Maureen Dowd | Magnet for Evil
Magnet for Evil
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Wednesday 20 August 2003
WASHINGTON - The Bush team has now created the very monster that it conjured up to alarm Americans into backing a war on Iraq.
Rushing to pummel Iraq after 9/11, Bush officials ginned up links between Saddam and Al Qaeda. They made it sound as if Islamic fighters on a jihad against America were slouching toward Baghdad to join forces with murderous Iraqis.
There was scant evidence of it then, but it's coming true now.
Since America began its occupation, Iraq has become the mecca for every angry, hate-crazed Arab extremist who wants to liberate the Middle East from the "despoiling" grasp of the infidels.
"Increasing numbers of Saudi Arabian Islamists are crossing the border into Iraq, in preparation for a jihad, or holy war, against U.S. and U.K. forces, security and Islamist sources have warned," The Financial Times said yesterday, quoting a Saudi dissident who noted that Saudi authorities are concerned that "up to 3,000 Saudi men have gone `missing' in the kingdom in two months."
One of the things the terrorists in Baghdad and Jerusalem blew up yesterday was the credibility of the Panglossian Bush version of what's happening in the Middle East.
The administration's optimism was exposed as a fantasy when the two efforts it holds most dear the reconstruction and democratization of Iraq, and advancing the Palestinian-Israeli peace process both went up in smoke yesterday, literally.
Before the Iraq war, the Bush team inflated the threats to America; since the war, the Bush team has deflated the threats to America.
In yet another spun-up government document on Iraq, the White House listed 100 ways that things were going great in the 100 days we've been on the scene. The report burbled with gimcrackery about the "10 signs of better infrastructure" days before an oil pipeline and then a water pipeline were blown up and about soccer balls and science textbooks.
"Most of Iraq is calm, and progress on the road to democracy and freedom not experienced in decades continues," it said. "Only in isolated areas are there still attacks."
Even the Bush people, who tend to look at excruciatingly difficult problems and say no prob, were shaken by yesterday's carnage, which delivered a terrible truth: just because we got Uday and Qusay, Iraqi militants are not going to stop blowing up Westerners. Even if we get Saddam, the resistance will no doubt keep at it, hoping the dictator will enjoy the carnage from paradise.
"The dynamics have really changed," said an administration official on the reconstruction team. "Now we're dealing with a guerrilla war, not terrorism."
Osama bin Laden was inspired to attack us partly by his hatred of the American military presence in Saudi Arabia. Now foreign zealots from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, enraged about the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, are slipping over the Iraqi border to help Saddam loyalists.
Bush officials, who before the war also overdramatized the connection between Saddam and the Ansar al-Islam militants in northern Iraq, have now become spooked about hundreds of fighters coming back from Iran to attack Americans.
The Qaeda and Ansar zealots, along with old Baath soldiers and new foreign recruits, are intent on keeping Iraq in anarchy, even as Afghanistan also slips back into chaos, with a reconstituted Taliban fighting machine killing 90 in the last month.
The democracy dominoes are not falling as easily as Paul Wolfowitz and other neocons had predicted.
It's hard to believe that this is just a few "dead-enders," as Rummy says. It's hard to believe that it's going to be easy for America to get control of the streets. It's hard to believe the occupation is not going to last a very long time. It's hard to believe that liberal institutions will flourish where basic security is a distant dream.
Some United Nations experts have been saying that we have only half the number of troops we need to subdue Iraq, and Senator John McCain and others agreed yesterday that we need more reinforcements.
The countries that could help us out with more troops won't do it unless Iraq is turned over to the U.N. And Rummy & Co., always doctrinaire, doesn't want turn Iraq over to those wimpy guys with blue helmets.
So where are we? We can't leave, and we can't stay forever. We just have to slug it out.
Analysts: Iraq a 'Magnet' for al Qaeda
Targets shifting from soldiers to civilians, ex-diplomat says
Tuesday 19 August 2003
WASHINGTON - Iraq is becoming a major "magnet" for al Qaeda terrorists, who now pose more of a threat than remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, two analysts said Tuesday after a truck bomb killed 17 at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
"A half-dozen U.S. officials who investigate or analyze al Qaeda ... say that Iraq has become an important battleground for al Qaeda in the past several months," CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.
"The officials use words such as 'magnet' and 'super magnet' to describe the attraction that Iraq has for al Qaeda and other 'jihadists,' " said Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."
James Rubin, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, agreed that the terrorism milieu in Iraq has changed, pointing to increased attacks against civilian targets and fewer large-scale attacks against U.S. soldiers.
"It is my suspicion that the types of attacks in Iraq are either backed or funded by Islamic extremists."
They are coming from other countries and "see it as a rich place to conduct their bloody business," he said.
"Let's face it, if you are a terrorist in the Middle East and you have a mission to kill Americans, Iraq is now the place you're going to want to go," said Rubin, speaking from London, England.
"We have had an attack on the Jordanian Embassy and attacks on water supplies and power supplies, [and] now the attacks on the U.N., which hark back very much to the attempt of the al Qaeda organization to blow up the U.N. headquarters in New York," said Rubin, who was the State Department's top spokesman during part of the Clinton administration.
Rubin was referring to a foiled plot by a group linked to al Qaeda to blow up New York landmarks, including the General Assembly building, in the mid-1990s.
Bergen said one counterterrorism official told him most of the militants are Saudis who crossed into Iraq from Syria.
Another counterterrorism official told Bergen that Iraq is as attractive to al Qaeda as Bosnia was during the mid-1990s and Chechnya has been in recent years.
Bergen said the official told him that Iraq provides "unlimited targeting, it's right in their back yard and is a very attractive cause for them."
In the past two months, about 3,000 Saudis have gone to fight coalition troops in Iraq, said Dr. Saad al-Faqih, a leading Saudi dissident based in London who has long been a reliable source of information about al Qaeda.
Al-Faqih's information comes from Saudi security sources and sources within the jihadi community in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis who have gone to Iraq to fight have traveled there via Kuwait, Jordan and Syria, al-Faqih said.
Al-Faqih said one source describes Iraq as "almost like Peshawar during the 1980s," a reference to the city in Pakistan that attracted Muslims from around the world eager to volunteer to fight the Soviets then occupying Afghanistan.
Al-Faqih said Saudis make up about 85 percent of the foreign fighters in the country, but a few of them are Kuwaitis.
The Saudi fighters consider their actions jihad because they see coalition soldiers as unjustifiably occupying a Muslim country, al-Faqih said.
Another factor is that Saudi authorities have cracked down on al Qaeda since May, when terrorists attacked complexes housing Westerners in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, giving al Qaeda members an additional impulse to leave the kingdom.
"It seems perfectly plausible to say, well, you've got al Qaeda people moving into Iraq, and now suddenly you have car and truck bombs, which is a hallmark of al Qaeda. So it's entirely possible that this is al Qaeda," said CNN analyst Ken Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"On the other hand," Pollack said, "this may simply reflect an increase in the capabilities of ... indigenous [resistance] groups" such as Saddam loyalists, Sunni Muslims and Islamic extremists.
"We know that their operations against U.S. and other coalition forces have been getting increasingly more sophisticated," said Pollack, author of the 2002 book "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq."
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, blamed Tuesday's bombing on backers of Saddam's regime.
"We know in general terms who's behind it," Bremer said. "It's people who are fighting against the liberated Iraq that most Iraqis have welcomed. It's people who do not share the vision of a free Iraq with a vibrant economy.
"These are probably people left over from the old regime who are simply fighting a rear guard action by attacking Iraq's assets," he said.
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