Al Qaida membership in Iraq has more than tripled since U.S. pullout


WASHINGTON — Al Qaida’s network in Iraq has grown dramatically in
membership since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.

Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has warned of a dramatic
increase in AQI over the last year. They said the Al Qaida network grew from fewer than 800 to almost 3,000 operatives in 2012.

“They are more powerful than at any other time since 2008,” an official said.

Officials said AQI has exploited the decline in security under the
government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. They said Al Qaida was operating from bases in Sunni provinces where law enforcement was weak and security officers were quietly cooperating with the insurgents.

AQI has established at least five desert training camps in Anbar, the
largest Iraqi province. Officials said Al Qaida received funds from Gulf sheiks, particularly from Saudi Arabia.

On Oct. 11, Iraqi officials warned of a major Al Qaida operation in
Baghdad. Former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said Al Qaida has organized scores of members who had recently escaped Tikrit prison.

In 2012, AQI attacks were said to have nearly doubled in Iraq,
particularly in such provinces as Baghdad, Nineveh and Salah Eddin.

Officials said the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq left a security
vacuum and sparked the collapse of a Sunni auxiliary police force comprised of officers who had been close to Al Qaida.

Washington has urged Al Maliki to strike Al Qaida strongholds. In
September, the Iraq Army conducted a rare counter-insurgency operation
in Anbar and found an abandoned Al Qaida training base.

The administration of President Barack Obama has sought to sustain CI
training for the Iraq Army and security forces. The Defense Department has
financed the deployment of 260 military trainers, including special
operations officers, throughout 2012.

“AQI is becoming a strategic threat and could end up sparking a civil
war,” the official said.