"Al-Qaeda has already achieved several of its goals in Iraq, and while these may be circumscribed, they will not be reversed entirely. The global jihad has indeed been reinvigorated and been granted a new pretext and new context for its continued struggle, for new recruitment, and for accelerated training of new combatants.
Moreover, Iraq for al-Qaeda is one of many theaters whose achievements can be transplanted elsewhere. The first of these alternate arenas, which is experiencing something of a revival in the last year, is Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda fighters, supported by the Taliban, have begun to recover and exploit the topographical advantages of the terrain to launch guerilla and terrorist attacks against the Karzai regime and the coalition forces. At the same time, al-Qaeda cells are operating in Pakistan against the Musharraf government and are using Pakistani cities as training grounds for terrorist cells that are to be dispatched around the world.
The risk, then, of the inevitable phenomenon of "Iraqi alumni" who are sent to execute terror attacks all over the world, poses a serious question as to the extent of the American victory against al-Qaeda."
Last July, a spokesman for Iraq’s Muslim Scholars Association (via Charles Levinson) put it this way:
"The Arabs went to Afganistan and got a masters in violent Jihad, but in Iraq they’re all getting PhDs."
This, once again, gets at the massive strategic blunder that was the invasion of Iraq. Remember, attracting militants and terrorists from around the Islamic world was sold as a feature, not a bug, of the Iraq war. Flypaper Theory, they called it. The idea was, we get all these militant extremists in one place, and then...kill them. In the words of Edmund Blackadder, there was just one small problem with this plan. It was bollocks.
Rather than simply coming to Iraq, dropping their suitcases, and then flinging themselves onto American bayonets, Islamic militants came and learned. They learned how to build bombs, and they learned where and how to most effectively use those bombs. And, as U.S. forces learned how to defend against those bombs, militants developed techniques to circumvent those defenses, and so on. Just as importantly, the Iraq jihad front created opportunities for Islamic militants to develop personal relationships and networks with other radicals, networks that they bring with them as they return to their home countries and continue to militate against U.S. allies and interests, as is already happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and elsewhere. Just as the war against the Soviets in Afganistan was the defining experience for one generation of radical mujahideen, so the war against America in Iraq has become for another. Even if Iraq were, somehow, to become a functioning democratic state, this would not be reversed. I think we haven't yet begun to grasp the repercussions of this.