Top general warns Syrian uprising could accelerate al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq

The uprising in Syria against leader Bashar al-Assad could accelerate the revival of al Qaeda in Iraq, a top Army general warned Congress.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the ongoing rebellion in Syria was “adding a difficult piece” to efforts to maintain peace in Iraq, amid a surge in al Qaeda-directed violence.

Syria was a common thoroughfare for al Qaeda insurgents heading to Iraq during the bloodiest days of the war.

Additionally, the threat of al Qaeda infiltrating anti-government forces in Syria has made Pentagon leaders wary of providing arms to rebels seeking the overthrow of Assad.

Odierno did not directly address the threat of insurgent cells crossing from Syria into Iraq, but did note that instability in Syria was adding to “concern” in military circles.

The general warned that al Qaeda’s recent aggressiveness in Iraq could destabilize that country’s already fragile coalition government.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is beginning to reemerge in force near Baghdad and in al-Anbar Province in Western Iraq, Odierno told members of the committee.

Yesterday, separate car bombings in Baghdad and Tal Afar killed 18 and wounded four people, according to reports. On Monday, a daytime raid against an Iraqi police station in the northern town of Haditha left 25 policemen dead.

The new wave of violence comes just over three months after the departure of most American forces from the country.

The attacks highlight al Qaeda’s intent to again exploit Sunni and Shiite factions within the country to sap public support for the Iraqi government, Odierno explained.

But he reassured lawmakers the recent surge in violence would not deter the progress made by the Iraqi government. “There have been some challenges ... [but] we need the people of Iraq to continue to reject al Qaeda,” Odierno said.