Prof Juan Cole, reposted from Informed Coment
Bush gave a speech on Tuesday in which he made a large number inaccurate statements. Likely the recent Pentagon and White House practice of referring to all "insurgents" in Iraq as "al-Qaeda" was intended to lead up to this speech.
Bush maintained in his speech that the members of "al-Qaeda in Iraq" have pledged fealty (bay'at) to Usama Bin Laden. There is no evidence for this allegation. The foreign fighters who make up "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" are successors to previously-existing radical Muslim groups such as Ansar al-Islam and Monotheism and Holy War, both of which had distinct identities from al-Qaeda. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even at one point forbade members of Monotheism and Holy War to give money to al-Qaeda. It is unlikely that they have all swung around behind Bin Laden, though some among the Saudi volunteers may have. As far back as 2005, Ansar al-Sunnah clearly feared the influence of Bin Laden and asked foreign volunteers to stop coming.
Bush made al-Qaeda in Iraq the central group in the insurgency. In fact, Pentagon statistics indicate that the US holds in captivity 19,000 Iraqis suspected of insurgent activities, whereas it has only 135 foreign fighters currently in custody. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" is mostly foreign fighters. Obviously, it just is not that important, though it gets off some bombs, which is not to be taken lightly.
Bush says that tribal sheikhs in al-Anbar province have now taken on the foreign jihadis. But if that is so, why should we worry about them taking over Iraq? They cannot and the Iraqis would not let them (even the Sunni Iraqis would not let them, much less the Shiites or Kurds!) 1200 foreign volunteers cannot take over a country, and the US does not need 160,000 troops in Iraq to fight this small group. In fact, Bush risks raising the question of why 160,000 US troops have not made better progress against the small cohort of foreign fighters.
Bush alleged that the "al-Qaeda" fighters in Iraq are professional terrorists. He said that if he had not invaded Iraq, they would even so have been busy engaging in violence.
An analysis of persons named as fighters on internet sites 18 months ago vigorously contests Bush's allegation:
'out of 429 fighters only 22 (5.1%) have had fighting experience in other regions, demonstrating that the foreign fighters in Iraq do indeed constitute the third generation of Salafi-jihadists. . . It is worth noting that 17 out of 31 fighters [on which there was education data] quit their education to join the fight against the American occupation. This is also evident in the high percentage of BA degree holders (19.4%), which is different from what typically occurs in Salafi-jihadist movements, whose ideologues are normally the ones with high levels of education while the fighters are mostly young men who have not completed their education. . . Another interesting fact is that 22 of those fighters are married, and among those whose career status is known, 8 out of 18 (44%) work in the private sector, with some even being investors. This lends further credence to the notion that the occupation of Iraq, and all the excesses that surrounds it, is generating new developments in erstwhile socio-economically stable Salafi-jihadi networks.'
The small band of some 1200 foreign fighters in Iraq are not for the most part career terrorists as far as anyone can tell. They are too young, at an average of 27, for that description. They are a new generation. They were college students and financiers who became angry about Bush's military occupation of a Muslim Arab country. In the absence of that invasion, they would still be at ordinary ho-hum jobs.
Bush says that his occupation of Iraq cannot explain the violent tactics of the "al-Qaeda insurgents" there. He says that the US was not in Iraq during the Embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the US Cole in 2000, or September 11.
This talking point is pure propaganda on many fronts. First of all, Bush has not established that the foreign jihadis in Iraq are "al-Qaeda" in any significant sense. So his attempt to sneak in a continuity here is not legitimate. Second, while it is true that nothing justifies the violence of al-Qaeda (especially against a ship named the Cole!), it is not true that it lacks all context or motive or that US actions in Iraq were irrelevant to it. Muslim activists believed that US sanctions on Iraq were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990s, and the US continued from time to time to bomb the country.
I wrote this earlier:
' That continental rift is the reason for the great interest in Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul's argument with his rival Rudi Guiliani. Paul said in the recent debate that the US was attacked on 9/11 in part because of its prior involvement in Iraq.
Rudi Giuliani interrupted him, claimed he had never heard of that, and misrepresented Paul as justifying the attack.
But Paul was factually correct. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on the United States, Bin Laden had said " . . .the civil and the military infrastructures of Iraq were savagely destroyed showing the depth of the Zionist-Crusaders' hatred to the Muslims and their children . . ."
Paul was saying that terror has a context, that the post-Gulf War US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that allegedly caused the deaths of 500,000 children helped produce hatred for this country in the Middle East.
In his reply to Giuliani's demand for a retraction, Paul said,
' “I believe the CIA is correct when it warns us about blowback. We overthrew the Iranian government in 1953 and their taking the hostages was the reaction. This dynamic persists and we ignore it at our risk. They’re not attacking us because we’re rich and free, they’re attacking us because we’re over there.” '
The final thing to say is that in 2001 you could argue that Bush was not responsible for al-Qaeda, though he did not take it seriously for the first 8 months (and his father had something to do while Vice President in the 1980s with helping create it to fight the Soviets). But in 2007, if al-Qaeda is still there, if Bin Laden is still there to accept oaths of fealty, if it forms a major threat to the US-- as Bush alleges-- then it is his fault for not doing a better job against it in the past 6 years.
Bush's falsehoods are unlikely to get much play or make any converts. The American public already knows the things I am saying (a big difference from 2003!) A few professional pundits who get rich off pandering to warmongers will trumpet the speech.