In 'surge of facts,' Bush emphasizes Al Qaeda-Iraq link
His speech in South Carolina Tuesday drew on a recent intelligence report.
On Tuesday President George W. Bush delivered what some have called his longest, most detailed argument yet that Al Qaeda in Iraq is linked to the central Al Qaeda organization. Speaking to 300 troops at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, the president argued that a new unclassified report clearly indicated a connection between the Al Qaeda who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is largely believed to be composed of a strong majority of Iraqi nationals. Politicians, intelligence officials, and regional analysts have met Mr. Bush's recent assertions with much skepticism.Skip to next paragraph
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In his address Bush made it clear that he intended to rebut those who accused him of drawing links between the two organizations to create a "distraction from the real war on terror." In his speech, reprinted on the official White House website, Bush accused those who contested his position of having problems "with the facts."
Here's the bottom line: Al Qaida in Iraq is run by foreign leaders loyal to Osama bin Laden. Like bin Laden, they are cold-blooded killers who murder the innocent to achieve al Qaida's political objectives. Yet despite all the evidence, some will tell you that al Qaida in Iraq is not really al Qaida – and not really a threat to America. Well, that's like watching a man walk into a bank with a mask and a gun, and saying he's probably just there to cash a check.
White House officials have ardently defended Bush's speech, but many Democratic congressmen criticized the president of exaggerating the connection between the two groups, reports The New York Times.
Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director, said the speech was devised as a "surge of facts" meant to rebut critics who say Mr. Bush is trying to rebuild support for the war by linking the Iraq group and the one led by Mr. bin Laden.
But Democratic lawmakers accused Mr. Bush of overstating those ties to provide a basis for continuing the American presence in Iraq. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, said Mr. Bush was "trying to justify claims that have long ago been proven to be misleading."
Intelligence officials and counterterrorism experts also called Bush's speech "misleading." Throughout the speech the president referred to Al Qaeda 95 times, but of those he only referenced Al Qaeda in Iraq 29 times, reports the Los Angeles Times. He also warned that a withdrawal of US troops could turn Iraq into a terrorist training ground akin to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think what the president is saying is in some sense fundamentally misleading," said Robert Grenier, former head of the counter-terrorism center at the CIA as well as the agency's mission manager for the war in Iraq. "If he means to suggest the invasion of Iraq has not created more jihadists bent on killing Americans, and that if Iraq hadn't been there as a magnet they would have been attracted somewhere else, that's completely disingenuous."
The war "has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq," Grenier said.