President Bush Says al Qaeda in Iraq Part of al Qaeda
President Bush told a group of airmen yesterday that critics who chide him for claiming al Qaeda in Iraq are part of the group that attacked us on 9/11 are simply wrong.
President George W. Bush argued forcefully [Tuesday] that an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Iraq is linked tightly to the central Al Qaeda leadership, and that for American forces to leave Iraq without defeating the terror group would be “dangerous for the world and disastrous for America.”
In a half-hour speech clearly aimed at his Democratic critics, Mr. Bush said that those who argued that the affiliated group, called Al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI, was a local group with local objectives, and not a serious threat to Americans at home, were seriously misinformed.
“It’s hard to argue that Al Qaeda in Iraq is separate from bin Laden’s Al Qaeda when the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Bush said, referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a leader of the affiliated group in Iraq who was killed last year. Mr. Bush called the two similarly named groups “an alliance of killers,” and said, “No enemy is more ruthless in Iraq than Al Qaeda.”
On this, there can’t be any doubt. As I noted several days ago, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his gang were operating in Iraq long before the U.S. invasion and, while they didn’t adopt the al Qaeda brand name until afterwards, they were taking direction from bin Laden and company.
It’s also undeniably true, I think, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq transformed what is now AQI from at most a minor nuisance to the epicenter of al Qaeda activity in the world. Proponents of the Flypaper Theory notwithstanding, this was a consequence of the invasion not seriously considered by the administration.
What is debatable — and unknowable with any degree of certainty — is whether AQI terrorists would refocus their efforts on attacking U.S. and Western targets were Americans to leave Iraq. My guess is that the vast majority of the jihadists would consider their job done and go back home but that some significant number would decide to continue the fight. As with the mujahadeen who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, a cohort has been created of men who are good at guerrilla warfare and terrorism, have nothing more worthwhile to turn to, will be emboldened by their success.
Even if that’s true, it doesn’t necessarily follow that remaining in Iraq indefinitely in what appears to be a futile attempt to sustain a democratic, multi-ethnic state is the best strategy. It does, however, complicate the picture.