IRAQ: ON SALE CHEAP
by Matt Taibbi
been steadily winding down my consumption of major news media
lately in anticipation of the inevitable blizzard of bullshit
surrounding the 9/11 anniversary. All the same, it was hard
not to notice the frenetic-- and at times highly comic-- recent
attempts by the media to sell Americans on the idea of invading
Iraq. I've seen used car salesmen do a better job of selling
a lemon than the networks and the major dailies have done
with this idiotic war idea in the past few weeks.
two weeks ago, when stories began to surface in the media
indicating that even the Republican congressional leadership
(including delusional Uber-hawk Dick Armey) was nervous about
invading Iraq, I said to myself: "If this keeps up, they're
going to find bin Laden in Iraq any day now."
administration and the White House pool reporters have been
flirting with the Iraq-Al-Qaida connection for nearly a year
now, but until recently, they were never able to get past
second base with it.
year, the government leaked a bizarre story to the press that
asserted that craggy-faced hijacker Mohammed Atta had met
with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague in April, 2001.
The story lingered in the public eye for some time before
it finally came out that Atta was in the United States during
the time of the alleged meeting.
officials also apologetically noted that they had surveillance
agents more or less sleeping in the same bed as the Iraqi
official the entire time, without any of them ever noticing
on March 18, around the time the Bush administration made
its first serious public run at convincing the electorate
to back an attack on Iraq, CIA Director George Tenet told
the Senate that there were ties between Al-Qaida and Iraq.
When pressed to explain himself, Tenet said he wasn't prepared
to offer evidence, but was willing to insist that such unlikely
cooperation between a secular dictatorship and religious fundamentalist
terrorists was at least possible. "Their ties may be limited
by divergent ideologies," he said, "but the two sides' mutual
antipathies toward the United States and the Saudi royal family
suggests that tactical co-operation between them is possible."
Even the Senate was not particularly impressed by that answer,
and so the attack plans were shelved for the moment.
finally, about a month ago, as the bomb-Iraq movement in the
White House began to pick up steam, Dapper Don Rumsfeld halfheartedly
let the Iraq-Al-Qaida connection squirm, silverfish-like,
out of his mouth at a press conference. In response to a question
about whether or not Al-Qaida had a presence in Iraq, Rumsfeld
said, "Al-Qaida in Iraq? Shit, why not? Sure, they're there!
the August 7 quote went like this: "Are there al-Qaida in
Iraq? The answer's yes, there are. It's a fact."
blurb got a little press, but it was unconvincing enough that
even most reporters felt queasy about sticking their names
on it, and it went mainly unreported, further harming the
must have been a depressing revelation for the Bush administration,
finding out that simply announcing a link between Saddam Hussein
and bin Laden was not enough to get the national press corps
to stand up and salute. After going back to the drawing board,
they came up with a more press-friendly interpretation of
the Iraq-Al-Qaida story. The important ingredient of the latest
version of events was that it was a "new" phenomenon: a "new"
terrorist group operating in Iraqi territory is testing biological
weapons, in conjunction with Al-Qaida.
is the kind of story in which it is instructive to look closely
at the timetable of the various news reports. The progression
of the story indicates a fair amount of desperation to keep
Al-Qaida in the news, and anti-war stories out. The big day
for the "new" story was August 19, when ABC's World News Tonight,
citing unnamed U.S. intelligence sources, said that the U.S.
had considered attacking northern Iraq when it was learned
that "Arab terrorists with links to Al-Qaida" had used a northern
Iraqi laboratory to test biological and chemical weapons.
language in this first news report contained the following
elements: a "possible" link to Al-Qaida, an unnamed U.S. source,
and a terrorist group that, as yet, was not being called "new."
the next day, August 20, still more unnamed sources were giving
interviews to journalists, but one official-- Rumsfeld-- went
on the record with his inevitable "I told you so" statement.
have said for some time that there are al-Qaida in Iraq, and
there are," he said. "They have left Afghanistan. They have
left other locations. And they've landed in a variety of countries,
one of which is Iraq."
is hard to imagine the initial leak coming out without Rumsfeld's
knowledge, which begs the question: Why didn't Rumsfeld make
the announcement about the new link himself? Why do it through
an anonymous source? The whole thing was very crudely done,
but the major media bit on it: they first reported the leak,
then ran to Rumsfeld for "confirmation," as though they were
two different sources.
the second day after the initial ABC report, there were numerous
officials on the record talking about the Al-Qaida/northern
Iraq link, and the link was no longer "possible" but definite
(i.e. "Kurdish Extremists Linked to Al-Qaida," AP, Aug. 21).
the third day, the "terrorist group" in northern Iraq, despite
presumably being two days older than it was on Aug. 19, was
roundly being called a "New" group for the first time (i.e.
"New Islamic extremist group in Iraq has loose links to al-Qaida,"
AP, Aug. 22). A myriad of details, some of them quite possibly
true, came out: the group, called Ansar al-Islam, had been
formed in December, 2001 (conveniently after 9/11) and had
rapidly acquired the technological sophistication to test
weapons of mass destruction. Even the Soviets never moved
were so many contradictions in these government announcements
that it literally boggles the mind to see how the media failed
not only to notice them, but to aggressively broadcast them
to the public.
one thing, the initial Aug. 19 report called the belligerents
"Arab terrorists." Within three days, it was fairly clear
that Ansar al-Islam was in fact a Kurdish group. U.S. officials
sideswiped this problem by recasting the group as predominantly
Kurdish, with a few Arabs thrown in here and there. Here is
how the AP put it: "It [Ansar al-Islam] is composed primarily
of Kurds -- and some Arabs -- who follow an extremist brand
of Sunni Islam."
second problem with this story was that the group was based
in parts of Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein. In point
of fact, the group is anti-Hussein, whose primary objective
is Kurdish liberation. Nothing could bring home this point
more clearly than the fact that on Aug. 21, mustachioed Hussein
lackey Tareq Aziz could be heard loudly announcing that Al-Qaida
operatives were in fact hanging around in Kurd-controlled
areas of Iraq. Aziz, rather than confirming a reason for an
invasion, was in fact angling for sympathy by calling his
government a victim of Al-Qaida as well. Under normal circumstances,
such an announcement by a government official would have been
tantamount to an invitation for the U.S. to bomb his nation's
U.S. officials went to bizarre lengths to twist this set of
circumstances around in such a way that the presence of anti-Hussein
Kurdish rebels-- whom Hussein himself cannot fight because
of demilitarized zone restrictions imposed by the U.S.-- could
in fact be explained as part of a Hussein plot to harbor Al-Qaida
is Rumsfeld's explanation on that issue: "In a vicious, repressive
dictatorship that exercises near total control over its population,
it's very hard to imagine that the government is not aware
of what's taking place in the country."
fairly obvious by now that the Bush administration has a hard-on
for Saddam Hussein, and is going to invade Iraq at the earliest
conceivable opportunity. It might have something to do with
the upcoming congressional elections, it might have something
to do with oil-- who knows? Whatever it is, it clearly doesn't
really have anything to do with terrorism. But guarantee it:
the next time a teenager shoots off a bottle rocket within
1000 miles of Baghdad, the Pentagon will provide him with
a link to Al-Qaida. Hell, they've already done it.