Last month, at least 500 prisoners reportedly escaped from the Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib during an attack al-Qaida’s Iraq arm claimed responsibility for.
Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the widely-read blog Syria Comment, says the audacious prison break re-energized al-Qaida in Iraq.
“They have now declared themselves a new organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria,” Landis says. “So they have linked together Western Iraq, Eastern Syria in one large battlefield. This has Western governments very worried, because it seems an 'al-Qaida 2' is reemerging in this Iraq/Syria central region of the Middle East.”
Top U.S. lawmakers have said the Obama administration should provide enough lethal aid to the Syrian opposition to effectively combat both al-Qaida and other Islamist groups. Landis says that could force the United States into a two-front war in Syria against both President Bashar al-Assad, and Islamists who up until recently had allied themselves with the Sunni rebel forces.
“This is the dilemma,” Landis says. “Obama says 'I want to work on the middle class in America, not the Middle East.' He is trying to kick-start America's economy. He does not want to get sucked back into another major nationalist war with sectarian groups and terrorist groups in the MIddle East. The question is: Can he avoid it?”