Bush's Baghdad Mouthpiece

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 1:14 PM

The White House's favored talking point when it comes to the war in Iraq is an attempt to link the violence there with al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and 9/11.

Most of the violence is a result of Iraqis fighting each other and the U.S. occupation. Yet on July 4, at an Independence Day celebration in West Virginia, President Bush announced: "Many of the spectacular car bombings and killings you see are as a result of al Qaeda -- the very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th. A major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States on that fateful day."

He honed the point on July 10 in Cleveland: "The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims." At his July 12 press conference, Bush mentioned al-Qaeda 31 times.

His aides are also on message. Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend echoed Bush's comments (at the White House and on CNN) while spinning a critical intelligence report on Tuesday.

But lately the media has been pushing back a bit on this particular Bush deception.

On July 11, Jonathan S. Landay noted for McClatchy Newspapers that the group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq "didn't emerge until 2004." Michael Abramowitz wrote in The Washington Post that while the group's "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." And the Los Angeles Times reported: "A Pentagon report late last year . . . said that Shiite Muslim militias, not Al Qaeda, were the largest threat to security in Iraq."

Not long after New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt's scolded his own paper for not confronting Bush on the issue, Times reporters Michael R. Gordon and Jim Rutenberg wrote in a front-page story that Bush's assertions "have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership."

And the coverage of Tuesday's intelligence report (see yesterday's column) was full of skepticism over the White House's attempted conflation.

So what a stroke of luck it was for the White House when, just a day later, the chief military spokesman in Iraq revealed a dramatic story that would appear to support the president's new favorite talking point: Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner chose yesterday to announce the arrest -- two weeks ago -- of a man he called a leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who he said had told interrogators about a close operational relationship between his group and Osama bin Laden's inner circle.

Was the timing coincidental? And is Bergner credible? Until recently he was a member of the White House's national security staff, holding the title of senior director for Iraq. Since taking up his new post in May, Bergner has made a series of politically charged allegations against both al Qaeda and Iran, many of which have been basically unverifiable.

More on Bergner's history below. But first, a look at what he announced yesterday.

The Coverage

Megan Greenwell and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post: "Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, said the July 4 capture of Khalid al-Mashhadani has yielded evidence of the relationship between bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. President Bush has long said that al-Qaeda and the Iraqi group that shares its name are one and the same, an assertion that U.S. intelligence officials say is an oversimplification.

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