Three years later, the U.S. gets Zarqawi

Bush claims a victory in the war on terror, but he could have gotten this one without invading Iraq.

Published June 8, 2006 1:23PM (EDT)

Iraqi and U.S. officials announced this morning that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed in an air strike northwest of Baghdad. At the White House, George W. Bush declared the news "a victory in the global war on terror."

Assuming that Zarqawi is really dead -- and we could wallpaper a small house with news reports of major al-Qaida leaders who turned out not to be -- the U.S. special forces who pulled off the attack deserve whatever praise they're going to get. But at the risk of raining on anyone's parade, it's fair to make one observation here:

The Bush administration didn't need to go to war to take out Zarqawi.

In fact, there's evidence that the war actually helped keep Zarqawi alive longer -- and certainly presented him with more easily accessible targets -- than would have been the case if the United States had not invaded Iraq. As NBC News reported back in 2004, U.S. military planners drew up plans to take out Zarqawi three times in 2002 and 2003, but the Bush administration killed the plans each time. Why? Because, military officials told NBC, the Bush administration feared that destroying Zarqawi's terrorist camp in Iraq "could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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