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5/18/2004 01:18:00 PM | Timothy

More on how the Bush Administration could have attacked Zarqawi before the Iraq war
From Fred Kaplan:
The second news story that heaves more burdens on the president comes from an NBC News broadcast by Jim Miklaszewski on March 2. Apparently, Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as the story puts it:

[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.


The implications of this are more shocking, in their way, than the news from Abu Ghraib. Bush promoted the invasion of Iraq as a vital battle in the war on terrorism, a continuation of our response to 9/11. Here was a chance to wipe out a high-ranking terrorist. And Bush didn't take advantage of it because doing so might also wipe out a rationale for invasion.

The story gets worse in its details. As far back as June 2002, U.S. intelligence reported that Zarqawi had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq that was capable of producing ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon drew up an attack plan involving cruise missiles and smart bombs. The White House turned it down. In October 2002, intelligence reported that Zarqawi was preparing to use his bio-weapons in Europe. The Pentagon drew up another attack plan. The White House again demurred. In January 2003, police in London arrested terrorist suspects connected to the camp. The Pentagon devised another attack plan. Again, the White House killed the plan, not Zarqawi.

When the war finally started in March, the camp was attacked early on. But by that time, Zarqawi and his followers had departed.

This camp was in the Kurdish enclave of Iraq. The U.S. military had been mounting airstrikes against various targets throughout Iraq—mainly air-defense sites—for the previous few years. It would not have been a major escalation to destroy this camp, especially after the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The Kurds, whose autonomy had been shielded by U.S. air power since the end of the 1991 war, wouldn't have minded and could even have helped.

But the problem, from Bush's perspective, was that this was the only tangible evidence of terrorists in Iraq. Colin Powell even showed the location of the camp on a map during his famous Feb. 5 briefing at the U.N. Security Council. The camp was in an area of Iraq that Saddam didn't control. But never mind, it was something. To wipe it out ahead of time might lead some people—in Congress, the United Nations, and the American public—to conclude that Saddam's links to terrorists were finished, that maybe the war wasn't necessary. So Bush let it be.

In the two years since the Pentagon's first attack plan, Zarqawi has been linked not just to Berg's execution but, according to NBC, 700 other killings in Iraq. If Bush had carried out that attack back in June 2002, the killings might not have happened. More: The case for war (as the White House feared) might not have seemed so compelling. Indeed, the war itself might not have happened.




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