Video: Insurgency-U
updated 6/23/2005 9:20:06 AM ET 2005-06-23T13:20:06

Usually, when one wants to learn a new skill, to hone it to perfection, you have to know where to go.  Steven Spielberg wannabes flock to film schools. 
Would-be Wolfgang Pucks head to the CIA -- the Culinary Institute of America. 

Now, another CIA, as in the Central Intelligence Agency, is saying that terrorists in training are taking over Iraq.

Wednesday's third story on MSNBC-TV's 'Countdown' looked at the new "TU" or "Terrorist University." Classified intelligence reports say post-Saddam Iraq is serving as a real-life laboratory for the next generation of jihad, a curriculum so complete that it may be an even more effective training ground than Afghanistan was for al-Qaida. Car bombings are becoming so commonplace that today there were four alone in and around Baghdad on Wednesday and a record 700 bombings against U.S. forces in just the last month.

This form of urban combat may leap across the borders and even across the globe when these students graduate and decide to leave Iraq.  Analysts at the CIA are calling it the "class of '05 problem."  At the same time, the insurgency itself is getting more sophisticated, changing tactics and making them even more deadly with each new attack.

Evan Kohlmann, an MSNBC analyst and founder of, joined Alison Stewart on Wednesday's 'Countdown' to discuss the issue. To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video clip, click on the link above.

ALISON STEWART: Evan, let's talk a little about this report, the CIA's assessment that Iraq could turn into an even bigger training ground for terrorists than Afghanistan ever was.  Now, explain why that would be.

EVAN KOHLMANN:  Well, it's actually interesting.  Previously, al-Qaida has always sought a base of operations close to the heart of the Middle East.  However, they've been exiled to far-reaching parts of the Muslim world, like Afghanistan, like Chechnya, like Bosnia, where they've been forced to fight frontline wars against really mid-level opponents, people that don't use the technology of
U.S. military.

Inside of Iraq, we see a much different war.  Instead of a frontline battlefield, we see an urban-style gorilla war that really pits these guys in exactly the kind of conflict they want to be in, a conflict that's based out of suicide car bombings, sniper attacks, assassinations, roadside bombs, the kind of conflict that breeds terrorists, that teach the exact skills that terrorists need to have.  And these are the skills that are becoming commonplace now for those that are in Iraq, both Iraqi and foreign fighters.

STEWART:  So you talk about these folks showing their skills in Iraq.  Are they likely to export the skills, and where?

KOHLMANN:  Yes.  Unfortunately, yes.  And I think the answers are not going to surprise you.  They're the same answers we've been seeing for years now.  Out of 300 foreign fighters I polled inside of Iraq, I found that over 55 percent were Saudi Arabian nationals, who to a tee said that they were going to Iraq in the same spirit as the 9/11 hijackers, who they called heroes.  These guys inevitably will return to their countries of origin.

Now, the problem is, we're not just talking about Saudis, we're not just talking about Syrians and Jordanians, we're also talking about increasing numbers of Europeans.  At least five Frenchmen and five Italians have been killed so far in the fighting in Iraq, and there are many more that are supposedly going there right now.  Now, when these individuals come back to their countries of origin, places like Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, inevitably, they will go on to carry out terrorist acts or participate in terrorist conspiracies.

STEWART:  Well, how do we know that these new insurgents are, in fact, new insurgents and not the ones that have been around for years but held at bay by Hussein's brutal regime?

KOHLMANN:  It's actually interesting.  We see a mix of different elements here.  We have some individuals that are veterans of a jihad safari, who have fought before with al-Qaida in places like Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and now they've gone beyond those places.  They've arrived in Iraq for perhaps their final chapter of jihad.

But we also have younger people, people that have never had an experience like this before, who are bred on stories of the Soviet-Afghan jihad and the legacies of the Arab Afghan fighters, these stories of sacrifice and martyrdom.  And now they see this as this -- their opportunity, the opportunity for their generation to go out and fight in a jihad, to fight against the infidels.  And what better an opportunity do you have here than one that's an urban warfare battle pitted directly against the United States, seen as really the great Satan here?

STEWART:  Let me play devil's advocate here.  Could this possibly, in any way, work to our advantage?  One thing, when I've talked to Roger Cressey or any of our other analysts, they say,  'al-Qaida's a movement.  It's the idea of it, it's not a place.'  So it's not a warfare that we're used to.  You go to someplace and you fight.  Now, with the insurgents within Iraq, we're going to someplace and we fight.

KOHLMANN:  You know, I'd like to think that was the case, but unfortunately, I think it's wishful thinking.  Instability breeds conflict, which in turn breeds terrorism.  And that's what we see here.  As long as these guys have an opportunity to come together, to fight as one unit, to really have that shared blood, sweat and tears that leads them to be a unified military unit, that's when these guys become terrorists.  We've seen it before.  This is no mystery.  We've seen it before, specific examples, in places like Bosnia and Chechnya and Afghanistan.

As recently as two months after some of these individuals have left their conflicts-in this case, Iraq-they go on to participate in suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on their own home soil.  And certainly, as we've seen here, at least one individual tied to the Madrid 3/11 bombings has already gone and blown himself up in Iraq last month.  So I think this is a trend that's going to continue.

STEWART:  And I have to get your take on this.  Vice President Dick Cheney recently said the insurgency is in its last throes.  Your response?

KOHLMANN:  Again, wishful thinking.  I would hope that would be the case, too.  But unfortunately, if you've seen what's happened the last couple months, we've had major arrests of various insurgent leaders, lieutenants of Abu Musab al Zarqawi most recently.  We saw the arrest of Abu Talha up in Mosul.  Yet this has done almost nothing to stem the wave of suicide bombings.  In fact, the number of suicide bombings has actually increased.  The number of attacks has increased.  The level of instability in Iraq has increased. So I'm not sure where they're getting this information from.  From my perspective, I can hardly imagine this conflict ending any time soon.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. E-mail Keith at

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