Saturday, June 14, 2014
Peter Bergen - Bush's toxic legacy in Iraq
Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of ""The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between
and Al-Qaeda," which this story draws upon. America
(CNN) -- ISIS, the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in
has seized much of western and northern Iraq
and even threatens towns not far from Baghdad. From where did ISIS spring?
One of George W. Bush's most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda
into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship. If this wasn't so tragic it would be supremely ironic,
because before the U.S.
invasion of Iraq
in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis
of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein's men were training members of al
Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most
compelling rationales for the impending war.
After the fall of Hussein's regime, no documents were unearthed in
proving the Hussein-al Qaeda axis despite the fact that, like other
totalitarian regimes, Hussein's government kept massive and meticulous records. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had by 2006 translated
34 million pages of documents from Hussein's Iraq and found there was nothing to
substantiate a "partnership" between Hussein and al Qaeda.
Two years later the Pentagon's own internal think tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses, concluded after examining 600,000 Hussein-era documents and several thousand hours of his regime's audio- and videotapes that there was no "smoking gun (i.e. direct connection between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda.)"
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded in 2008, as every other investigation had before, that there was no "cooperative relationship" between Hussein and al Qaeda. The committee also found that "most of the contacts cited between
Iraq and al
Qaeda before the war by the intelligence community and policy makers have been
determined not to have occurred." Instead of interrupting a budding relationship between
Hussein and al Qaeda, the Iraq War precipitated the arrival of al Qaeda into Iraq. Although
the Bush administration tended to gloss over the fact, al Qaeda only formally
established itself in Iraq a
year and a half after the U.S.
On October 17, 2004, its brutal leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued an online statement pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi's pledge was fulsome: "By God, O sheikh of the Mujahideen, if you bid us plunge into the ocean, we would follow you. If you ordered it so, we would obey." Zarqawi's special demonic genius was to launch
Iraq down the
road to civil war. In early 2004, the U.S. military intercepted a letter
from Zarqawi to bin Laden in which he proposed provoking a civil war between
Sunnis and Shia.
Zarqawi's strategy was to hit the Shia so they would in turn strike the Sunnis, so precipitating a vicious circle of violence in which al Qaeda would be cast as the protector of the Sunnis against the wrath of the Shia. It was a strategy that worked all too well, provoking first sectarian conflict in
and later civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq,
or AQI, regularly attacked Shia religious processions, shrines and clerics. The
tipping point in the slide toward full-blown civil war was al Qaeda's February
2006 attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra,
which is arguably the most
important Shia shrine in the world.
Three years into the Iraq War, AQI seemed all but unstoppable. A classified Marine intelligence assessment dated August 17, 2006, found that AQI had become the de facto government of the western Iraqi
province of Anbar,
which is strategically important because it borders Jordan, Syria
and Saudi Arabia and makes
up about a third of the landmass of Iraq. In addition, AQI controlled a good chunk of the exurban
belts around Baghdad, the "Triangle of
Death" to the south of the capital and many of the towns north of it, up
the to the Syrian border. Thus AQI controlled territory larger than Tigris River New
England and maintained an iron grip on much of the Sunni
population... read more: