Today Chatham House, nee the Royal Institute of International Affairs, released a report on "Al Qaeda Five Years On." Very much worth reading, including in conjunction with the Atlantic's own coverage on the front.
Crucial points: that "Al Qaeda Central" has been seriously disrupted and put on the run; that the brutality of their tactics have cost them support in the Islamic world; and that the way new source of anti-Western terrorism arises from the war in Iraq and related Middle Eastern events.
One of the most significant developments since 9/11 is the way in which Iraq, rather than developing into a model of a ‘new' Middle East, has degenerated into a battleground for extremism and sectarian violence. One of the reasons cited by the Western allies for the attack on Iraq was the possibility of a terrorist threat, with the war presented as a continuation of the Afghan campaign -- part of a single extended effort to eradicate the threat from al-Qaeda. However, one of the effects of the Iraq conflict was
that al-Qaeda supporters were provided with a base from which they could engage with their enemies after they had been denied the Afghan arena with the fall of the Taliban regime. And while al-Qaeda supporters are only one player among many in Iraq, nevertheless their involvement in the conflict kept al-Qaeda's name on the agenda in what is seen by many in the region
and the wider Muslim world as ‘resistance' to US occupation, although Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's extreme tactics and videotaped beheadings alienated many who had previously sympathized with al-Qaeda.