Fearing Syria Spillover, CIA Ups Iraq Presence

Al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda in Iraq closely tied, experts say
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2013 9:46 AM CDT
Fearing Syria Spillover, CIA Ups Iraq Presence
In this Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 photo provided by Edlib News Network, rebels from al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra wave their brigade flag as they step on a Syrian air force helicopter that they captured in Idlib province, northern Syria.   (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)

The US military may have pulled out of Iraq in December 2011, but now the CIA is going back in, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a series of secret decisions in 2011 and 2012, the White House directed US intelligence to take over from the military in supporting Iraq's elite anti-terrorism forces, especially as the 2-year-old Syrian revolution increasingly threatens to spill across the border. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has close ties with the Syria-based al-Nusra Front, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the State Department.

"There is certainly the potential, once Assad falls, for al-Nusra Front to orient strongly against Iraq," said a senior defense official. The Iraq operations are just part of American moves around the region to contain the violence in Syria—the CIA is also working with select rebel groups from Turkey, and US special forces are helping Jordanian forces deal with Syrian chemical weapons. "This relationship is focused on supporting the Iraqis to deal with terrorist threats within their borders, and not about ramping up unilateral operations," says a White House official. (More al-Nusra Front stories.)

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