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.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    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.

    This kind of half-fabrication is exactly what got us into the mess in Iraq. It sounds like yet another after the fact justification for the war.

    Al-Zarqawi left Afghanistan in December of 2001, and until the invasion of Iraq, was operating out of Iran and Kurdistan, where Saddam had no control. Taking out Saddam allowed Zarqawi to move his operations to the Sunni areas of Iraq. We enabled Zarqawi.

  2. ken says:

    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…..

    Ironically, Zarqawi was operating in Iraq under the protection of the US military. His operations were limited to northern Iraq where Saddam could not get to him because the US military was protecting it as a Kurdish area.

  3. Triumph says:

    “No enemy is more ruthless in Iraq than Al Qaeda.”

    Exactly. The Shitte death squads who kidnap people, torture them, cut off their heads and dump the bodies into mass graves are a mere nuisance.

    Destabilizing the entire Middle East, allowing Iran to increase its power in the region, ignoring nuclear weapons in North Korea was totally worth it to attack a group that didn’t even exist prior to the invasion of Iraq and whose leaders were protected by our Kurdish allies.

  4. cian says:

    Correct Andy. It wasn’t until October 2004 that he claimed allegiance to Bin Laden. Ironically, had the Bush administration completed their stated task of toppling the Taliban and destroying Al Qaeda, there might never have been a Zarqawi in the first place.

    Whether we leave or stay in Iraq, the truth is Al Qaeda has already won. They are stronger now then they were in Afghanistan in 2001 when American troops had their leadership holed up in the caves of Toro Boro. By turning our attention on Iraq we gifted them a whole new breeding ground, a brand new cause they could use to build support and, here’s the kicker, a military victory over the most powerful army man has known.

    Defeating America was never their goal, destroying our reputation and standing in the world was what they were after and thanks to the dumbest and most incompetent adversary one could imagine, Bush and his neocon enablers, its exactly what they got.

  5. Scott_T says:

    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.

    But go back home to either rejoin society as a peaceful retiree? Or go back home to forment unrest (ie against the Saudi Monarchy) Or go back home to rejoin the Syrian/Iranian military/para-military forces?

    From all known reports, anyone “working” for AQI aren’t choirboys, but nasty, mean, cruel men which probably wouldn’t give up their ways even if US forces were out of Iraq.

  6. Andy says:

    Correct Andy. It wasn’t until October 2004 that he claimed allegiance to Bin Laden. Ironically, had the Bush administration completed their stated task of toppling the Taliban and destroying Al Qaeda, there might never have been a Zarqawi in the first place.

    Apparently, Zarqawi fled west to Iran while bin Laden was at Tora Bora. Of course, we didn’t have enough troops on the ground to catch bin Laden, let alone round up the other groups of fleeing jihadists.

    You know, it’s almost as if Bush wanted to spread terrorism and destabilize as many countries as possible. It would be hard to think of a way to do it better than he has.

  7. Anjin-San says:

    There is also a pretty good chance that the Iraqis will slit the throats of any Al Queda in Iraq after we leave. Actually they don’t even seem to be waiting for us to leave.

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    Correct Andy. It wasn’t until October 2004 that he claimed allegiance to Bin Laden. Ironically, had the Bush administration completed their stated task of toppling the Taliban and destroying Al Qaeda, there might never have been a Zarqawi in the first place.

    Ironically, Zarqawi was operating in Iraq under the protection of the US military. His operations were limited to northern Iraq where Saddam could not get to him because the US military was protecting it as a Kurdish area.

    You know, it’s almost as if Bush wanted to spread terrorism and destabilize as many countries as possible. It would be hard to think of a way to do it better than he has.

    Al-Zarqawi left Afghanistan in December of 2001, and until the invasion of Iraq, was operating out of Iran and Kurdistan, where Saddam had no control. Taking out Saddam allowed Zarqawi to move his operations to the Sunni areas of Iraq. We enabled Zarqawi.

    This kind of half-fabrication is exactly what got us into the mess in Iraq. It sounds like yet more after the fact justifications for the undermining of the war.