This is one hell of a story in Sunday’s Washington Post. The outlines of the tale are ones we’ve known for a while now: Iraq had little or nothing to do with al Qaida before the war. But the war itself — the supposed remedy for the tie between Iraq and al Qaida — ended up making the Iraq/al Qaida mumbo-jumbo into a reality.
You knew that in general terms. But here are the particulars. One confluence of events seems key. By the middle of 2002 al Qaida was seriously damaged, its infrastructure disrupted, many of its soldiers and key leaders dead. The mix of damage to the organization and increased security in the United States made new mass-casualty terrorism in America all but impossible. The organization had to fall back on smaller-scale attacks mainly in Muslim countries, carried out by local affiliated groups.
But the Iraq war — and the onset of the occupation — provided the organization (or its remnants) with a new opportunity. It was both a new vehicle to galvanize followers and operating there meant fewer logistical difficulties since it was close by. Even just before the war, in February of this year, key al Qaida operatives started planning the move toward Iraq as the new front.
Also key is the role of Iran, which, according to the Post article, provided key members of the damaged al Qaida organization with a safe-haven during the period between their expulsion from Afghanistan and the opening of their new front in Iraq.
A story like this, culled together from different sources, many of whom are no doubt interested parties, is only a first run at the truth. Points will be refined; major elements of the story may change. But I think this story and those that will follow it will be a major point of discussion for some time to come.
When I read it, the story left me mute, expressionless, bereft — as though I’d just watched someone die.