Yesterday, in his talk to group assembled by the American Spectator, Newt Gingrich said that President Bush should basically stop talking about Iraq and turn the task over to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. I agree that the more we see and hear Petraeus and Crocker, the better. I also believe that much of the nation has tuned out President Bush when it comes to Iraq, so that his words on the subject have little of their intended effect.
Nonetheless, it’s important for the administration to keep stating its case, and especially to warn of the probable consequences of the defeat the Democrats are trying to impose. Indeed, I believe the president has a moral obligation to set out the government’s views on this matter. That way, legislators and the public at-large can make a fully informed decision with no unchallenged illusions about, among other things, al Qaeda’s role in Iraq, Iraq’s role in the current war on terror, and the likely consequences of U.S. withdrawal.
Today, President Bush stated key aspects of his case in a speech delivered in Charleston, South Carolina. He focused in particular on al Qaeda, taking on the notion that al Qaeda in Iraq is a homegrown, Iraqi-led movement. Here are key excerpts from that portion of his speech:
There’s a debate in Washington about Iraq, and nothing wrong with a healthy debate. There’s also a debate about al Qaeda’s role in Iraq. Some say that Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. They complain when I say that the al Qaeda terrorists we face in Iraq are part of the same enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America.
That would be news to Osama bin Laden. He’s proclaimed that the “third world war is raging in Iraq.” Osama bin Laden says, “The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever.” I say that there will be a big defeat in Iraq and it will be the defeat of al Qaeda.
Today I will consider the arguments of those who say that al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq are separate entities. I will explain why they are both part of the same terrorist network — and why they are dangerous to our country.
A good place to start is with some basic facts: Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by a Jordanian terrorist, not an Iraqi. His name was Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Before 9/11, he ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan. He was not yet a member of al Qaida, but our intelligence community reports that he had longstanding relations with senior al Qaida leaders, that he had met with Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Zawahiri.
In 2001, coalition forces destroyed Zarqawi’s Afghan training camp, and he fled the country and he went to Iraq, where he set up operations with terrorist associates long before the arrival of coalition forces. In the violence and instability following Saddam’s fall, Zarqawi was able to expand dramatically the size, scope, and lethality of his operation. In 2004, Zarqawi and his terrorist group formally joined al Qaida, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and he promised to “follow his orders in jihad.”
Soon after, bin Laden publicly declared that Zarqawi was the “Prince of Al Qaida in Iraq” — and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.” It’s hard to argue that al Qaida in Iraq is separate from bin Laden’s al Qaida, when the leader of al Qaida in Iraq took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
According to our intelligence community, the Zarqawi-bin Laden merger gave al Qaida in Iraq — quote — “prestige among potential recruits and financiers.” The merger also gave al Qaida’s senior leadership — quote — “a foothold in Iraq to extend its geographic presence … to plot external operations … and to tout the centrality of the jihad in Iraq to solicit direct monetary support elsewhere.” The merger between al Qaida and its Iraqi affiliate is an alliance of killers — and that is why the finest military in the world is on their trail.
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006. He was replaced by another foreigner — an Egyptian named Abu Ayyub al-Masri. His ties to the al Qaida senior leadership are deep and longstanding. He has collaborated with Zawahiri for more than two decades. And before 9/11, he spent time with al Qaida in Afghanistan where he taught classes indoctrinating others in al Qaida’s radical ideology.
After Abu Ayyub took over al Qaida’s Iraqi operations last year, Osama bin Laden sent a terrorist leader named Abd al-Hadi al Iraqi to help him. According to our intelligence community, this man was a senior advisor to bin Laden, who served as his top commander in Afghanistan. Abd al-Hadi never made it to Iraq. He was captured, and was recently transferred to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The fact that bin Laden risked sending one of his most valued commanders to Iraq shows the importance he places on success of al Qaida’s Iraqi operations.
According to our intelligence community, many of al Qaida in Iraq’s other senior leaders are also foreign terrorists. They include a Syrian who is al Qaida in Iraq’s emir in Baghdad, a Saudi who is al Qaida in Iraq’s top spiritual and legal advisor, an Egyptian who fought in Afghanistan in the 1990s and who has met with Osama bin Laden, a Tunisian who we believe plays a key role in managing foreign fighters. Last month in Iraq, we killed a senior al Qaida facilitator named Mehmet Yilmaz, a Turkish national who fought with al Qaida in Afghanistan, and met with September the 11th mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, and other senior al Qaida leaders.
A few weeks ago, we captured a senior al Qaida in Iraq leader named Mashadani. Now, this terrorist is an Iraqi. In fact, he was the highest ranking Iraqi in the organization. Here’s what he said, here’s what he told us: The foreign leaders of Al Qaida in Iraq went to extraordinary lengths to promote the fiction that al Qaida in Iraq is an Iraqi-led operation. He says al Qaida even created a figurehead whom they named Omar al-Baghdadi. The purpose was to make Iraqi fighters believe they were following the orders of an Iraqi instead of a foreigner. Yet once in custody, Mashadani revealed that al-Baghdadi is only an actor. He confirmed our intelligence that foreigners are at the top echelons of al Qaida in Iraq — they are the leaders — and that foreign leaders make most of the operational decisions, not Iraqis.
Foreign terrorists also account for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaida terrorists. It’s true that today most of al Qaida in Iraq’s rank and file fighters and some of its leadership are Iraqi. But to focus exclusively on this single fact is to ignore the larger truth: Al Qaida in Iraq is a group founded by foreign terrorists, led largely by foreign terrorists, and loyal to a foreign terrorist leader — Osama bin Laden. They know they’re al Qaida. The Iraqi people know they are al Qaida. People across the Muslim world know they are al Qaida. And there’s a good reason they are called al Qaida in Iraq: They are al Qaida – in – Iraq.
Some also assert that al Qaida in Iraq is a separate organization because al Qaida’s central command lacks full operational control over it. This argument reveals a lack of understanding. Here is how al Qaida’s global terrorist network actually operates. Al Qaida and its affiliate organizations are a loose network of terrorist groups that are united by a common ideology and shared objectives, and have differing levels of collaboration with the al Qaida senior leadership. In some cases, these groups have formally merged into al Qaida and take what is called a “bayaat” — a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden. In other cases, organizations are not formally merged with al Qaida, but collaborate closely with al Qaida leaders to plot attacks and advance their shared ideology. In still other cases, there are small cells of terrorists that are not part of al Qaida or any other broader terrorist group, but maintain contact with al Qaida leaders and are inspired by its ideology to conduct attacks.
Our intelligence community assesses that al Qaida in Iraq falls into the first of these categories. They are a full member of the al Qaida terrorist network. The al Qaida leadership provides strategic guidance to their Iraqi operatives. Even so, there have been disagreements — important disagreements — between the leaders, Osama bin Laden and their Iraqi counterparts, including Zawahiri’s criticism of Zarqawi’s relentless attacks on the Shia. But our intelligence community reports that al Qaida’s senior leaders generally defer to their Iraqi-based commanders when it comes to internal operations, because distance and security concerns preclude day-to-day command authority.
Our intelligence community concludes that — quote — “Al Qaida and its regional node in Iraq are united in their overarching strategy.” And they say that al Qaida senior leaders and their operatives in Iraq — quote — “see al Qaida in Iraq as part of al Qaida’s decentralized chain of command, not as a separate group.”
Here’s the bottom line: Al Qaida in Iraq is run by foreign leaders loyal to Osama bin Laden. Like bin Laden, they are cold-blooded killers who murder the innocent to achieve al Qaida’s political objectives.
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