According to the Los Angeles Times, the CIA made a major push last year to put agents into Pakistan and try to smoke out Osama bin Laden. They never found him, but they did find something even more disturbing:

U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda's command base in Pakistan is increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.

The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda's leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network. The trend also signals a reversal in the traditional flow of Al Qaeda funds, with the network's leadership surviving to a large extent on money coming in from its most profitable franchise, rather than distributing funds from headquarters to distant cells. ...

Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda's core command was thought to be in a financial crunch. But U.S. officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles.

This comes up sporadically in debates over Iraq, but it bears repeating. Hawks tend to survey the scene and say that we should stay in Iraq until we kill every last Al Qaeda figure there (so that they don't "follow us home," no doubt). The converse argument is that our presence in Iraq is the main thing drumming up support for Al Qaeda--and, by extension, helping it to raise money for operations elsewhere--and if the U.S. leaves, Sunni and Shia alike will turn on the organization pretty quickly.

Curiously, Muqtada Al Sadr's group is now hinting that Iraqis should stop fighting each other and "aim the guns against the occupation and Al Qaeda." Who knows what Sadr's playing at (the article itself has about a hundred different interpretations), but if he's serious, it's another sign that Al Qaeda might not survive long in Iraq absent the occupation.

--Bradford Plumer