Leaving Iraq with the job undone would lead to a catastrophe with as much as 30% of the world's oil reserves in the hands of the Islamic jihadists, says the nation's leading expert on Islam.
So says Dr. Walid Phares, author of "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West," the most complete work on the history of Islam and the Islamic holy war now being waged against the United States and the West. Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. He is also the author of "The War of Ideas: Jihad against Democracy." He is a world-renowned terrorism and Middle East expert.
In an exclusive interview with NewsMax, Phares laid out the frightening scenario of a Middle East in turmoil in the wake of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq:
"If we get out of Iraq without achieving strategic goals, it would not be just a defeat in Iraq," Phares warned. "It will be a regional defeat. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad will link up with [Muqtada] al-Sadr in Iraq, he will link up [President Bashar] Assad in Syria, he will link up with Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, and you're going to have four countries under one jihadist leadership. Imagine all the resources involved there.
"The Sunni-Salafist-Wahabi element in the Sunni triangle will link with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, and put pressure on the government, which may fall. So what you're talking about is one-quarter to 30% of oil reserves on both sides of the Persian Gulf under jihadi regimes. What we had with the Taliban -- a very poor regime with no oil –- and just look at what they produced: a 9/11. So, think about what these regimes could do when combined. They'd produce a catastrophe of huge dimensions."
In answer to those who want the United States to enter into negotiations with Syria and Iran, Phares said: "I am opposed to the idea to the idea of negotiating with dictatorships that are at odds with their own people, regimes who have been slaughtering their own people.
"The Bashar Assad regime in Syria killed 20,000 people in Hama and has occupied Lebanon for 32 years. It supports Hezbollah's terrorism. What would be the idea of talking to him? The only talk I could consider would be for him to reform. If he reforms, his regime will fall, because in Syria they want change. Hence, the only talk he would accept would be for us to empower him even further and accept his influence in the region and in Lebanon.
"The same thing would apply to Iran with a with the Ahmadinejad regime. What we need to do is to talk to the people of Syria and Iran. The reformers, the democracy groups, the dissidents, and people who within the regime are ready to change."
Asked to estimate the number of jihadist insurgents worldwide, Phares had some unsettling news.
"It depends on what the duty of such people [insurgents] would be," he told NewsMax. "Suicide bombers would be lower in number than of those who will fight, those who will spy, those who will provide funds. There are about from 5% to 6% to 8% jihadist sympathizers in the Muslim world, which is 1.1 billion, so we are talking about 50 to 60 million who sympathize with these ideas.
"They are all not committed, but out of those you have probably 1% of people who would fight. That's an army of 1 million. Among those, if you want to go to the most narrow dimension, there are about 100,000 suicide bombers around the world. For example, in Iraq there are probably 5,000, in Iran another 8,000 to 10,000, and within Hezbollah, 2,000.
"There is a pool of 100,000 people who have received this jihadist ideology and could be recruited for suicide bombing. Internationally, from an operational standpoint, there are somewhere around 5,000, and that's a huge number of suicide bombers. Look at England, for example the operation of [July 7, 2005 -- the subway bombings] involved eight terrorists The next year, in the operation that wanted to bring down the airliners, there were about 50. So it grows geometrically."
NewsMax: As far as the United States is concerned, aside from suicide bombers, what dangers do we face in terms of weapons of mass destruction?
WP: Here at home there is the penetration by those jihadists of our facilities, both civilian nuclear and biological and military, that's infiltration -- penetration from the outside.
"Then you have another issue, penetration from the inside meaning people who would let themselves be recruited to go inside the grapevine as in the Cold War. But this time, instead of having the bolsheviks, you have the jihadists. We've seen a number of individuals who have been arrested for jihadist activities within the armed forces, for example, the sergeant who threw a grenade in Kuwait, against his own unit. The trainer of Marines. You can see there were indicators. There are also political indicators that they are willing to infiltrate the higher level of government and therefore with this information they could wreak havoc.
"There is a war of ideas now taking place between jihadists trying to mollify the U.S. and public indecision on one hand, and the U.S. and its allies are trying to spread democracy on the other hand, or at least weakening and isolating the jihadist element. So what we have in the war on terror is another war going on -- an ideological war. And that's where the jihadists are making progress. They are taking advantage of pools of young people who have been educated who have been indoctrinated for many years by the greatest jihadists, the oil-producing regimes and their money.
"That investment for many, many years flowing into our educational system has led to the formation of a pool of jihadists or potential jihadists throughout the world. That's where the terrorists recruit from. Most of the guys they get to are already believers in this ideology.
NM: How imminent is the danger of an attack against the United States?
WP: "It is a standing threat in the sense that it's not something that would emerge out of nowhere -- you don't have jihadists being made overnight. You don't have jihadists coming as a reaction to our foreign policy. This is a long process of schools, of madrassas that have been brainwashing the minds of young people.
"The attack is coming as long as the pools are growing, and as long as there are what I call factories producing a brainwashing within America, even though we are in 2007. The last major attack was in 2001. It's only time before they get somewhere. We are good at trying to defend ourselves. We've established Homeland Security, but as long as we don't cut the roots in indoctrination process, the attack is going to come."
NM: Is the border problem involved in the jihad?
WP: "The matter of the U.S.-Mexican border is another phase. The jihadists have been using the border. Mexico by itself is only an extension of the of the areas that jihadists are using, Venezuela for example, all the way down to Argentina. We know that Hezbollah, al-Qaida and other jihadists have been using the U.S.-Mexican border to get in. They will get in and they will stay underground. Once here, they will link up with these cells, which are already established here. The assumption is within the United States, you have about 200 potential suicide bombers. I looked at the literature, taken from those who were arrested, and that literature is available everywhere online. We see it even in book stores in some cities, audiotapes, videotapes, all talking about jihad and the necessity of forming cells. Borders are very important as well, because it's an open door, and they can avoid the long process coming through regular immigration.
NM: Are the American people prepared to meet the jihad?
WP: "The American people by instinct are responding to leaders who say that we are at war. But the American people have a problem, which is its own educational system among its own educators. I have been a professor for 14 years, including 12 at Florida Atlantic University. I've seen how students have been deprived of real information and education, especially before 9/11. Middle East studies, classes in Islamic history, studies that have been influenced and impacted by the Wahabi money, which has been invested in this country -- money from the oil-producing regimes that have been invested on our campuses, thus impacting the professors and teachers.
"What we had over the past 20 years with two generations of Americans who were denied the right to know who the jihadists are. What is Fatah? What is Islamic fundamentalism? It's no wonder America wasn't prepared for 9/11, and no wonder that that's true up until now. The majority of the American people do not really understand what's going on. Basically, they do want to know what's going on, and they are thirsty, they are hungry. So it's up to free media and free intellectuals to help because the mainstream media and mainstream academia is not."
In his book, Phares spells out the problem:
"Whoever will be enabled to shape the minds of Americans as to the identity of the enemy will win the war on terror. The pressure groups active today that denying the existence of the threat are scrambling to counter the growing awareness of the public. Panicked by citizens learning more about jihadism and moderate Muslims taking the stand against Salifism and Khumeinism, Wahabi "lobbies" are moving full steam ahead to misinform the American public.
The networks and interest groups use social institutions and civil rights legislation to advance their aims, while a claim to provide government agencies schools and media with their "expertise" on jihadism. In short, the Wahabi lobby wants to further confuse the American government and the public as the source of the terror: its ideology. And if this goal is achieved the US public will be brought back to a pre-9/11 that will leave them ripe for further attacks."