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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Iraq's Terror Connections

George Bush is still pushing the idea that pre-war Iraq was a haven for international terrorism. This is from his joint press conference with Iraqi PM Allawi on September 23, 2004:
Imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein were still in power. This is a man who harbored terrorists -- Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, Zarqawi.
Who are these terrorists, other than men with Arabic names?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: Zarqawi is quickly become public enemy #1A, but I have serious doubts about whether the President should be mentioning him in his speeches about the legitimacy of the Iraq during this political campaign. First, even the Bush administration acknowledges that Zarqawi set up camps in Kurdish controlled areas during the 1990s. The Kurdish areas were politically autonomous from Saddam after 1991 because they were protected by the US-UK "no fly zones." Indirectly, the US was protecting his terrorist camps from Saddam. Some critics go even further:
NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.
Why didn't the US strike these bases under the "Bush Doctrine" in early 2002?
“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

...Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
The MSNBC story reports that the White House rejected three chances to kill Zarqawi. Thrice!

A lot of terrorist experts consider Zarqawi a rival to bin Laden, not a vital link to al Qaeda. The Bush administration claimed that he went to Baghdad a few years ago to obtain medical care (to receive an artificial leg), and that this indicated that he had Saddam Hussein's support, but not all terror experts embrace that theory. From the conservative Weekly Standard:
Zarqawi, however, is not Osama's man, and still less was he Saddam's.
Finally, as USA Today pointed out on September 14, 2004, Zarqawi was considered a peripheral figure only one year ago. He's almost certainly an opportunist who has taken advantage of the chaos in Iraq:
It was after Saddam's capture in December that the Jordanian began to emerge as a leader, by tapping into the anger and frustration of the now-leaderless members of Saddam's Baath Party.

[Kenneth] Katzman [senior Iraqi analyst at the Congressional Research Service] says Zarqawi's appeal is broad because he fights to reverse the pan-Arab sense of humiliation caused by the Western control of Arab lands. He appeals to Saddam's Sunni Muslims by advocating the subjugation of the rival Shiites, the majority in Iraq.
How could Bush mention his success as an insurgent leader as a reason to go to war in Iraq in March 2003?

Abu Abbas: He was the notorious Palestinian terrorist who lead a splinter group from the PLO that hijacked the Achille Lauro on the Mediterranean in 1985. However, by 1996, Abbas had moved to Gaza, rejected "armed struggle," apologized for the hijacking, and was implicitly recognized as a legitimate political leader by the Israelis. He died in US custody in Iraq in 2003, age 55. He was not wanted in the US for any crime and the government was not seeking his extradition. Indeed, according to the Palestinian Authority, he was immune from prosecution for any violent acts committed before 1993 as part of the Oslo Accords negotiated with Israel. Fox News described his lack of influence in his obituary:
Abbas had been a marginal figure in the PLO of late. He was a member of the PLO's executive committee, but left in 1991. His tiny faction has very few followers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip....[In 1998] Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein said Abbas did not pose a threat to Israeli security, and that it would be unreasonable to prosecute him for acts committed before 1993.
Israel didn't even consider him a terrorist anymore. So...that's not much of a major international terrorist link to Saddam, is it?

Abu Nidal: He died in 2002 at age 65, in Iraq after suffering from leukemia. There is some dispute about whether he was killed or committed suicide. Nidal was affiliated with Palestinian causes, but broke apart from the PLO in 1974 because he thought it was too moderate. He tried to kill Arafat twice, allegedly, and was sentenced to death by a Palestinian Court. Nidal was an active international terrorist in the 1970s and 1980s, but seemed to be in Iraq with his remaining small group of followers because it was the last place to excape prosecution for his crimes. This is a guy Syria expelled!

In any event, though Nidal may have been the "bin Laden of the 1980s," he was hardly an active international terrorist at the time of the Iraq war in 2003. He was a senior citizen suffering from a debilitating disease.

Oh, I probably should mention that Nidal did set up base in Iraq during his active period in the 1980s, but Saddam Hussein expelled him so that the US would be on its side in the long war with Iran?

Under the standards Bush is using, he should look for nasty links to Saddam Hussein a lot closer to home:

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