The chaos of Iraq is giving rise to a new generation of "professional" terrorists who will eventually replace al-Qaeda as a global threat, according to a CIA thinktank.
A report by the National Intelligence Council says the war in Iraq has provided a training and recruitment ground for Islamist militants, much as Afghanistan did for the founding generation of al-Qaeda during the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
As new terror organizations emerge on the world stage, al-Qaeda will splinter into regional separatist groups, says the report, which forecasts global trends over the next 15 years.
"Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are `professionalised' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself," the report says.
It gives warning that veterans of the conflict in Iraq could disperse around the world, exporting their deadly expertise.
Specifically, the report warns that the US faces an increasing risk of an attack involving biological agents, such as anthrax, and that an emerging and more sophisticated generation of terrorists could also use chemical weapons.
The bleak forecast undermines one of the Bush administration's central justifications for invading Iraq: that it was necessary to curb terrorism; that the country was a central front in the "war on terror"; and that the deposed Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, had links to al-Qaeda's chief, Osama bin Laden.