Iâ€™ve been a bit interested in that issue since early 2003. In interviews prior and during the war, experts in Cairo were warning then of the prospects of Iraq breeding a new generation of Islamist militants, or â€œIraqi Arabsâ€� (a la Afghan Arabs).
President Mubarak himself expressed his concern over the war in 2003 saying it would produce â€œ100 Bin Ladens."
(Mubarak expressed privately more urging concerns. In the rather long and extremely boring memoirs of General Tommy Franks, the former head of US army CENTCOM recalls his visit to Cairo on January 23, 2003:
Hosni Mubarak was as friendly as always. But he was clearly concerned with our military buildup and the tension in Iraq.
He leaned close and spoke to me in an accented but readily comprehensible English. â€œGeneral Franks,â€� he said, choosing his words carefully, as (Jordanian King) Abdullah had done. â€œYou must be very, very careful. We have spoken with Saddam Hussein. He is a madman. He has WMDâ€”biologicals, actuallyâ€”and he will use them on your troops.â€�
An hour later, in the Embassy communications room, I passed this message to Don Rumsfeld.
This is mentioned in Tommy's--again, rather long and extremely boring--memoirs, American Soldier, on pages 418-9)
Since the start of the war, the US has inflated the Arab volunteers' importance and involvement in attacks. I myself admit I was guilty of the same mistake. I was following the Iraqi scene from my comfortable place in Cairo. Media reports and Islamist sources in Egypt and Europe were my sources of information. And I think it suited everybody in the beginning to blame the attacks on the â€œforeign terrorists.â€� The US then U-turned after the first all out assault on Fallouja, and I recall coming across reports saying it was â€œdiscoveredâ€� the foreign fighters constituted actually a minority of the Islamist jihadis caught.
The cycle of exaggerating or underestimating the contribution of foreign jihadis has been ebbing and flowingâ€¦ and always the question of which country has the lion share of volunteers, comes up.
There have been conflicting reports. A former colleague of mine at the LA Times told me once she obtained some study claiming Algerians constituted the majority. And if Iâ€™m not mistaken, I recall coming across reports that talked about either the Saudis, Syrians, or Jordanians constituting the majority.
I donâ€™t honestly buy the reports about â€œZarqawiâ€™s networksâ€� in Europe and about how he was exporting fighters there. I think these reports are trumped up by the European security agencies. Still, the threat of â€œIraqi Arabsâ€� or â€œreturnees from Iraqâ€� is present. Up till now, the militancy has spilled over to Jordan, with the suicide bombings that targeted the tourist hotels, and the attacks on Eilat and US warships in 3aqaba Gulf.
(I am not monitoring the situation in Saudi, but if any of you dear readers are, please inform us if the recent spate of attacks in the kingdom involved an â€œIraqi link.â€�)
This new report on Egyptian jihadis in Iraq, as well as the presence of an Egyptian on top of Iraq's Al-Qa3da now, means there will be more "cooperation" between the US and our Egyptian Mukhabarrat... i.e., it's an additional incentive to forget "democracy" issues when it comes to bilateral relations, since "counterterrorism" (a terrorism produced ironically by the lack of democracy in the first place) tops everybody's agendas.
Most foreign fighters in Iraq come from Egypt: US military
Thu Jun 29, 11:53 AM ET
The US military has said that it has several hundred foreign fighters in custody in Iraq and that most of them come from Egypt, followed by Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
"We have several hundred foreign fighters in captivity at this point of time and the greatest number come out of Egypt," spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters Thursday.
"The top four countries are -- the first is Egypt, followed by Syria, then Sudan and Saudi Arabia."
The US military has already claimed that the new Al-Qaeda in Iraq chief is Egyptian Abu Ayub al-Masri, saying he took over from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in an US air strike on June 7.
The military believes Masri is the same person as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, named by an Al-Qaeda-led coalition as Zarqawi's successor.
Caldwell said the US military tries to identify the nationalities of these fighters primarily through "passport verification."
"We try hard to identify them when we capture them because at some point of time these people will be facing Iraqi civil authorities and court and when they do we want to be able to ascertain that they are here illegally and not at the request of the government of Iraq," Caldwell said.
Caldwell also said at least "57 foreign fighters were killed by Iraqi and US forces in the month of June" in a series of nation-wide operations.
And in the week ended June 28 about 587 suspected insurgents have been detained, he added.
Meanwhile, Masri remains the "number one target", Caldwell said.
"A lot of resources are committed to finding him. We are working hard to get him. There is no question that if we take him down that will just disrupt the organisation beyond a point where it will be ineffective for a long period of time.
Al-Qaeda "is very disorganised right now and very disrupted right now. The reason we were able to pick up and track some of the middle-level people is because their system is so disrupted and that has given us the opportunities to find them, track them and go get them."