Russert: Why does Bush keep saying 'al Qaeda, al Qaeda, al Qaeda' while discussing Iraq?

Ron Brynaert
Published: Sunday December 3, 2006

On NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to explain why President George W. Bush keeps harping on al Qaeda while discussing the insurgency in Iraq.

"Whenever the administration seems to be having trouble with Iraq, in terms of its message, al Qaeda comes front and center," said Russert, before showing a clip of President Bush blaming insurgent violence on al Qaeda at a press conference during his visit to Estonia last week.

Bush said, "There is a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal."

However, Russert noted, only two weeks ago, Gen. Michael D. Maples, the Defense Intelligence Agency director, told Congress that "attacks by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Iraq account for only a fraction of the insurgent violence."

"Only a fraction," Russert repeated, before also pointing out that Hadley's "own book, Victory in Iraq, says al Qaeda makes up the smallest enemy group."

Russert asked, "Why does the president keep bringing up 'al Qaeda, al Qaeda, al Qaeda,' when your own military and your own reports say that they're the smallest component of the enemy?"

"Because it's true, Tim," Hadley responded.

Russert then asked, "It's true, what?"

"It's true," Hadley insisted. "If you look at what Zarqawi said, who is the lead al Qaeda operative in Iraq, he articulated very early on a strategy for provoking sectarian violence by attacking Shi'a so they, in turn, would attack Sunni. This was part of their strategy to sow chaos, to thwart the advance of democracy and make Iraq a safe haven for terror."

Hadley explained that despite the fact that Qaeda attacks comprised the "small[est] fraction of the total of incidents...they are responsible for some of most heinous incidents -- the car bombings and other things that result in the massive -- the large civilian casualties, and it is those casualties and those incidents that have provoked the reprisals that the president has talked about."

"It's very important for the American people to understand that there is a key al Qaeda piece in all of this, and that is why one of the principal responsibilities we have, the challenges we have, is to deal with al Qaeda in Iraq," Hadley said.

Hadley added that Qaeda in Iraq was as much as a threat as Shiite death squads.

Pelosi: 'Sad' for Bush to blame Qaeda
As reported at RAW STORY, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters on Wednesday that she feels it is "sad" that President Bush continues to blame Iraqi insurgent violence on al Qaeda.

"My thoughts on the president's representations are well-known," Pelosi said. "The 9/11 Commission dismissed that notion a long time ago and I feel sad that the president is resorting to it again."

Pelosi's statement also followed a press briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, where a US military spokesman was unable to state clearly what role al Qaeda plays in Iraq violence.

Displaying a series of slides and charts, the spokesman for the multinational forces in Iraq claimed that "since October of 2004, we have now killed or captured over 7,000 al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists."

According to Major General William Caldwell, because Iraq still has a "government moving forward" with "institutions in place," and because al Qaeda in Iraq seeks "anarchy" instead of power, the current situation should not be considered a "civil war."

"We don't see an organization out there that's looking to assume the control of this country, but rather just to create anarchy, to create death, to create destruction, and that's in fact what we're combatting right now," Caldwell said.

A reporter argued that "all of those things that you've just outlined as measures of success, functioning institutions, all of those things still fit within every academic and every strategic think tank's definition of civil war anyway," but Caldwell resisted multiple entreaties to define what he considered a "civil war."

"Well, what I would tell you, Michael -- again, I can only back to -- if in fact all the governmental functions are still functioning, and we don't see an organization out there that's trying to overthrow and assume control of the government, we don't see two viable entities out there like that, what we see is a(n) entity out there that's been duly elected, representative of the people, that's got plenty of challenges in trying to work through all their difficulties but moving forward nonetheless, and we see another entity that wants to do nothing but create division amongst the people, to create anarchy, to create casualties, to separate them," Caldwell said.

A journalist asked the spokesman, "You keep saying al Qaeda in Iraq. What proportion of the Sunni resistance do you think al Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for? It's a handy tag, but in reality is it 10 percent, 50 percent of what we would loosely call Sunni resistance or insurgency?"

Caldwell didn't have an answer to the question. "We also, you know, look at that also very closely, try to identify exactly what percentage it is," he said. "What we do know is that al Qaeda in Iraq are the most well-funded, produce the most sensational attacks than any element out there. So that's where we put our predominant effort against."