Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Inside Iraq, 2007-05-18

Last Friday's episode of Inside Iraq on Al Jazeera English featured an interesting panel discussion, with a U.S. military CENTCOM spokesperson squaring off with a Sri Lankan "terrorism expert" in Singapore and the Palestinian-exile editor of an Arabic-language newspaper in London, talking about the Iraq War. I've got a transcript below the fold, but first I should introduce the characters. Your moderator is Jasim al-Azzawi, who worked as a translator for the U.S. State Department before joining Al Jazeera English. He spares no one in his direct and pointed questions. The U.S. military spokesperson is Captain Frank Pascual, who has been on this show before, and who has said openly that America's fear of letting Al Jazeera English onto our cable TVs is ludicrous, because we have nothing to fear from a diverse expression of freedom of the press. The other two characters are a bit more colorful in their backgrounds. Rohan Gunaratna (via satellite from his terrorism institute in Singapore) is an "expert" on international terrorism (because he says so, and because he's from Sri Lanka and they have had terrorists there almost non-stop for 32 years now). He was shown much more often on Australian TV news than on ABCBNBCNN-MTV, but he was a diehard apologist for Australian involvement in the Iraq conflict. Tony Blair gets all the press for being George W. Bush's female "poodle," but John Howard is far more of a spineless kiss-ass. Lastly, we have Abd al-Bari Atwan, also known as Abdul Bari Atwan, but always عبد الباري عطوان to his friends. He's the editor of al-Quds al-Arabi, a London-based, Arabic-language newspaper which has taken a strong editorial stance that Arab governments are to be faulted for being too obedient to America and Britain and Israel. He is viewed by some as an apologist for Saddam Hussein's regime. Each of the panelists has some bias and an agenda; keep that in mind as you read what he had to say.

Transcript of Inside Iraq on Al Jazeera English, original airdate 2007-05-18. Copyright ©2007 Al Jazeera English.

Jasim al-Azzawi: Hello, and welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm Jasim Azzawi. Before 9/11, Iraqis never heard of al Qaeda. Today, their country is the epicenter of a holy war. The US invasion of Iraq is a great unexpected gift to bin Laden, reviving the fortune of his terror operation and shifting the center of global terrorism from Afghanistan to Iraq. The question on the mind of everyone now is, what do you do next, and how do you get al Qaeda out of Iraq? Here is Nadim Baba.
Nadim Baba: A huge search underway south of Baghdad after al Qaeda in Iraq abducted three U.S. soldiers. Many Iraqis are wondering how long their country will remain the key battlefield between America and Osama bin Laden's network. Baghdad's links with al Qaeda, along with weapons of mass destruction, were the pretext for the invasion. Various U.S. reports have since said there was proof of neither.

[unknown]: And now, I think they are holding a very strong position in Iraq, and also they are dealing with the other scattered parts of al Qaeda in other parts of the world, and this is very, very serious matter for the Iraqi, but before that one, before the invasion, there was no possibility for al Qaeda to be in Iraq.

Baba: The death of Abu Mussab al Zarqawi in a U.S. air strike last June prompted national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie to proclaim the beginning of the end of al Qaeda in Iraq. The surge in sectarian violence over the last year would suggest otherwise. In recent months, it's become clear some Sunni groups in what's referred to as "the resistance" are breaking away from al Qaeda. One of those groups is the Anbar Awakening [PDF], an alliance of tribal leaders in western Iraq. They claim to control 15,000 fighters, and they've told al Qaeda bluntly: they disagree with their tactics.

[unknown]: The splintering is important for the future of Iraq, no doubt, and that's, of course, the thing we ought to be most concerned about, but it doesn't mean that the United States' military efforts are necessarily going to be any easier.

[unknown]: I think what they are doing, they cannot work with any Islamic movement in Iraq, whether they are Shia or Sunni. They are both [inaudible] by the invasion of their country.

Baba: In 2002, antiwar activists issued a warning, depicting an invasion of Iraq as the perfect recruitment drive for the al Qaeda leader. Intelligence agencies around the world would now tend to agree. What's not clear is the extent to which a U.S. withdrawal would put paid to al Qaeda's aims in the region. Nadim Baba for Inside Iraq.
Azzawi: To shed some light on al Qaeda in Iraq, I'm joined from London by Abd al-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, and one of only a handful of journalists who interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan, and from U.S. Central Command by spokesman Captain Frank Pascual, and from Singapore by international terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, and an author of Inside al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Rohan, the center of terrorism has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. The U.S. has won the war, but they have won it for bin Laden.

Gunaratna: The epicenter of international terrorism has certainly shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, particularly after the death of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, his organization has now taken full control over al Qaeda in Iraq.

Azzawi: Frank Pascual, what have you done? I mean, this center has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. The former chief of MI-6, the British intelligence officer Sir [Richard] Dearlove says it has become the holy ground for a holy battle. What has the U.S. done? What has it achieved by shifting it into Iraq?

Capt. Frank Pascual: Well, I think there are a number of exaggerations in a number of comments in the opening, but to talk about al Qaeda, I think what we have to take a look at is what their purposes are, what their goals are, what in fact that they're doing. To suggest that Osama bin Laden has won something, I think that's quite an overstatement. I think when you look at it, the man is still in hiding. Yes, al Qaeda is there, yes, al Qaeda has an influence, and yes, we're fighting them at the same time, but I would not look at that as something that is gaining influence — in fact, the point I think that was made earlier about al Anbar province, which pretty much everybody about a year ago wrote off as an impossible place, has changed dramatically. We've seen a tremendous amount of participation on the part of the sheikhs, the tribal leaders, and those who are joining the Iraqi government, the Iraqi police force, and the Iraqi army, and trying to contribute to solving the problem of al Qaeda in that part of the country.

Azzawi: Abd al-Bari Atwan, despite the American denial, as represented by Frank Pascual, the reality is, al Qaeda has been entrenched in Iraq. Is this a result of perhaps a Cold War thinking, a Cold War theory that all terror networks are linked together, and subsequently Saddam and al Qaeda are one and the same?

Abd al-Bari Atwan: No. I believe Saddam Hussein was a secular leader. Actually, he hated Islamic fundamentalism. While the Americans actually were training and financing Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world to fight the Soviet Union, actually, Saddam Hussein was supporting liberal groups, Arab nationalist groups, so I believe the American, actually, who created Islamic fundamentalism, financed it, and prepared the ground for them. This is one thing. Second thing, I believe Osama bin Laden managed to outfox the Americans. He told me personally in November 1996, he cannot go and fight the Americans inside the United States, on the American mainland, but if he managed to drag them to the Middle East, where he can fight them in his own terms and his own turf, I think this would be a great victory to him. The Americans actually fulfilled, as you said in the beginning of this program, fulfilled the wish of Osama bin Laden when they invaded Iraq, when they occupied Iraq. Al Qaeda flourishes in failed states, and if you look at Afghanistan, Iraq, you know — failed states, the best environment for al Qaeda, and I'm sorry to say it, but America actually created this right atmosphere for al Qaeda.

Azzawi: Frank, why would Osama bin Laden welcome the invasion of Iraq? We saw a little poster in the package that says, I Want You to Invade Iraq, because he simply cannot cross the oceans and go to the U.S., so he would like some hostages inside Iraq.

Pascual: Well, I would disagree. I think September 11th, al Qaeda managed to pull off a remarkable terrorist activity in New York City, and that's my home town. I was there that day. I would also say —

Azzawi: [overlapping] They cannot do it on a daily basis, Frank, I mean, this big, spectacular —

Pascual: [overlapping] — hindsight, in these types of discussions, as well, where people start to form things. I would suggest to you that we're talking about a Cold War era here, back in the period when the Soviet Union, then Soviet Union, attacked and invaded, if you will, and occupied Afghanistan, we were not arming Islamic fundamentalists for that purpose. I'm even concerned about the use of that phrase: we were arming people who lived in that country to oppose the Soviet invasion at that time. To look at it the other way, is through the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, and a rather distorted view, I would say.

Azzawi: If that is the case, Rohan, why are we exaggerating the importance, the nature, and the achievement of al Qaeda in Iraq? Is it simply because people who have vested interests in this to continue — is al Qaeda trying to promote itself by getting the mantle of anti-Americanism? Why are we giving too much emphasis to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Gunaratna: In Iraq, there are a number of groups, nationalist groups as well as there are Islamist groups. Certainly al Qaeda is one of the groups operating in Iraq, but this group poses a very significant danger because of the scale of attacks al Qaeda had mounted, like 9/11, like the East Africa [U.S. embassy] attacks, the [U.S.S.] Cole attack, also, even the attacks inside Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq has been the most deadliest of the groups. It has conducted the most amount of suicide attacks, so I think that it is important to pay special attention to the presence of Abu Ayyub al-Masri's al Qaeda in Iraq organization. This group poses the single biggest challenge, not only to the security of Iraq, but also to the security of the Middle East and international security.

Atwan: Well, actually, let me just say something to Frank, here. I would like to say that, when I said al Qaeda managed to outfox the American, yes, 11th of September was a provocative move or attack by al Qaeda in order actually to trap the Americans, to engage them, to push them to invade Iraq or other places in the Middle East so they can fight them. I would like to ask Frank, if al Qaeda, for example, bombed the World Trade Center in Peking, do you think China would go and invade Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Afghanistan as a retaliation? I believe the Americans were provoked, and they actually fell into the trap of al Qaeda, and they are paying a very heavy price for that. They lost their image, they lost their reputation, they lost about 3,000 of their soldiers, 20,000 were injured, they lost more than $600 billion, so I believe, when I said Osama bin Laden managed to outfox the Americans, this is the outcome. It is written on the wall. So I think —

Azzawi: What would you have them do, Abd al-Bari Atwan? You want the most powerful nation on earth, the only superpower in 2001, to be attacked in the very heart of its financial center as well as the military complex, and just say, "Please give us Osama bin Laden," and Mullah Omar said no — what would you have them do? You just wait and see until somebody will have a notion to say, okay, let's kick them out of Afghanistan?

Atwan: Yes, but they were in Afghanistan. They managed to destroy 85 to 90% of al Qaeda infrastructure. They deprived al Qaeda of its safe haven in Tora Bora. Also, they removed Taliban, the protector of al Qaeda. So, I think they should have said, this is enough, but to go and invade Iraq, actually, this plays into the hands of al Qaeda.

Azzawi: So, you fell for it, Frank. In fact, you fell into a trap set up all along for you by Osama bin Laden, and you are suffering for it.

Pascual: I don't believe he's quite that smart. I mean, forgive me if I disagree with Abd al-Bari. You know, I look at this, and I remember that day so vividly. I stood in that neighborhood in lower Manhattan, which is where I worked, traditionally, and the thought that this was the key to Iraq is preposterous, quite frankly.

Azzawi: If that is the case, let me stop you for just a second, Frank.

Pascual: What we did was, we went after al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Azzawi: Frank, hold on just a second —

Pascual: Let me finish, Jasim, just because —

Azzawi: Just before the break, I want to say this —

Pascual: Hold on, Jasim — before the break? Okay.

Azzawi: If 9/11 was not the pretext for invading Iraq, in that case, all along the invasion of Iraq was in the planning, regardless of September 11. That's exactly what you are saying.

Pascual: No, I'm saying quite the opposite. What we looked at there, on that particular day, was where the source of terrorism was, and it was certainly in Afghanistan. You will remember that September 11 was 2001; the invasion of Afghani — excuse me, of Iraq, took place in March 2003. These were not connected events immediately; this was not a knee-jerk reaction or anything like it. There were a number of different factors, and I'm surprised that everybody on the panel here seems to have forgotten, but there were a number of things that were expressed as concerns. We certainly had the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction, okay, and we've talked about that endlessly. We also talked about the violation of U.N. sanctions, Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow the weapons inspectors in, and a number of other things that had happened that were the cause there. To suggest that Osama bin Laden had concocted this whole thing and dragged us into it, is pretty close to preposterous.

Azzawi: Frank, we will continue this discussion, but first we will take a break. and when we come back, we are going to ask Rohan to tell us what was the reason for September 11 and Iraq and al Qaeda. Stay with us.
President Bush: There are some who, uh, feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.
[commercial break]
President Bush: I was saying, "Bring it on." Kinda tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people, that, umm, uh, I've learned some lessons about, uh, umm, expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner.
Azzawi: President Bush perhaps regretting an earlier call to "bring it on." We are discussing al Qaeda in Iraq with three experts. Rohan, the Bush administration actually never stated on the eve of the war that Saddam Hussein is responsible for 9/11. They never made that link, but in the same sentence, whenever they talked about 9/11, they mentioned Saddam and they mentioned the regime. They created that kind of illusion, that kind of insinuation. Somehow, Saddam Hussein was linked, or in one way was responsible for that. Was that deliberate, or was that simply part of the environment of post-9/11?

Gunaratna: U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was fully justified, because al Qaeda had made Afghanistan into a terrorist Disneyland, and they were mounting attacks in a number of countries, using Afghanistan, but if we look at Iraq, in Iraq the evidence that al Qaeda was operating in Iraq, al Qaeda was working with Saddam Hussein, that Saddam was working on weapons of — developing weapons of mass destruction, all of these, we had no evidence, and I think that the American invasion of Iraq was a mistake. And today there is wide acknowledgement, even in the United States, that it is a mistake. But where should we go from now onwards? Now we believe, now there is a belief that if the United States and the coalition forces withdraw from Iraq, they may have to go back to Iraq after a few years. Very much the same way, after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, we saw that Afghanistan became a very important center for a number of terrorist groups. That same —

Azzawi: Rohan is very politely saying, this is a mistake, this is nothing short of a blunder. And now, the question he was asking, How do you get out of here? Is there a way for Iraq to be put back together, to extract al Qaeda out of Iraq, and for the Americans to leave a semblance of normality?

Atwan: Well, I think the Americans broke Iraq, and they are not actually able to fix it again. This is the problem: they destroyed the country, they killed more than 665,000 of its population, the middle class, which is the most important class in Iraq, they are running away —

Pascual: [overlapping] That number has never been demonstrated to be valid. That number is not valid. That is a number that is based on a guess. It's a fake number. It has absolutely never been validated. Never.

Atwan: Frank, it is not my number.

Pascual: [overlapping] I agree. It's nobody's number.

Atwan: This number actually given by the Lancet [PDF] medical magazine, which is a highly reputable British magazine —

Pascual: [overlapping] Its reputation does not matter; that number is a false number. Nobody has ever come [inaudible] to defend that number.

Atwan: The research, you know, these figures were reached by Johns Hopkins researchers, it wasn't by Arab researchers, so I think it is very accurate, and the number could be much higher. But anyway, this is one of the problems, one side of the problem. I believe that these talks about al Qaeda being linked to Saddam Hussein is absolutely non-existence. We know that al Qaeda considers Saddam Hussein as atheist infidel, and also Saddam Hussein actually never accepted Osama bin Laden or never worked with Islamic fundamentalism. But anyway, we can see the outcome now. What's the American are going to do? Absolutely they can do nothing when the means of the truth —

Azzawi: [inaudible] the Americans, Abd al-Bari. What are you going to do, Frank?

Atwan: Let me say just one thing: you know, it is an unwinnable war in Iraq, and the Americans have to admit that, and the Congress actually said it clearly. President Bush should declare defeat in Iraq and start to pull out of there.

Azzawi: And then what? And then what?

Atwan: The Iraqis will sit together and they will sort out their problems. They will reach a solution. They will reach a reconciliation. But —

Azzawi: And leave Iraq for al Qaeda? Leave al-Anbar, Ramadi, and all this area, and perhaps even come into Baghdad?

Atwan: No! Look: al Qaeda is in Iraq because the Americans are there. Once the Americans, the foreign elements, pull out of Iraq, I believe al Qaeda is not justified to be there. The Iraqi people will say, "Please leave our country."

Azzawi: If the Americans leave, al Qaeda simply will just say, "Thank you very much. Now they have left, we're going to pursue them perhaps in Saudi Arabia, or somewhere else"? Is that —

Gunaratna: In my opinion, al Qaeda will grow stronger in Iraq. It would be a fatal mistake for the United States to withdraw from Iraq at this point of time. The United States should strengthen the Iraqi security forces. The United States should strengthen the Iraqi police forces. And it is only after that, the U.S. and the coalition forces should withdraw. If the United States withdraws from Iraq today, what will happen is, the U.S. will have to come back after 2 or 3 years, back to Iraq to fix Iraq, because Iraq will be used by al Qaeda to mount attacks.

Atwan: Rohan, Rohan, Rohan, why the Americans should go back? This is Iraqi territories. This is not American satellite state. This is not American colony. This is independent Arab state. The American invaded it illegally and illegitimate invasion —

Azzawi: Abd al-Bari Atwan, the dual goals of al Qaeda in Iraq, as declared by them, is not only to fight the Americans, but also to fight the Iranians. As a matter of fact, they look at Iran as a long-term goal enemy, and then the United States. The whole idea of al Qaeda is to establish an Islamic state, as well as to generate some sort of sectarian civil war in Iraq, so that's the reason Rohan is saying America cannot afford to leave.

Pascual: Jasim, the most important thing that everybody's forgetting here, everybody's losing sight of the fact, what we're talking about here is the Iraqi people. That's the most important thing here. What we're doing right now, what we're working on right now, is trying to give them the chance for a future. You can debate all you want — and we have debated for years now — the causes of the invasion, why we're there, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is, he's right: al Qaeda is there. Rohan is exactly right: if we were to leave right now, it would be calamitous. If the al Qaeda people that were in Afghanistan used that as a base until they were forced out or forced away, now you find them in Iraq, do you think they're just going to leave? That's absolutely naïve. I can't imagine somebody seriously saying that. In addition to, they're the ones that fomented sectarian violence. They coldly and calculatedly did exactly that. I mean, that's their purpose. When you talk about what al Qaeda's goals are, you never talk about them in terms of anything that has anything to do with anybody's dignity or the future of the Iraqi people.

Atwan: We cannot blame al Qaeda only for this sectarian civil war. I think the Americans started, they started this sectarian division among the Iraqi people —

Pascual: [overlapping] That is absolutely ridiculous.

Atwan: — when they [inaudible] this governing council. Actually, when they incorporated one side of Iraqi and the new American-Iraqi army, when they incorporated them in the security forces and the police, so the Americans actually started these sectarian problems, and al Qaeda, many believe that [inaudible] advantages, so we cannot —

Pascual: [overlapping] Sectarian violence started in February 2006 with the [al-Askari or "Golden" Mosque of] Samarra bombing. That's when it started. It was instituted, it was initiated by al Qaeda in a very cold and calculated way.

Atwan: No, it started, perhaps, before.

Azzawi: Rohan, this is the last word for you.

Pascual: [overlapping] [inaudible] the Samarra bombing in February 2006: to suggest the United States did that is ridiculous.

Azzawi: We are almost out of time. Rohan, to what extent did the lack of knowledge of Iraq lead to the calamitous situation we are right in? We have only less than one minute.

Gunaratna: I believe there was a lack of understanding of Iraq and its neighbors on the part of the United States, and I believe that now we must look towards the future. We must ensure that Iraq does not come under al Qaeda control. We should encourage Arab governments to send troops. We should encourage European governments to send troops and stabilize Iraq. If we do not do this, Iraq will come increasingly under al Qaeda control.

Azzawi: Rohan, Frank, and Bari, gentlemen, thank you for being guests on Inside Iraq. To access the show and to send us your comments, please go to our website, AlJazeera.net/English. We have reached the end of this show. Join me next week when we take another look Inside Iraq. Good-bye.
First of all, note that — to his credit — Captain Frank Pascual did not even try to rebut the claim that the whole Iraq War was a huge mistake. He does put up a fight, though, for the (only slightly less absurd) proposition that somehow Osama bin Laden is unhappy with the way things have turned out since 9/11. Say what you will about Abd al-Bari Atwan, but he's right on one core point: Saddam and Osama were not only not friends, they were mortal enemies. The United States, fresh from taking out al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan, decided to go create a new one for them in Iraq, with plenty of Americans as practice targets for training. Frank Pascual says he doesn't think that Osama bin Laden was smart enough to think of drawing the United States into a protracted ground war in the Middle East, despite the fact that al Qaeda talked about it openly before 9/11. Conversely, I don't think that George W. Bush is stupid enough, crazy enough, coked out enough, corrupt enough, or criminal enough to have deliberately created a disaster in Iraq, despite the fact that he says he's the "Decider," even while his decisions are wreaking havoc that will take generations to heal.

Rohan Gunaratna's record, by the way, is a bit mixed. There is the demonstrated and admitted fact that he puffed up a couple of job titles a little bit, but really pretty slightly, in fact. He didn't invent multiple, wholly fictional college degrees, and he didn't claim to have worked anywhere that he didn't, he just added a bit of a flourish on "assistant underling, first class." More worthy of your attention are the disputes about some of his analysis and his chumminess with certain governments. Having said that, I do believe that the United States cannot just snap our fingers and pull out of Iraq, not just because it will take weeks to coordinate all the necessary flights, but also because, as badly as we have fucked up Iraq, we can still make it worse. It is for that reason that I believe the central focus of American policy in Iraq needs to be finding the fastest way to get us out of there with a minimum of further damage. The Iraqi government needs to focus itself on the necessity — not so much for our sake as for its own political survival — of focusing its policy on the same goal: Yankee Go Home.

I do want to challenge both Frank Pascual and Abd al-Bari Atwan about the 665,000 number. Captain Pascual, if your argument is that the Iraq War is okay because we killed only half that many — or even one-tenth that many — then you won't be going to the debate finals this year. On the other hand, Abd al-Bari set you up by pushing the number instead of the reality behind whatever the real number might be. The bottom line: not only has the United States fucked up the occupation, we have fucked up a lot of people's lives, far more than just the ones we've killed. Add in the people who sympathize with the Iraqis more than with the United States, and you've got an enormous population of people pissed off at the United States of America. You have an even larger population who have no faith whatsoever that the U.S. can do anything to make the situation better, much less good. We cannot fix Iraq. Not with 160,000 troops, not with 200,000 troops, not even with 500,000 troops. Not with a year or a decade or a century. The young Octavian (the future Augustus Caesar) in HBO's Rome said, after learning that a careless slip of his tongue had contributed to Caesar's death, "The jug is broken; I cannot mend it with regret." On the other hand, we cannot mend Iraq without showing our regret for how badly we fucked up their country and their lives — kinda like how Osama bin Laden fucked up (one small part of) our country and seriously fucked up several thousand lives, only worse.

Of course, I don't want to sound like Barney the purple dinosaur, saying that we just have to start with "We're sorry" to make everything all better, nor even like Abd al-Bari Atwan, saying that, when the U.S. leaves Iraq, the Iraqis will ask al Qaeda to please leave and poofEKTÒ they'll disappear, leaving the Iraqis to just work out all those pesky centuries-old blood feuds. As far as the political will necessary to get the U.S. out of Iraq, that's going to have to come from the Iraqi government, because we saw today that the Democrats in Congress don't have the will to do what needs doing, and President Bush certainly doesn't. Our politicians are willing to let you twiddle your thumbs in a rising tide of blood — you take your time, now; no hurry — but the American people aren't, and the Iraqi people aren't. "Sovereignty" means "taking responsibility for the decisions that define your nationhood," not "taking a two-month summer vacation in the middle of a civil war."

Lastly, on the issue of who started the sectarian violence, I need to lay out some middle ground between Captain Pascual and Abd al-Bari Atwan, because they're both wrong. The truth is that the United States did contribute to the sectarian tensions in Iraq, from the beginning of the occupation. On the one hand, we tried to be even-handed in dealing with the factions, but at the same time we started off by saying, essentially, "Okay, all you Sunnis over here, Kurds next door, and Shia in the Grand Ballroom," instead of, "Okay, liberals over here, conservatives over there, and moderates in the middle." From the beginning, we sought out "leaders of the Shia community" and "leaders of the Sunni community" and so forth. We undermined the very concept of Iraqi national unity to which we paid such fervent lip service. On the other hand, the bombing of the Askariya Mosque (مرقد الامامين علي الهادي والحسن العسكر) really did mark a watershed in the sectarian violence. It didn't start it outright from total calm, but it certainly ratcheted things up sharply. But to be clear, Captain Pascual, no one ever suggested for a moment that the United States bombed the golden mosque, or even started the sectarian violence. Let's hope you were just knocking down a strawman, rather than hiding a guilty conscience.

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