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On the July 11 edition of ABC's World News, correspondent Terry McCarthy uncritically repeated the assertion by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, that "[t]he enemy in Iraq that is causing the horrific attacks that is igniting the sectarian violence, that is causing the mass casualties and damaging the infrastructure by and large is Al Qaeda." McCarthy repeatedly referred to the military's strategy for fighting "Al Qaeda," but at no point did he note that that the Bush administration's assertion that Al Qaeda is the America's primary enemy in Iraq and the source of most of the violence in the country has been rejected by many military and intelligence analysts, as The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers have reported.
McCarthy repeatedly echoed the Bush administration talking point that that "Al Qaeda" is the United States' biggest enemy in Iraq. He began his report by commenting that the "[r]ich farmland along the Tigris River ... is the so-called triangle of death, the Sunni belt south of Baghdad, full of Al Qaeda extremists." McCarthy later reported that the military has taken its fight against "Al Qaeda extremists" to "Al Qaeda territory about 20 miles south of Baghdad," where the military is attempting to "turn the local population against Al Qaeda." McCarthy added: "Turning the local population against Al Qaeda takes time. And that's one commodity that General Petraeus is running out of." McCarthy concluded by saying that the "fields south of Baghdad are still a major battlefield in the fight against Al Qaeda. But, increasingly, Petraeus knows the most important battle in the Iraq war is being fought out in Washington."
In a July 11 article, The Washington Post noted that President Bush had "conflated" the main Al Qaeda organization with the insurgent group that calls itself "Al Qaeda in Iraq," and added, "While the Iraq 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." As Media Matters for America has previously noted, a June 28 McClatchy article reported that these officials "say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops" and that "[t]he group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides." From McClatchy:
Bush's use of al Qaida in his speech had strong echoes of the strategy the administration had used to whip up public support for the Iraq invasion by accusing the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of cooperating with bin Laden and implying that he'd played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Administration officials have since acknowledged that Saddam had no ties to bin Laden or 9-11.
A similar pattern has developed in Iraq, where the U.S. military has cited al Qaida 33 times in a barrage of news releases in the last seven days, and some news organizations have echoed the drumbeat. Last month, al Qaida was mentioned only nine times in U.S. military news releases.
U.S. intelligence agencies and military commanders say the Sunni-Shiite conflict is the greatest source of violence and insecurity in Iraq.
"Extremists -- most notably the Sunni jihadist group al Qaida in Iraq and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi -- continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining struggle between Shia and Sunnis," the National Intelligence Council wrote in the unclassified key judgments of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq published in January. Jaysh al Mahdi is Arabic for the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
The council comprises the top U.S. intelligence analysts, and a National Intelligence Estimate is the most comprehensive assessment it produces for the president and a small number of his senior aides. It reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
From the July 11 edition of ABC's World News:
McCARTHY: Rich farmland along the Tigris River. From the air, it looks peaceful. But this is the so-called triangle of death, the Sunni belt south of Baghdad, full of Al Qaeda extremists, enemy number one for General David Petraeus.
PETRAEUS [video clip]: The enemy in Iraq that is causing the horrific attacks, that is igniting the sectarian violence, that is causing the mass casualties and damaging the infrastructure, by and large is Al Qaeda.
McCARTHY: This is Al Qaeda territory, about 20 miles south of Baghdad and a major production area for car bombs. The primary mission of the U.S. military here is to turn the local population against Al Qaeda and stop those car bombs making their way to Baghdad.
Turning the local population against Al Qaeda takes time. And that is one commodity that General Petraeus is running out of. He knows that Congress wants to draw down U.S. troops because they are losing faith in the Iraqi government.
PETRAEUS [video clip]: No one is happy with where they are right now. We all share that frustration, that, frankly, disappointment.
McCARTHY: Despite all this, Petraeus is still very optimistic about the military battle, if the politicians give him enough time.
McCARTHY [video clip]: Are you concerned that the U.S. political clock could start ticking too fast and undermine security here? Undermine confidence here?
PETRAEUS [video clip]: Obviously, that's in the back of our minds. And there's not a great deal we can do about it, other than to continue to press forward.
McCARTHY: The fields south of Baghdad are still a major battlefield in the fight against Al Qaeda. But, increasingly, Petraeus knows the most important battle in the Iraq war is being fought out in Washington. Terry McCarthy, ABC News, Patrol Base Murray, Central Iraq.