With bad intelligence on Islamic State, West is flying in the dark

Only the day before the UK parliament’s controversial decision to re-engage British military forces in Iraq, the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed to have intelligence that Islamic State (IS) is preparing to attack subway systems in Paris and the United States.

American intelligence officials quickly denied the accuracy of the claim, which was based on evidence from arrested IS fighters. But still, both New York and Paris reportedly heightened security on their public transport systems in response.

As the Iraqi government openly and desperately lobbies for Western intervention, there are concerns that al-Abadi may be deliberately over-egging equivocal intelligence to stoke the fears of Western governments.

Those fears are very real: Western countries are feeling badly exposed to being targeted by terrorists from abroad and they are especially worried about the prospect of homegrown militants returning from Iraq and Syria – ticking time bombs who might either do IS’s bidding or launch freelance terrorist attacks of their own.

The potential of the risks, then, is clear – but what’s less certain is whether the intelligence and threat assessments..

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