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Anatomy of a Lie
February 4, 2003
By punpirate

Note to the reader: The following is a synopsis of what is commonly available from national and international news sources on the web. I don't claim to have first-hand knowledge of events in northeastern Iraq.

Richard Armitage has grossly over-simplified and distorted the facts to suggest that Hussein is a direct supporter of Al-Qaeda. A couple of recent quotes need to be deconstructed:

"It's clear that Al Qaeda is harbored to some extent in Iraq, that there is a presence in Iraq. There are other indications of a recent assassination of our diplomat in Amman, Mr. Foley, that was apparently orchestrated by an Al Qaeda member who is a resident in Baghdad." And:

"Al-Qaeda is in several locations in Iraq."

William Safire of the New York Times has served to enable the administration's view on the matter, sometimes disingenuously, as mentioned later.

First, the administration arguments center around a splinter fundamentalist Kurd group in northeastern Iraq known as Ansar al-Islam (The Supporters of Islam). It's a relatively recent group. American news sources repeat the line that it was formed "shortly after 9/11," while English-language Arabic news sources often put its inception date around December, 2001. I suspect both descriptions are true in part. What's not mentioned in Safire's recent NYT article on Al Qaeda in Iraq is that the group, as originally created, was likely an amalgam of three smaller groups of local Kurdish fundamentalists (interesting, too, that they seem to be supporters of an extreme fundamentalist Sunni sect and are not, strictly speaking, Wahhabi Shia, the group spawning Al Qaeda); it also seems that they are enamored of Osama bin Laden because of 9/11--those three groups may have found the impetus to join together because of Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks. Safire's sly suggestion that Al-Qaeda created the group with Hussein's assistance is questionable, based on news reports from over a year ago. It's much more likely that Ansar al-Islam started as an indigenous Kurdish group, with bin Laden as a role model, rather than as a direct leader.

It's likely also true that the group was formed in December, 2001, in this sense--it's also been reported, quite a while ago, that an indeterminate number (reports generally say 20-30, maybe a few more) of Taliban/Al-Qaeda fighters fled western Afghanistan in November and December, 2001, through northern Iran, and hooked up with this strange bunch in Kurdistan. If Al-Qaeda sent money and arms to support their members there, it would be easy to assume that Ansar al-Islam was an Al-Qaeda cell, and certainly, Westerners might come to the errant conclusion that Ansar al-Islam was the creation of Al-Qaeda because of that. But, the reports going back to winter, 2001, don't say that. Ansar al-Islam was its own creator, not Al-Qaeda.

The other curious thing is that both Safire and Armitage are putting a huge amount of stock in Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi being the all-purpose Al-Qaeda leader connecting the murder of Laurence Foley in Amman and Hussein and Ansar al-Islam. Curious, because the earliest reports and follow-up reporting on Foley's assassination make no mention of al-Zarqawi (although Jordanian news sources do say that two Al-Qaeda members were detained), nor is he mentioned in the early reports of the existence of Ansar al-Islam. Certainly, Zarqawi cannot be considered as either the leader of Ansar al-Islam or the originator of that group as an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell. He is, however, the person mentioned by Armitage as being treated in Iraq, after purportedly being injured in the fighting in Afghanistan. What Armitage does not say, in this regard, is that Baghdad is a fairly common place in the Middle East for medical treatment.

In fact, the leader mentioned in more than one early report on Ansar al-Islam is someone named Mullah Krekier (spelled in some news reports as Mula Kreker). What's even more odd is that there is a later Dutch news story saying that Krekier was arrested at the airport in Amsterdam between flights, coming from Iraq to his home--in Oslo (!), and was presumably deported to Norway afterwards. Later reports state that Krekier is in exile in Norway, making his status with regard to terrorism even more uncertain--Norway would likely not willingly harbor known international terrorists.

Armitage states, and others in the Bush administration have stated, that "Al-Qaeda is in several locations in Iraq." This is meant to suggest that Al-Qaeda is operating freely in all of Iraq with Hussein's blessing. Technically, the several locations assertion is true, but the implication is not. Armitage is talking about Ansar al-Islam, not Al-Qaeda, and the several locations are a few small villages in the mountains on the extreme eastern edge of Kurdistan on the Iranian border. Ansar al-Islam has occupied and taken over a tiny sliver of Kurdistan, and has little more than 500 fighters in the region, the largest number of which are indigenous Kurds.

Safire's insinuation, on behalf of Armitage and the Bush administration, is that Zarqawi was in Iraq, as its guest, to train Ansar al-Islam in the production of chemical and biological weapons depends heavily on Jeff Goldberg's New Yorker article which recounts interviews of two Ansar al-Islam fighters captured by secular Kurds. In those interviews, Goldberg says he was told by them of al-Zarqawi and of two Iraqi Republican Guard officers seen in the largest of the villages taken over by Ansar al-Islam, thereby suggesting a connection between Hussein and international terrorism. Goldberg was apparently told that al-Zarqawi not only taught Ansar al-Islam how to make ricin (an extremely deadly biotoxin), he was also responsible for having that toxin delivered to Algerian terrorists in Turkey. That, to Armitage, is the smoking gun. Safire tries to make the connection of Ansar al-Islam and therefore Hussein, to international terrorism by stating that the Algerians caught in London were making ricin.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption, though. It wasn't necessary to give ricin to the Algerians in Turkey; supplying them with instructions would be sufficient. Moreover, why would the Algerians in London be making ricin, if they'd been given it by al-Zarqawi in Turkey, as Safire clearly intends to suggest? It was stated in this fashion to imply that this was a manufactured biotoxin, that it was a valuable commodity, and therefore constituted a link between Hussein and international terrorism.

That's the second thing wrong with Safire's assumption. There's no need to "manufacture" ricin. In fact, it's being produced in billions of places around the world right now, with the help of sun, water and soil. It's a principal protein in the bean of the castor bean plant. It's a common ornamental plant in many American gardens. The entire plant is toxic, but the greatest concentration of toxin is in the castor bean.

All that's necessary to deliver ricin is to cold-press the oil out of the bean and grind the remainder finely enough for ingestion with food. Extracting and concentrating ricin from the castor bean is a simple solvent process. The extraction process is, in fact, so simple that no training in organic chemistry is necessary and requires nothing more than a commonly available and unregulated solvent. Weaponizing ricin extract (creating a powder capable of being aerosolized for inhalation) is even simpler. And for the terrorist's purposes, the quantity of beans required is exceedingly small. Thoroughly extracted, one single bean of perhaps 3 grams contains enough ricin to kill roughly fifty people, administered directly. (It's also interesting to note that the last planned terrorist use of ricin against U.S. targets was by a right-wing extremist group in Minnesota in 1991.)

In this regard, Safire also wishes to draw connections in such a way as to imply that Hussein is funding Al-Qaeda through

Ansar al-Islam to develop chemical and biological weapons, such as ricin, for export to international terrorist groups. This is quite absurd, since the processes for extracting and weaponizing ricin are simple. The greater issue for Hussein would be how to extract it on a large, industrial scale for military use, a task of which neither al-Zarqawi nor Ansar al-Islam would have had no contributory knowledge. In fact, UNSCOM inspectors found an Iraqi scientist, before they left Iraq in 1998, with notes on ricin production, more than three years before the advent of Ansar al-Islam.

While there are reports of Iraq planting "thousands of acres of castor bean plants," it must be said that the plant has other uses. Castor bean oil is a lesser organic substitute for synthetic lubricating oils. It has the fairly unique property of its viscosity increasing with temperature, making it suitable for high-temperature lubricating. Additionally, ricin is being contemplated for use in cancer tumor therapy. This is not to say that Hussein's intention for all those castor bean plants is benign. Rather, it's meant to suggest that there are other uses for the plants, and that whatever the Bush administration is saying about Hussein's support for Al-Qaeda for the purposes of the production and export of biotoxins is pure drivel, and that the story has been put into the form it has taken in U.S. press accounts constitutes a cynical belief in the stupidity of the American people.

Safire, in his role as de facto administration spokesman, is also being disingenuous about the intelligence community's failure to acknowledge Ansar al-Islam. He says that it is their "deep denial" of 9/11-related failures that prevents them from seeing Ansar al-Islam as a terrorist link to Hussein. In fact, other reports say that U.S. intelligence is aware of Ansar al-Islam and that it considers them not significant enough of a threat to warrant a military strike on them. In these days of indiscriminate bombing of almost anyone foreign and brown-skinned, that's truly insignificant.

Safire also lumps both Iran and Iraq together as funders of Ansar al-Islam, although there is no direct evidence of funding from either government. Iran goes so far in their denial as to say that they consider Ansar al-Islam a threat to their security. That assertion of funding probably comes from the Goldberg interviews, and Goldberg himself doesn't speculate on what manner of interrogation those prisoners might have received before he arrived in Kurdistan.

So, the likely connections between Al-Qaeda and Iraq are local to Iraq and incidental, and are more properly, connections

between Ansar al-Islam and Iraq. Hussein is undoubtedly aware of the group, and may be supplying them with a small measure of support, but only because they are in conflict with independence-minded secular Kurds, and making life more difficult for secular Kurds fits into Hussein's plans to keep Iraq intact, and in that way, the association between Hussien and Ansar al-Islam can be very likely thought of as mutual interests internal to Iraq, rather than as an external terrorist threat promoted by Iraq.

All these accounts, taken together, constitute the anatomy of a lie orchestrated and leaked by the Bush administration and willingly repeated by some in the U.S. press for the express purpose of furthering war, that Hussein has direct links to international terrorism.

It's a lie for Richard Armitage to say that Al-Qaeda is in several locations in Iraq when all the evidence points to a wild bunch of bin Laden wannabes occupying a few villages on the extreme border of Iraq near Iran, who have no resources for attack on the U.S.

It's a lie for Armitage to suggest, and for William Safire to repeat, that Hussein is exporting international terrorism through Ansar al-Islam's purported production of ricin and distribution of that substance to Algerian terrorists.

It's a wild leap of the imagination for the Bush administration to suggest that Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi is the lynchpin of Iraqi efforts toward international terrorism because he was treated for a leg injury in Baghdad, and that a "man with a limp" was seen in Ansar al-Islam-held territory. Zarqawi is probably an extreme undesirable, but he's not the link between Iraq and 9/11.

It's downright stupid of the Bush administration to assert, most lately, that Iraqi spies and provocateurs are responsible for anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. More likely, we're all coming to the conclusion that Bush and his bunch are the real terrorists.

Maybe, just maybe, Bush and his boys are simply stupid liars, and think, erroneously, that the rest of America and the world are even stupider than they. That's a pretty good premise on which to begin any debate of the administration's reasons for this impending senseless war.

 
punpirate is a New Mexico writer who just reads the news.

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