by William O. Beeman
Bush administration's assessment of al Qaeda's relationship with the
government of Saddam Hussein remains seriously flawed. If it is not
rethought, America may win the war in Iraq -- for Osama bin Laden.
The Bush administration has pursued a dangerously inaccurate "fungal" theory of world terrorism. It assumes that, like a giant mycelium, all terrorist organizations are part of the same organism. They have a single purpose and are linked. Individual groups pop up here and there like fungi, in cells to attack the United States. In this neo-Cold War theory, Iraq constitutes one cell, and al Qaeda, another. Eliminating the Iraqi regime, it is thought, will damage terrorism everywhere.
This theory is wrong. Saddam and al Qaeda are competing for the same political and cultural ecosystem. They are not only opposed to each other, they have utterly different philosophical views on how the Middle East should be governed.
The latest manifestation of this flawed American theory occurred on Feb. 11, with the revelation of a new tape from Osama bin Laden, or someone masquerading as him. Whether it is actually bin Laden or not, the remarks are consistent with his previous rhetoric. It is the U.S. reading of the tape that is off base.
In the words of Colin Powell's spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, the tape purportedly proves "that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common ground." But the full tape, when properly read, shows that al Qaeda is opposed to Iraq, and that Washington's pursuit of war serves al Qaeda's interests more than those of Americans.
First, the tape shows that bin Laden, far from supporting Saddam Hussein, is directly opposed to him. Saddam is ruthlessly secular. His Ba'ath party and his government is socialist in its origins and its practice. Bin Laden asserts that "socialists and communists are unbelievers," thereby labeling Saddam an apostate of Islam, an infidel.
Second, bin Laden opposes all secular leaders in the Arab world. His opposition to the government of Saudi Arabia is well known, and his desire for the overthrow of the Iraqi regime is equally well established. To make the matter perfectly clear, the tape also called for the overthrow of a range of governments: "Among regions ready for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, the country of the two shrines (Saudi Arabia), Yemen and Pakistan."
Bin Laden's eventual ends are also made clear in the tape. He admonishes his followers, "You know that such a crusade war concerns the Muslim nation mainly, regardless of whether the socialist party and Saddam remain or go. So Muslims in general and Iraq in particular must pull up your pant legs for jihad against this unjust campaign."
It is this last aim that should give the Bush administration serious pause. In eliminating Saddam, the United States is in effect fulfilling bin Laden's agenda. Saddam is not a partner for al Qaeda -- he is irrelevant. Far from opposing the war, bin Laden welcomes it as a chance to humiliate the United States on the battlefield, and as an opportunity to pave the way toward an Islamic regime in previously secular Iraq.
The tape suggests that if the United States tries to eliminate Saddam, the process will not be quick and painless as administration officials have claimed. Killing the Iraqi regime will not deal a deathblow to a mushroom-like "terrorist organism." Bin Laden advises his Iraqi followers: "go and dig many trenches as it was mentioned before in the holy book, 'Take the earth as your shelter.' Such a way will deplete all your enemy's reserves in a few months."
Now we know how the war may really proceed. A quick blow in Baghdad would not instantly liberate the Iraqi people and usher in democratic rule. In the hills and caves of the Zagros mountains on Iraq's eastern borders, al Qaeda guerilla forces will be waiting for Saddam's secular army to be eliminated by General Tommy Franks and his U.S. Central Command. Then they will descend to strike in the name of revolutionary Islam.
February 13, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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