Saturday, June 19, 2004

Twenty Dead in Attack on President's Fig Leaf 

So, with the transfer of Iraqi "autonomy" less than two weeks away, the U.S. calls in an air strike on a densely populated urban area and kills a bunch of women and children in a probably unsuccessful attempt to nail Zarqawi?
In a bloody surprise attack, the U.S. military launched precision weapons into a poor residential neighborhood of Fallujah on Saturday to destroy what officers described as a safe house used by fighters loyal to Abu Musab Zarqawi and perhaps, at times, by the fugitive terrorist leader himself.

Residents said about 20 people were killed, including women and children, despite a cease-fire with U.S. occupation forces that has brought relative peace for the last six weeks to the rebellious city 35 miles west of Baghdad. Images from the site of the blast showed two collapsed houses, with people in white robes picking through the rubble looking for buried victims and lost property.

"This leads to nothing but more confrontation with the enemy," Abdullah Janabi, head of Fallujah's Mujaheddin Council, declared in an interview with the al-Jazeera satellite television network.

A statement issued by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman for U.S. military forces in Iraq, said it was not known whether the elusive Zarqawi was inside the house at the time of the 9:30 a.m. attack but that "multiple confirmations of actionable intelligence" indicated that several of his operatives were present. Kimmitt said secondary explosions lasting 20 minutes pointed to the presence of a large store of munitions and explosives in the targeted building.
It is Zarqawi's misfortune to have outlived his usefulness. I do get sick of linking to the same damned article three times a week, but I'll keep doing it, thanks, until somebody with an actual press credential gets around to asking the White House why Zarqawi is alive to begin with:
In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

"Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
One more time: Zarqawi was based in the Kurd-controlled north, an area well out of Saddam's control. The only evidence linking the two was tenuous in the extreme: Zarqawi supposedly traveled to Baghdad to have a leg amputated (although that story is now in dispute; the killer in the Nick Berg video appeared to have two working legs). We knew he was planning terrorist attacks and we had at least three opportunities to take him out.

But he had to be left alone so that the White House could say that "terrorists linked to al Qaeda" were operating within the borders of Iraq.

Was it worth it?

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