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Context of 'After March 19, 2003: Militant Sunni Group Based in Lebanon Sends Fighters to Iraq'

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William Casey.William Casey. [Source: CIA]Following an agreement between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI to make more use of Arabs in the Soviet-Afghan War, recruitment of potential fighters increases significantly. The agreement was a result of CIA dissatisfaction at infighting between indigenous Afghan rebels (see 1985-1986). According to Australian journalist John Pilger, in this year: “CIA Director William Casey [gives] his backing to a plan put forward by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, to recruit people from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. More than 100,000 Islamic militants [are] trained in Pakistan between 1986 and 1992, in camps overseen by the CIA and [the British intelligence agency] MI6, with the [British special forces unit] SAS training future al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in bomb-making and other black arts. Their leaders [are] trained at a CIA camp in Virginia.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] Eventually, around 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries will fight with the Afghan mujaheddin. Tens of thousands more will study in the hundreds of new madrassas (Islamic schools) funded by the ISI and CIA in Pakistan. Their main logistical base is in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] Ironically, although many are trained, it seems only a small percentage actually take part fight in serious fighting in Afghanistan, so their impact on the war is small. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian relations during the Reagan administration, will later say: “We did spawn a monster in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were gone [the people trained and/or funded by the US] were looking around for other targets, and Osama bin Laden has settled on the United States as the source of all evil. Irony? Irony is all over the place.” [Associated Press, 8/23/1998] In the late 1980s, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, feeling the mujaheddin network has grown too strong, tells President George H. W. Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.” However, the warning goes unheeded. [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] By 1993, President Bhutto tells Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Peshawar is under de facto control of the mujaheddin, and unsuccessfully asks for military help in reasserting Pakistani control over the city. Thousands of mujaheddin fighters return to their home countries after the war is over and engage in multiple acts of violence. One Western diplomat notes these thousands would never have been trained or united without US help, and says, “The consequences for all of us are astronomical.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996]

Entity Tags: Richard W. Murphy, John Pilger, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Benazir Bhutto, William Casey, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Russian Supreme Court outlaws a number of Islamic organizations. The “black list” of groups, compiled by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), includes Asbat al-Ansar, a Sunni militant group based in Lebanon. [Interfax, 3/15/2007] In late 2006, the US will begin providing funds through the Lebanese government to this and other militant Sunni groups as part of an effort to rollback the influence of Iran and the Shiites in Iraq (see Late 2006).

Entity Tags: Asbat al-Ansar

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The militant Sunni group, Asbat al-Ansar, begins sending fighters to Iraq. The group is based in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. A deputy commander of the group later tells the New York Times, “The US is oppressing a lot of people. They are killing a lot of innocents, but one day they are getting paid back.” [New York Times, 3/16/2007] The Bush administration, which has repeatedly called Iraq the new front in the war on terrorism, will reportedly begin funneling funds through the Lebanese government to Asbat al-Ansar and other militant Sunni groups in late 2006 and early 2007 in an effort to rollback the influence of Iran and the Shiites in Iraq (see Late 2006).

Entity Tags: Asbat al-Ansar

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

President Bush orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up a contingency war plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the president, within 24 hours. A special planning group will be formed to carry out the assignment. The plan will initially focus on a bombing campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. It will also include a scheme for regime change. After a major strategy shift takes place in early 2007 (see Late 2006), the plan will be revised to include targets in Iran believed to be involved in the supplying or aiding of militants in Iraq. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Joint Chiefs of Staff, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Condoleezza Rice says that the US is seeking to encourage “a new strategic alignment” that is emerging in the Middle East between “responsible” leaders on the one side, and extremists on the other. She says the US is working with Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and certain reformist leaders in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories “to empower democratic and other responsible leaders across the region.” (Notably, only two of these countries—Turkey and Israel—have democratic forms of governments) Explaining the US’s interest in the Middle East, she says: “The security of this region is an enduring vital interest for the United States. America’s presence in this part of the world contributes significantly to its stability and success.” [US Congress, 1/11/2007 pdf file] According to a later article by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh, the policy she is describing is actually aimed at rolling back the influence that Iran has gained since the US invasion of Iraq (see Late 2006).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” [Democracy Now!, 2/28/2007; New Yorker, 3/5/2007; New York Times, 12/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Seymour Hersh, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Bandar bin Sultan, Vali Nasr

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation

Representatives of the Lebanese government reportedly approach the newly-formed Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam (see November 2006) and offer it weapons and cash to fight against Hezbollah. Lebanon is said to be flush with cash as a result of a new US policy (see Late 2006) aimed at undercutting the growing influence of Iran and Shiite militant groups in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

John Negroponte resigns from his position as director of national intelligence. The official explanation is that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has lured him to serve as her deputy, a post that has been vacant since July. [Washington Post, 1/4/2007; Fox News, 1/5/2007] But according to sources interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, Negroponte’s decision was spurred by a shift in the White House’s Middle East policy (see Late 2006) that he felt was reminiscent of the Iran-Contra affair. A former senior intelligence official tells Hersh, “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the NSC running operations off the books, with no finding.’” (Findings are written communications issued by the president to Congress informing lawmakers about covert operations.) [New Yorker, 3/5/2007] Another factor, according to Hersh, was that he doesn’t get along with Cheney very well—Cheney apparently feels Negroponte is too “legalistic.” [Democracy Now!, 2/28/2007]

Entity Tags: John Negroponte

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush administration National Security Council official, tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the administration’s new policy to support Sunni extremists (see Late 2006). “The administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett explains. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the administration will have an open door to strike at them.” [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Flynt Leverett

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Shakir al-Abssi, leader of the recently formed Fatah al-Islam, is interviewed by the Scotsman. The 90-minute interview is his first with Western reporters. He tells the Scotsman that vengeance needs to be taken against the US for its activities in the Islamic world. “The only way to achieve our rights is by force,” he says. “This is the way America deals with us. So when the Americans feel that their lives and their economy are threatened they will know that they should leave.” According to Abssi, it is apparent that killing US soldiers in Iraq is not enough to undermine US public support for its government’s policies in the Islamic world. “We have every legitimate right to do such acts, for isn’t it America that comes to our region and kills innocents and children?” Abssi asks. “It is our right to hit them in their homes as they hit us in our homes. We are not afraid of being named terrorists. But I want to ask: is someone who detonates one kilogram a terrorist while someone who detonates tons in Arab and Islamic cities not a terrorist?” He says that US policies have created a pool of ready recruits for his organization. “Today’s youth, when they see what is happening in Palestine and Iraq, it enthuses them to join the way of the right and jihad. They have now started to adopt the right path,” he says. The Scotsman says that Abssi is permitted to operate freely within the camp despite his known ties to Islamic militant groups like al-Qaeda. The article explains that “because of Lebanese politics, he is largely shielded from the government.” [Scotsman, 3/25/2007] Lebanese forces are banned from entering Palestinian camps under an Arab agreement that signed in 1969. [Reuters, 3/25/2007] According to a recent articles by reporter Seymour Hersh and the Daily Telegraph, both the US and Saudi Arabia have begun providing the Lebanese government with financial support which is reportedly being funneled to Sunni groups, including Fatah al-Islam, as part of an effort to counterbalance the rising influence of Shiite Hezbollah, which has strong ties to Iran (see Late 2006, Before December 25, 2006, and Late 2006 or Early 2007). However, Abssi denies that his group is receiving funds from Sunni Muslim Lebanese politicians or wealthy Saudis. [Reuters, 3/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Shakir al-Abssi, Fatah al-Islam

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who resides in the Nahr Al-Bard Palestinian refuge camp, tells Al Jazeera that “Fatah Al-Islam is not a legitimate Palestinian group. They are a foreign force. Whoever brought them here should take them out.” [Arutz Sheva, 3/25/2007] Shakir al-Abssi, leader of Fatah al-Islam, has denied that his group is supported by outsiders (see March 2007). However recent reports suggest that his group is benefiting from a US and Saudi policy (see Late 2006) to use Sunni groups as part of a proxy effort to undermine Shiite groups and Iranian influence in the region.

Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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