In an apparent attempt to downplay the internal Iraqi dynamics sparking ongoing
attacks, the Bush administration has been blaming al-Qaeda for much of the violence.
Key in this effort has been the portrayal of the ultra-orthodox Kurdish group
Ansar al Islam and its alleged leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Bush administration and some of its allies accuse Ansar, long at odds with
the secular, western-oriented Kurdish groups allied with the coalition, of close
links with al-Qaeda. Zarqawi is seen as the man behind most terror plots that
are publicized. But "facts" keep changing.
According to US Administration pronouncements, Zarqawi was first a "close
associate of bin Laden." His relationship to bin Laden became "uncertain"
before he was back to being a "close associate" of bin Laden.
An official US statement declaring Ansar a terrorist group claimed that Zarqawi
was a "senior al Qaeda operative," but later he was only "suspected"
of being some kind of affiliate. Until two weeks ago he was considered the leader
of Ansar al Islam. Now he is thought to be heading a Jordanian extremist group
called al Tawhid, and only linked to al-Qaeda and other groups.
The "facts" vary with the political imperatives of the moment. The Bush administration
badly needs to deflect attention from Saddam's much-alleged, but never found
weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Last winter Zarqawi was supposedly working with explosives and deadly toxins
at a terror camp in northeast Iraq. US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned
the United Nations Security Council of the dangers he posed in a presentation
in February last year.
Powell claimed Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam were Saddam Hussein's link to al-
Qaeda. The "evidence" behind Powell's assertions proved as empty as
that on WMDs.
Powell provided a satellite picture of the alleged terror camp. A number of
journalists went immediately to the place but found only a radio station and
Powell said Ansar had cyanide gas, VX nerve gas and the toxin ricin. The US
claimed at first to have found "evidence of chemical weapons production"
after it attacked Ansar camps along with Kurdish forces in March 2003 last year.
The claim later proved unfounded.
In October last year former Powell aide Greg Thielmann revealed that Powell
had misinformed Americans during his testimony.
The United States doubled the bounty on Zarqawi last week to ten million dollars,
calling him the mastermind behind a blueprint for terror in Iraq. The US decision
came after coalition forces claimed to have found a letter Zarqawi is said to
have written to bin Laden. "We believe the report and document are credible,"
said Gen. Mark Kimmitt from the US forces.
Zarqawi tells bin Laden in the alleged letter that al-Qaeda would be welcome
in Iraq. But several questions have been raised about the letter. Foremost,
if al- Qaeda was already present in Iraq as alleged so often before, why would
Zarqawi need to invite it. The Washington Post notes that there has been no
independent verification of the document's authenticity.
US forces blamed al-Qaeda and Ansar for the suicide bombings that killed more
than 100 people including several Kurdish leaders in the northern Iraqi town
Arbil Feb. 1. Two days later Jaish Ansar al Sunna, a resistance group based
in the Sunni triangle that had warned people aiding the occupation, claimed
responsibility for the Arbil blasts.
Coalition forces then said Jaish was related to al-Qaeda and Ansar, another
attempt to blur distinctions among groups resisting US occupation of Iraq..
In blaming al-Qaeda and Ansar, the United States and its allies have sought
effectively to legitimize the presentation Powell made to the Security Council
a year ago. If public perceptions of the Ansar threat were to grow, the invasion
of Iraq would be seen as more legitimate.
US officials have again pointed to al-Qaeda and foreign terrorists as the leading
suspects behind recent attacks. On Tuesday last week a bomber killed 53 at a
police recruitment center in Iskandariyah south of Baghdad. The next day another
bomber claimed 47 at an army recruitment center in Baghdad. On Saturday a rebel
assault routed security forces in Fallujah, killing at least twenty.
But it is widely acknowledged that there are few foreigners among the thousands
arrested by coalition forces.
The Iraqi police have corrected their initial statement that "foreigners"
were behind the assault in Fallujah Saturday. The Associated Press noted that
"U.S. and Iraqi officials have made conflicting reports on who carried
out the attack." U.S. officials insist the attack was carried out by non-Iraqis.
Foreigners had been blamed in the car bombing that killed Shia leader Ayatollah
Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim and many of his followers in August last year. Nothing
ever came of that allegation.