The costs of the terrorism inspired by the war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history, often working together with former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. Smuggling routes and alliances that moved terrorists and supplies into Iraq during the height of the war, in 2006-7, have been reversed, allowing fighters and supplies to flow into neighboring countries, particularly Syria, now in its third year of civil war.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is now increasingly active abroad. In October 2012, Jordanian authorities detained 11 suspects whose alleged goal was to “kill as many people as possible” and to “bring Amman to its knees.” Al Qaeda in Iraq is also playing an increasingly important role among the Islamists fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Of especially grave concern is the movement into Syria of bomb makers and military tacticians. As Iraq’s jihad was for much of the past decade, Syria’s is now becoming the “destination jihad” du jour…

For nearly a decade, Iraq acted as a laboratory for terrorists to hone and perfect their techniques. Innovations in tradecraft included the extensive use of improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, and the dissemination of jihadist propaganda via the video-recording of terrorist activities and the development of online bulletin boards and Web sites. Suicide attacks, for example, were used with increasing frequency in Iraq between 2003 and 2005 before the tactic migrated to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Before 2005, there were few suicide attacks in Afghanistan. By 2010, however, there were more suicide attacks in Afghanistan than in Iraq.