In an apparent attempt to downplay the internal Iraqi dynamics behind ongoing attacks, the Bush administration has blamed 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, as the perpetrators.
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, a 38-year old Jordanian radical who fled to Iraq in 2001 after losing a leg in a US missile strike on his Afghan base, now stands accused of masterminding a string of spectacular suicide bombings in Iraq. In 2003, he was named as the brains behind a series of suicide bombings — from Casablanca in Morocco to Istanbul in Turkey.
But the "facts" keep changing. According to US administration pronouncements, Zarqawi was first a "close associate of [Osama] bin Laden". Then his relationship to bin Laden became "uncertain", before he was back to being a "close associate".
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 head a Jordanian extremist group called al-Tawhid, and only linked to al-Qaeda and other groups.
The pronouncements vary with the political imperatives of the moment. The Bush administration badly needs to deflect attention from Saddam Hussein'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 that Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam were Saddam'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 living areas. 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, with the help of 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 US doubled the bounty on Zarqawi last week to $10 million, calling him the mastermind behind a blueprint for terror in Iraq. He is the "wildcard" in the US's pack of wanted men. The US decision came after coalition forces claimed to have found a letter Zarqawi is said to have written to bin Laden, in a safe house in Iraq. "We believe the report and document are credible," said General Mark Kimmitt from the US forces.
Zarqawi tells bin Laden in the alleged letter — stored on a compact disc — 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 them. 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 of Irbil on February 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 Irbil blasts.
Coalition forces then said that 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 US 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 people 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 al-Fallujah, killing at least 20.
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 al-Fallujah. The Associated Press noted that "US and Iraqi officials have made conflicting reports on who carried out the attack". US officials insist that the attack was carried out by non-Iraqis. Foreigners had been blamed in the car bombing that killed Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim and many of his followers in August last year. Nothing ever came of that allegation.www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FB18Ak04.htmlE-mail this article