A July 12 Washington Post editorial headlined “Wishful Thinking on Iraq” asserted that U.S. generals in Iraq “believe they are making fitful progress in calming Baghdad, training the Iraqi army and encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions.” But by claiming that the generals are “encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions,” the editorial conflated -- as the Bush administration has done -- the Sunni insurgent group “Al Qaeda in Iraq” with the Osama bin Laden-led group responsible for the 9-11 attacks. As Media Matters for America has noted, “U.S. military and intelligence officials” reportedly “reject” the Bush administration's claim that, in President Bush's words, "[t]he same people that attacked us on September the 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children" in Iraq. The Post itself reported on the distinction between the two groups in a July 11 article, a distinction ignored by the Post's editorial writer.
From the July 11 Post article:
In his speech, Bush once again conflated two organizations, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the international network led by Osama bin Laden, saying that the same group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq. While the Iraq militants are inspired by bin Laden, intelligence analysts say the Iraqi group is composed overwhelmingly of Iraqis and does not take direction from bin Laden.
The Post editorial claimed that just like Bush, “advocates for withdrawal” from Iraq are engaging in “wishful thinking” because of the numerous “risks of withdrawal” including “full-blown civil war, conflicts spreading beyond Iraq's borders, or genocide.” The editorial argued that "[b]efore Congress begins managing rotation schedules and ordering withdrawals [from Iraq], it should at least give those generals the months they asked for to see whether their strategy can offer some new hope" because they “believe they are making fitful progress in calming Baghdad, training the Iraqi army and encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions.”
But the editorial did not explain which “al-Qaeda” group it was referring to. A June 28 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that “U.S. military and intelligence officials ... say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops” and that "[t]he group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides." Moreover, describing the enemy in Iraq as “Al Qaeda” echoes a rhetorical strategy adopted by the Bush administration and noted by New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt in his July 8 column: “As domestic support for the war in Iraq continues to melt away, President Bush and the United States military in Baghdad are increasingly pointing to a single villain on the battlefield: Al Qaeda.” Hoyt wrote that this strategy has “political advantages” because the group “is an enemy Americans understand.”
Other major news outlets have also recently noted the distinction between the two groups. For example, on July 11, the Los Angeles Times devoted an article to Bush's conflation of Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq:
By describing the U.S. effort in Iraq largely as a struggle against Al Qaeda, President Bush on Tuesday reached for a familiar -- but widely questioned -- way of defining the war.
Insurgents affiliated with the group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq have been involved in many attacks in that country. But the CIA, Pentagon and other experts have debated the group's role in Iraq and its ties to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The June 28 McClatchy article noted that Bush's description of Al Qaeda as “the main enemy” in Iraq was “rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts”:
Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida “the main enemy” in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.
The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.
Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.