MSNBC graphic, report conflated "Al Qaeda" and "Al Qaeda in Iraq"

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

On the July 29 edition of MSNBC Live, during a report on the "tensions" between Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, an on-screen graphic read: "Iraq: Fighting Al Qaeda." During the segment, NBC News correspondent Jane Arraf further reported that Petraeus "is saying that the U.S. has made significant gains against Al Qaeda," adding: "[H]e says that in key areas where they have declared the states -- capitols of their Islamic state, they have managed to get rid of key leaders, but he warns that there is still a significant threat, and they are able to carry out significant attacks." However, in asserting that the U.S. military in Iraq is fighting Al Qaeda and uncritically quoting Petraeus making the same claim, MSNBC conflated the Sunni insurgent group "Al Qaeda in Iraq" with the group responsible for the 9-11 attacks, as the Bush administration has repeatedly done. Moreover, Arraf's paraphrasing of Petraeus' comments left the impression that he said "the U.S. has made significant gains against Al Qaeda" worldwide -- an assertion contradicted by the most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which assessed that "the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" and established a "safehaven" in Pakistan.

The on-screen graphic shown throughout the MSNBC Live segment:

As Media Matters for America has noted, a June 28 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that President Bush's description of Al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq was rejected by "U.S. military and intelligence officials" who "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." Further, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post recently published articles distinguishing between these two groups.

Nonetheless, numerous news outlets have continued to conflate "Al Qaeda" and "Al Qaeda in Iraq" in recent weeks, as Media Matters has documented. For instance, on the July 11 edition of ABC's World News, correspondent Terry McCarthy uncritically repeated the assertion by Petraeus 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." A July 12 Washington Post editorial headlined "Wishful Thinking on Iraq" asserted that U.S. generals in Iraq "believe they are making fitful progress in calming Baghdad, training the Iraqi army and encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions." Further, on the July 10 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, during an interview with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), host Wolf Blitzer did not challenge Lieberman's numerous assertions that the U.S. military in Iraq is fighting "Al Qaeda."

Moreover, Arraf simply repeated what she reported to be Petraeus' assertion that "the U.S. has made significant gains against Al Qaeda." Arraf did not point out that this assertion, when applied to Al Qaeda generally, is undermined by the NIE, which states that the terrorist group "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership." The NIE adds that, "as a result ... the United States is currently in a heightened threat environment." From the NIE:

Al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qa'ida senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qa'ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

  • As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

We assess that al-Qa'ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa'ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa'ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

From the 8 a.m. ET hour of the July 29 edition of MSNBC Live:

ALEX WITT (anchor): New this morning, reports that tensions are rising between Iraq's prime minister and the man leading the U.S. forces there. NBC's Jane Arraf just finished a tour on the ground with General David Petraeus and joins us now from Baghdad with the very latest. Jane, a very good Sunday morning to you, and is there a new fight in Iraq that we need to be hearing about now?

ARRAF: Well, probably a little more of smoke than fire here, Alex. We talked to General Petraeus -- I sat down with him and asked him about those reports -- and he says while the relationship with Prime Minister Maliki has included some very candid conversations, particularly several months ago, he says those reports that Maliki has asked for him to be replaced are nonsense.

PETRAEUS [video clip]: We actually have a very good relationship. We have had some forthright conversations at times, but it's nonsense to think that he's ever asked -- I've sat in on every conversation he's ever had with President Bush in a VTC [video teleconference] since I've been here, and again, we believe we have a good relationship. These are tough issues.

ARRAF: The thing is, these are two very different personalities struggling with some really difficult issues. But people around Petraeus as well as some Iraqi officials say those reports are vastly overblown. Petraeus, as well as saying that the U.S. has made significant gains against Al Qaeda, Alex, he says that in key areas where they have declared the states -- capitols of their Islamic state, they have managed to get rid of key leaders, but he warns that there is still a significant threat, and they are able to carry out significant attacks. Alex.

WITT: Jane, let's switch gears considerably here and talk soccer, OK? Because apparently the national soccer team advanced to the finals of the Asia Cup, which is a huge deal for Iraqis, isn't it?

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
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