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New look at foreign fighters in Iraq

An analysis shows that the bulk of them come from countries allied with the US.

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Little has been known about so-called foreign fighters in Iraq, other than that they are typically motivated by ideology and are usually smuggled in through Syria in small numbers. Many perform suicide bombing missions and instigate some of the country's starkest violence.

But a new analysis published last month by experts at West Point shows that most of these individuals come from Saudi Arabia and Libya, as well as other North African countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The analysis suggests that the bulk of foreign fighters originate from countries with whom the United States is allied – Saudi Arabia, for one – and also offers clues as to how American officials can stem the flow of these terrorists.

The report, which is based on data compiled by Al Qaeda and captured by coalition forces last fall, shows that the most violent acts in Iraq are typically carried out by foreign fighters. Their goals sometimes align with the group Al Qaeda in Iraq, which, estimates suggest, has between 5,000 and 8,000 people associated with it. The foreign fighters, however, represent just a small fraction of that group.

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