Sunday, January 28, 2007

President Bush's Al Qaida/Iraq Connection

We know al Qaida didn't have much of a presence, if any, at the time the United States was making its case for war in Iraq. Zarqawi, an independent terrorist/criminal thug who was holed up in the mountains of northeast Iraq, later called himself a member of al Qaida but that was more a propaganda move on his part (Bush was much obliged). It turns out we had apparently three chances to take out Zarqawi before the war began but Bush turned down the opportunities. Ironically, the invasion enabled Zarqawi to move around freely in the general chaos. I'm not clear about a number of things within the White House but clearly Bush gets obsessed when things aren't going well and he gets a name like Zarqawi. So an effort was made to track down Zarqawi and he was killed. The chaos in Iraq, of course, has gotten worse since Zarqawi's death, largely because Zarqawi was a relatively minor player and the problems in Iraq are largely political, requiring political solutions rather than military solutions.

We are told al Qaida operates in west Iraq but the ones telling us are the less than reliable members of the Bush Administration. American Pundit has a post on Bush's usual al Qaida propaganda:
Ted Galen Carpenter of the so-called "libertarian" Cato Institute wrote a little op-ed that sums it all up: There are only about a thousand foreign fighters in all of Iraq. Does anybody really think a thousand foreigners are going to take over a country of 26 million people? That's what President Bush would have you believe when he spouts crap like, "We didn’t drive Al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq."

In addition to the raw numbers, Carpenter points out that polls show 94% of Sunnis, 98% of Shiites and 100% of Kurds in Iraq just plain do not like al-Qaeda...

(snip)

In a State of the Union address filled with spin and outright fabrication, the President's assertion that al-Qaeda could take over Iraq was a jaw-dropper. It's exactly the kind of baseless fear-mongering that sucked us into Iraq in the first place.


It's worth noting that several militias in Iraq have more than 10,000 members which makes al Qaida indeed a bit player, though they grab headlines because they specialize in suicide attacks, propaganda and violent melodrama.

Frankly, I'm losing track of how many groups are fighting in Iraq. Iraq has been compared to the chaos in Lebanon that has existed at various times over the last thirty years—and it's a useful comparison—but I have another comparison to offer. Although Iraq is a small country, the many factions remind me of China during the first half of the twentieth century with its many warlords and divisions. No European power could control that kind of mess once it was unleashed. The truth is that we don't know enough about all the factions to pretend we can control Iraq. Or at least without violating all our principles. I fear there are American right wingers who say, so what?

But here's the bottom line: without staying in Iraq as a colonial power, and we already are operating like a colonial power, there is no way that Iraq is going to become a democracy any time soon in any form that is meaningful. So the basic fact remains that there is little left to accomplish in Iraq except to wind down as carefully as we can to miminize the chaos and the potential for regional conflict. Other than damage control, we have no other purpose there at this point.

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