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Can Osama keep Bush afloat?

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Part 2 As we discussed in part one, terrorism in general, and al Qaeda in particular, are again dominating the news. It's now just about impossible to find a report of any terrorist act (or quasi-terrorist act, like the recent failed car bombings in London), without reference to Osama bin Laden or his famous franchise.

Interestingly, we found that George W Bush has been leading the "al Qaeda" consciousness revival, despite the risk of ridicule for failing to eliminate this little outfit after squandering hundreds of billions of dollars and shedding hundreds of thousands of gallons of other people's blood in its name.

Bush has been deliberately conflating the real al Qaeda based in Pakistan with a sectarian crew called "al Qaeda in Iraq" (AQI). Every time AQI strikes, Bush calls it an al Qaeda strike. The fiction he is encouraging is this: the US really is fighting Osama in Iraq.

White House flack Tony Snow summed it all up, explaining to sceptics that, "when somebody tries to argue that al Qaeda in Iraq is not a key part of the problem, it creates a basis for saying, well, you need to go someplace else".

So the Administration has admitted it: people have got to be told that the US is fighting Osama in Iraq (where he is not), or they might expect him to be fought in Pakistan (where he is). It's clear that the Bushies have no intention of fighting the real al Qaeda management team, who are official guests of the nation of Pakistan and will not be going away any time soon. We'll be stuck with Osama & Co. for some time to come, that's for sure.

But how serious are the threats? Does AQI have any plan to widen its sphere of violence? Does Osama's al Qaeda network intend to attack the USA again? Are the two outfits really willing to work together? Bush wants us to believe all of those things, and he's getting some support from a report by the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCC), recently leaked to the Associated Press.

Interestingly, the NCC report says: "[the real] al-Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate, and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland". (our emphasis)

Forget for a minute the Goebbels-ish harmonics of a phrase like "the homeland" in a document of this sort. We seem to have a contradiction here. Consider Bush's political needs: the real al Qaeda simply has got to be hot to attack the Fatherland; how else can the Administration justify the Iraq war, its illegal mass eavesdropping, its so-called "Patriot" Act, its mass scouring and preservation of our personal details in government databases, its vast budgets for dubious "counterterrorist" programmes and gadgets, its unconstitutional military kangaroo courts, its rendition programme, its torture policies, and its secret prisons?

That's an awfully heavy load to put on Osama's shoulders, so he had better be poised to strike at any moment. But the report says al Qaeda will "probably seek" to involve AQI as a proxy force against US targets. And AQI is said to be the only al Qaeda affiliate willing to do this.

Not all that fear-inspiring, is it? Especially when you consider how much the Bushies have got riding on the notion that Osama is ready to lash out again. Mass illegal wiretaps? Osama. Suspending Habeas Corpus? Osama. Secret prisons? Osama. "Enhanced interrogation techniques"? Osama. National security letters? Osama. Hundreds of billions wasted on dubious law-enforcement, intelligence, and defence schemes? Osama. National ID cards? Osama. Fingerprinting tourists? Osama.

Oh, and the Iraq war does matter after all, because there's a violent outfit over there with "al Qaeda" in its name. Yep, Osama.

Thus, al Qaeda in Iraq is being sold as an incarnation of Osama bin Laden that the USA is actually capable of hitting. But is there much of a connection between the two? AQI's late founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, did pledge his allegiance to Osama, but whether bin Laden solicited, or even welcomed, this gesture is in doubt. Indeed, a letter allegedly from real al Qaeda honcho Ayman al-Zawahiri (denounced by AQI as a forgery) questioned AQI's excessive brutality, and might well indicate that the real al Qaeda tolerates rather than supports AQI.

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