Threat from al-Qaida in Iraq will not to be ignored or avoided

By Dan Streib

Bob Herbert’s New York Times column “Now and Forever,” is about the supposedly everlasting conflict in Iraq and the “madness” of the situation there. Unfortunately, it was not a very entertaining read. This is due to the fact that Mr. Herbert speaks at great length about the financial costs of the Iraq war. What he does not seem to realize is that there are many more important issues regarding that conflict. Honestly, if you’re going to write about Iraq, you need to confront the main issue: Is our current involvement in Iraq (not the initial invasion) essential to our national security?

If it is, this involvement’s worth is incalculable. And despite my disposition against the invasion of Iraq, our current involvement in the region once known as Mesopotamia is crucial for precisely that reason.

Al-Qaida in Iraq is our biggest enemy in the conflict. Now, I know many of you who are still anti-war (as I once was) are screaming at this page and yelling something like “al-Qaida in Iraq is not al-Qaida!” Of course, it isn’t. But in the pro-withdrawal side of the argument, the devil is in their own details.

Anyone with a “Support the Troops, End the War,” sign will tell you that al-Qaida in Iraq was initially a separate terrorist group under another name, and it was headed by the now-deceased Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (victim of an American airstrike). They’re absolutely correct. The problem is that they are not examining their own argument closely enough.

Why on earth would Zarqawi have decided to pledge allegiance to al-Qaida in October 2004? Zarqawi could have caused destruction and aimed to oppose the American “occupation” without giving his group a name that would draw more U.S. bullets its way. So why did Zarqawi change his group’s name?

The natural response is damning to the “let’s withdraw now” crowd: for propaganda and recruitment purposes. If you’re recruiting people who want to help al-Qaida oppose the United States, it says two things about the al-Qaida movement in general: After being hurt in Afghanistan, it’s decentralized, but alive. In other words, the movement behind al-Qaida has gone grassroots, and al-Qaida in Iraq is its strongest emanation. This means we must destroy it regardless of its ties to al-Qaida central. The prospect of a moveable and morphable al-Qaida cannot be allowed to come to fruition. There’s a reason bin Laden called Iraq the central front in his battle against America.

One faulty argument against American involvement in Iraq is the idea that al-Qaida in Iraq is fighting us because it is pro-Iraqi and wants us out. That’s preposterous. To call it pro-Iraqi after all the attacks it’s carried out that specifically targeted innocent Baghdadis (both Sunni and Shiite – no discrimination from these heartless thugs) is disgusting. And to say that it wants us out doesn’t make sense. We’ll leave the moment Iraq is secure, and it knows this. And it causes much of the insecurity. To think that grown adults make these arguments.

Lastly, many make the claim that the area along the Afghan-Pakistan border is where the War on Terror should be focused, because al-Qaida there is getting stronger. The fact of the matter is, the obstacle to action there is Musharraf, and he’s in a process of resolving his own fate as we speak – it’s doubtful he’ll stay in power much longer. If he does, we’ll think about further action, then. But right now, with grassroots al-Qaida movements in the middle of the Middle East being a far scarier situation than bin Laden in his mountains, it is easy to understand why America needs to keep its focus on Iraq.

And this brings us to the consequences of withdrawing from Iraq. Not only are there numerous humanitarian concerns that are beyond the scope of this column, but it directly affects our security. In order to understand this, we must understand what makes al-Qaida in Iraq tick – and given that it’s not purely our withdrawal, it obviously wants something else.

It wants us to withdraw defeated. We are its enemy. Why? Like al-Qaida central, it may have minor grievances against us. The larger purpose of fighting us in Iraq may be the same as the purpose behind al-Qaida central’s 9/11 attack: just like all totalitarian ideologies, it needs a scapegoat. It needs to fight a country that some people are displeased with in order to make itself look strong. And from its perspective, what will make it look stronger than toppling the great Satan itself, America? This support it can earn is potentially strong enough to allow it to topple “corrupt” governments at home like the Saudis.

So yes, a fight is what it wants. And as proven in al-Qaida central’s attacks on us leading up to and including 9/11 (the ones on our embassies and the U.S.S. Cole), it’ll attack us to look strong until we respond. If we leave Iraq defeated, it’ll attack us again to look stronger. It won’t stop. So we have to defeat it.

Defeating a movement with such wicked plans, ambitions and intent is most definitely a cause worth fighting for. With this in mind, hopefully Mr. Herbert will now understand that it’s a cause worth paying for.