Anytime President Bush starts expounding on the Iraq War, you're bound to hear some sort of claim that lands, unsubstantiated, into your brainpan with the force of an anvil falling from a great height. One such moment in today's Iraq War Success Retrospective was this passage:
BUSH: The Surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around. It has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror. For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be a place where al Qaeda rallied the Arab masses to drive America out. Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs join with Americans to drive al Qaeda out. In Iraq, we're witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his murderous network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated.
Uhm...I think Bush just basically proved that the "significance" of this "development" can be overstated. Badly overstated. The notion that Iraq represented "a place where al Qaeda rallied the Arab masses to drive America out," is pure, unabashed myth. In fact, mere days ago, the Pentagon released a report that stated definitively (and not for the first time) that there was no link between the Hussein regime and al Qaeda, and that while Hussein did sponsor terrorist activities, America was not a part of the equation:
The Iraqi regime was involved in regional and international terrorist operations prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq.
Pentagon officials state: "Most of the terrorism was aimed at keeping Hussein and his Baath party in power."
It's equally hard to make a case that any sort of Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden is occuring in Iraq. The relatively low violence in Iraq is just as attributable to the cease-fire that has been enforced by Muqtada al Sadr, who is resolutely uninterested in taking the fight to bin Laden. MSNBC's Richard Engel made note of this just two days ago: "Right now, Muqtada al Sadr would love to come back to the fight. He's staying out because if he did come back, his own movement would blame him for having destroyed the cease-fire that is going on right now." Additionally, Engel reported that Iraqis were hardly embarking on an anti-bin Laden initiative:
"...when I talk to Iraqi politicians, Iraqis on the street, this new - I guess you could call it militia force the U.S. military has created, the Sons of Iraq program, the former Sunni insurgents fighting alongside Americans - they don't talk about reconciliation, they talk about maintaining some sort of truce so they can settle scores later. There is a lull in the violence, an opportunity, but the fundamental problems, I think are still very much rooted here."
Even beyond the "fundamental problems" Iraq is facing - all of which are exacerbated by something else the Surge was supposed to provide, a functional and reconciled political organization - is the fact that the very forces that Bush believes are marrying themselves to the anti-terror cause are abandoning their posts:
Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.
Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.
The predominantly Sunni Awakening forces, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens, are made up mostly of former insurgents who have turned against extremists because of their harsh tactics and interpretation of Islam.
Taken as a whole, Bush's contention that Iraq is the locus of an "uprising against Osama bin Laden" is, as yet, entirely beyond belief.