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Monday, October 04, 2004

The Myth of the All-Purpose Terrorist

Australia's The Age newspaper has an article about that scourge of Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who recovered from death and amputation to lead an insurgency of car bombings, RPG's and beheadings, all while limping from "safe house" to "safe house" in Fallujah just ahead of American "smart bombs." Well, The Age has tugged on Superman's cape and discovered what many of us already suspected: the intelligence about Zarqawi and his safe houses may be slightly better than the "darned good intelligence" that Bush and Kerry saw about Iraq's WMD's, but it is clearly not up to the quality of Dan Rather's TANG documents or the Hitler diaries. The Age article requires registration, which I went through so you don't have to. But I'll give you some fairly extensive quotes from the article here:
American intelligence obtained through bribery may have seriously overstated the insurgency role of the most wanted fugitive in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

US agents in Baghdad and Fallujah have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one, "told us what we wanted to hear".

"We were basically paying up to $US10,000 ($A13,700) a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," one agent said.

"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."

Officials in Washington have linked Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, casting the Jordanian extremist as leader of the insurgency, mastermind of suicide bombings and the man behind the abduction of foreign hostages.

But some critics of the war say the Bush Administration has deliberately skewed the level of Zarqawi's involvement in an attempt to portray the insurgency as a war waged by foreign Islamic terrorists.
"From the information we have gathered, we have to conclude Zarqawi is more myth than man. At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency, he would be an Iraqi. But the insurgency is not nearly so centralised to talk of a structured leadership."

Military intelligence officials complain that their reports to Washington are largely being ignored and accuse the Pentagon of over-reliance on electronic surveillance and aerial and satellite reconnaissance by the CIA.

In recent weeks America has claimed a series of precision air strikes on targets in Fallujah identified by the CIA as housing known Zarqawi associates.

It has denied that there were any civilian casualties, despite television pictures showing dead and wounded women and children being pulled from the rubble of flattened homes.
(Via Left I on the News)