Obsession with Saddam stymied anti-terror plan

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 4, 2004 3:52PM (EST)

NBC News reports that before the war in Iraq, the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out the operation of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to al-Qaida, now blamed for more than 700 terrorist killings in Iraq -- but decided against it.

Three different times, the Pentagon drafted plans to strike Zarqawi and his network, but the White House was set on its path to wage war against Saddam Hussein and refused.

"People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey, told NBC.

"Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam," NBC said.

Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command, says there's no doubt Zarqawi masterminded the pair of suicide bombings in Iraq on Tuesday that killed more than 100 people during a Shiite Muslim religious observance. And the Washington Post reported yesterday that Zarqawi is looking beyond Iraq and wants to assume a leading, independent role in future terrorist operations in other countries.

Now, does that make you feel "safer and stronger," as President Bush claims we are in a new campaign ad?

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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