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Monday, July 09, 2007

The "Single-Villain" Rhetoric, the Two Al Qaedas, and the Multi-Faceted Challenges in Iraq

I would guess that people who visit here try to keep up with the news and have a pretty good idea about what is going on in the world. So I'm curious to see how well the press has been informing you about the administration's discussions of the Iraq war.

Did you know there are two Al Qaedas? The public editor at the New York Times thinks you should realize that the Al Qaeda emphasized by the administration when discussing the surge did not exist prior to the invasion, is not same as Bin Laden's Al Qaeda, and  is but one part of the problem we are facing:

Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner, by Clark Hoyt, Public Editor, NY Times: As domestic support for the war in Iraq continues to melt away, President Bush and the United States military in Baghdad are increasingly pointing to a single villain on the battlefield: Al Qaeda.

Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College... The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq...

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

There is plenty of evidence that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is but one of the challenges facing the United States military and that overemphasizing it distorts the true picture of what is happening there. While a president running out of time and policy options may want to talk about a single enemy ... in the hope of uniting the country behind him, journalists have the obligation to ask tough questions about the accuracy of his statements.

Middle East experts with whom I talked in recent days said that the heavy focus on Al Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation...

“Nobody knows how many different Islamist extremist groups make up the insurgency” in Iraq, said Anthony H. Cordesman of the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Even when you talk about Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the idea of somehow it is the center of the insurgency is almost absurd.” ...

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which came into being in 2003, pledged its loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda the next year but is not believed to be under his operational control.

Jonathan Landay, a friend and former colleague, wrote a sharply skeptical story for the McClatchy newspaper group after the president’s June 28 speech. Bush called Al Qaeda “the main enemy” in Iraq, but Landay reported that “U.S. military and intelligence officials” reject that characterization. ...

    Posted by on Monday, July 9, 2007 at 01:08 PM in Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (31)

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