Articles

Aug 19, 2003

Al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq, Special to Site

Al Qaeda and Iraq
Ultimately what sold the war in Iraq to the American people was the widely held belief that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime had entered into an unholy alliance. A poll released by the Pew Research Center just before the Iraq war showed that two out of three Americans believed Saddam “helped the terrorists in the September 11 attacks.” Senior members of the Bush administration also shared that view. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward?s book Bush at War, immediately after the attacks on Washington and New York, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, told the cabinet: “There was a 10 to 50 per cent chance Saddam was involved.” A few days later President Bush told his top aides: “I believe that Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now.” However, the most comprehensive criminal investigation in history has yet to find any proof that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and the historical connections that the administration cited to prove a link between Saddam and al Qaeda w

ere, at best, circumstantial.
Now, in a development the irony of which is self-evident, in recent months al Qaeda has indeed established itself inside Iraq. Several US officials I have spoken to who investigate or analyze al Qaeda say that Iraq has become an important battleground for al Qaeda in past months. The officials use words such as “magnet” and “super magnet” to describe the attraction Iraq has for al Qaeda members and other “jihadists”. One counterterrorism official describes the militants as predominantly Saudis crossing over Iraq’s border with Syria. Another senior US counter terrorism official told me Iraq is
” very attractive to al Qaeda as Bosnia was during the mid ’90s and Chechnya has been in recent years.” He added that Iraq provides “unlimited targeting, it’s right in their backyard and is a very attractive cause for them”. A senior US intelligence official told me: “If Osama [bin Laden] believed in Christmas, he’d want us in Iraq, that’s what he’d want under his Christmas tree.” Another US official said: “Non Iraqi Arabs are getting to Iraq. Six months ago I would not have said this. It?s easy to hide for al Qaeda in a country that is in the middle of the Middle East.”
On August 7th the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad was bombed killing nineteen. Al Qaeda must be considered a lead suspect in that attack. August the 7th is a significant anniversary for al Qaeda as it was on that day in 1990 that President George Bush Sr. announced the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia for what would become Operation Desert Storm. It was the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia that galvanized bin Laden to direct al Qaeda’s terrorist campaign against the United States. Indeed, on August 7 1998, exactly eight years after Bush’s announcement that American troops were to be sent to Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda suicide bombers blew up two US embassies in Africa killing some two hundred people. The fact that the Jordanian embassy was also attacked on August 7 is a strong indicator that al Qaeda may be behind that attack. Moreover, on an audiotape released in February, bin Laden specifically called for attacks against Jordanian targets because of Jordan’s support for the United States.
Al Qaeda should also be considered a lead suspect in Tuesday’s bombing of the United Nations headquarter in Baghdad. Bin Laden has long railed against the United Nations and has released two audiotapes this year calling for a jihad in Iraq. Indeed, on an audiotape released on Monday al Qaeda’s new spokesman, Abdel Rahman al-Najdi, promised to send more al Qaeda members to Iraq.
Bin Laden has long modeled al Qaeda’s tactics on that of Hezbollah in Lebanon during the early ’80s. Hezbollah’s 1983 suicide bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and forty US soldiers, led to the withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon. And bin Laden has reveled in the fact that the deaths of eighteen US servicemen in Somalia in 1993 also precipitated a quick withdrawal of American troops from that country. It is this model that al Qaeda hopes to follow in Iraq, fighting a war of attrition against US soldiers that will eventually lead to a humiliating withdrawal of American forces. It is only a matter of time before al Qaeda is able to pull off a significant terrorist attack that kills a large number of American soldiers. At that point perhaps the American public will ask: “Didn’t we invade Iraq to prevent exactly what is happening now?”

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