Among all the arguments about the war in Iraq, one of the most divisive rages over this question: Do the ouster of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and ensuing combat constitute part of the war against terrorism or a distraction from it?
In the election last November, the question differentiated President George W. Bush from unsuccessful Democratic challenger John Kerry. Bush maintained that the Iraqi incursion is central to the US response to terrorist attacks; Kerry called it a "profound diversion."
Both camps can claim the support of serious thinkers. Adherents of the Kerry side demand evidence of stronger ties than now can be documented between Saddam and Al-Qaida, the group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US. Bush allies say it's enough to know that Saddam had contact with Al-Qaida and financially supported families of suicide bombers in Israel.
On Dec. 27, new evidence emerged to support the Bush contention.
In an audiotape broadcast by the satellite television network Al-Jazeera, a man who claimed to be Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden endorsed Iraq's terrorist insurgents.
The man described Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian believed responsible for multiple car bombings and beheadings in Iraq, as an "emir" of Al-Qaida.
The man called an October statement by Zarqawi supporting Al-Qaida a step toward unification of the terrorist movement. Urging Iraqis to boycott parliamentary elections Jan. 30, the speaker said Al-Qaida is spending $275,000/week in Iraq.
How can it now be said that the US and its allies aren't fighting terrorists in Iraq?
Holdout backers of the diversion view will say the terrorist link developed only after the invasion of Iraq, which they seem to think provoked otherwise tender-hearted Syrians, Iranians, and formerly Baathist Iraqis into acts of utter savagery.
That view overlooks much. If they weren't in Iraq, the expatriate car-bombers and beheaders would be committing indiscriminate murder somewhere else. And the Baathists were terrorists in their own country long before the invasion that ousted Saddam.
The terrorists are taking their best shot now, and they're taking it in Iraq. On Jan. 30 they have everything to lose.
(Online Dec. 30, 2004; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)