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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Harbored Terrorists to Bolster Its Case

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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a one-legged Jordanian militant in his late thirties, and he's being described as the new Osama bin Laden -- an al-Qaida princeling who's come to Iraq to mastermind the worst terror attacks there. The Pentagon has added him as a 53rd card, a wild card, to its deck of Iraqi villains.

Most of us first heard his name from Colin Powell. This time last year, in his legendary presentation to the UN on why the United States had to invade Iraq, our Secretary of State said, "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by ... Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden."

Powell displayed satellite photos of a camp in northeastern Iraq where, he said, terrorists were making bombs and poisons like ricin. And then he discussed ricin in somber detail.

"Let me remind you how ricin works. Less than a pinch -- imagine a pinch of salt -- less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, would cause shock followed by circulatory failure. Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote, there is no cure. It is fatal."

To recap: Shock, circulatory failure, death in 72 hours, no antidote, no cure, fatal.

Scared? That's probably why so many of us missed miss the full import of Powell's very next line: "Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq."

Back in the Hussein era, the whole north of Iraq was a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone. The Kurds enjoyed de facto independence. (Since it's the Middle East, they naturally went straight to the script of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" and split into mutually hostile factions. But that's another story.)

So it was a tad misleading to demand Hussein's ouster on grounds that he "harbors a deadly terrorist network" -- when it was not Hussein, but a Taliban-like crowd of Islamic radicals in the U.S. Air Force-protected north, doing the harboring.

My question after hearing Powell's speech was: If we've really got rock-hard intelligence about terrorists sitting in some squalid little mountain camp, why haven't we done anything about it? We blow up everything else; how come we never dropped a Tomahawk missile onto this poison factory?

Now NBC New offers an answer: We didn't deal with Zarqawi's "death, no antidote, no cure, fatal" poisons camp because we needed it. For Colin Powell's UN speech. And for the war in Iraq.

Citing U.S. military officials, NBC News reports that over many months last year, the Bush administration had several chances to take out the Zarqawi boys. But it declined, because "the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

So the Pentagon kept offering strike plans, and the White House kept vetoing them. "People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," says a former National Security Council member.

We left known terrorists free to kill and kill again -- so that we could one day point to them and cry, "Terrorist, terrorist!", and, in the ensuing panic, invade an oil-and-tragedy soaked, yet unrelated, nation.

If Zarqawi is behind all the attacks the U.S. government attributes to him, he's killed upwards of 700 people -- not quite a Sept. 11 death toll, but give him time, he's just getting started.

Matt Bivens is a former editor of The Moscow Times.