neighbors engaged" in discussions about regional security, Crocker said.
He added that al Qaeda has targeted Saudi Arabia and Egypt for regime change, in addition to its designs on Iraq.
"They have all suffered losses among their citizens from al Qaeda attacks, so they have common cause here, and they need to move forward in that way," Crocker said.
It's paramount, he said, for countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to ensure their young men don't fall under al Qaeda's spell.
Therefore, continued regional talks are useful tools that will be employed as part of diplomatic efforts to diminish and eliminate al Qaeda's influence in the area, Crocker said.
In mid-September, Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, are to present their assessment of the effectiveness of the troop surge and the overall situation in Iraq to President Bush, Congress, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Also today, Crocker and Petraeus held a secure video teleconference with 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 40 U.S. senators during a White House-sponsored meeting at the Pentagon. The conference was held at the Pentagon, a defense official noted, because it possessed a large-enough facility to accommodate it.
Gates and Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greeted the members of Congress and welcomed them to the Pentagon on behalf of all the men and women in uniform. They then turned the event over to the White House.
Afterward, members of both houses of Congress came away with a good sense of Crocker's and Petraeus' opinions of the current situation in Iraq, the defense official said.