There isn't much detail to the article, and it's based primarily on details provided by this Marine General. Still, there are a couple of points to be made here, assuming General Gaskin's assessment is accurate. While this does sort of undermine the criticisms of Syria, there's little doubt in my mind that Syria is still not doing enough to stop the flow of fighters, money and arms into Iraq. That may change if we decide we're willing to sit down and really talk to them, but the flow continues mostly unabated, though perhaps more quietly, with symbolic efforts here and there to prevent the crossings.
Infiltration of arms and fighters from Syria into Iraq has slowed, but a major reason is that the terrorists of al-Qaida in Iraq now need less foreign help, a senior U.S. general said Friday.
Visiting this remote outpost, just a stone's throw from the border, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin said the change has made persistent infiltration of men, weapons and money less of a concern to U.S. forces here.
However, it also suggests a troubling maturation of al-Qaida in Iraq, the main terrorist organization targeted by American troops in the country.
"Al-Qaida has become self-sufficient inside the country," Gaskin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Second, this could be a "troubling maturation" of Al Qaeda, as the article suggests. For one, if as the article suggests there are less foreign fighters crossing into Iraq, then we're presented with the question of how many Al Qaeda fighters are Iraqis and not foreign fighters from elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia. And of course the idea that Al Qaeda could largely or entirely fund their own operations inside Iraq is also not a good development.
However, it's difficult to accurately assess Al Qaeda's influence and power. It's true that suicide and car bombings, most of which are suspected to be carried out by Al Qaeda, continue largely unabated. However, it's also true that from time to time Al Qaeda seems to rub their Sunni "allies" the wrong way, to the point where open battles break out between the two sides. For what it's worth, I think Al Qaeda is a group that enjoys the "success" that it does because it's operating in an environment of civil war, where the Sunnis are largely willing to aid and shelter them in return for their aid in fighting the Shiite majority. Beyond that, it's difficult to know how many Iraqis actually believe in Al Qaeda's radical mission (especially without a better idea of how many Iraqis fight for Al Qaeda) or would support their goals in the long-run. There will never be a time in which Al Qaeda topples the national government and installs some sort of Sunni Islamic caliphate. That does not mean that Al Qaeda can't kill a considerable amount of Shiites in trying.
Regardless, I do believe that there should be more focus on the role U.S. forces can continue to play in defeating Al Qaeda. Proponents of our continued presence in Iraq read articles like the one above and think that justifies continuing to keep 150,000+ American troops in Iraq, in an attempt to impose security on the entire country. That's absurd. We don't need 150,000+ soldiers to fight Al Qaeda, and those of us who favor a "redeployment" (as opposed to a withdrawal of all our soldiers from Iraq) should be pointing out the danger Al Qaeda still presents, and the fact that we can actually do a better job of focusing on that threat while simultaneously drawing down forces in Iraq.