Last week I mentioned a Fox News story hyping the discovery of a block of cyanide salt found at a Baghdad compound reportedly used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been identified as a jihad-friendly terrorist. (Cyanide salt is commonly found in chemistry labs and jewelers' workshops.) Now, in today's New York Times, Dexter Filkins says that Zarqawi recently wrote a letter to al-Qaeda begging for help with the Iraq insurgency.
Filkins summarizes the Bush administration's prewar rap on Zarqawi, and its relationship to the truth:
In the period before the war, Bush administration officials argued that Mr. Zarqawi constituted the main link between Al Qaeda and Mr. Hussein's government. Last February at the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said, "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants."
...Since the war ended, little evidence has emerged to support the allegation of a prewar Qaeda connection in Iraq. Last month, Mr. Powell conceded that the American government had found "no smoking gun" linking Mr. Hussein's government with Al Qaeda.
If the document Filkins writes about is genuine, we now have Zarqawi begging al-Qaeda for help with the insurgency -- which implies that al-Qaeda isn't providing a whole lot of help with the insurgency now. If you're trying to make the case that Saddam = Osama and the Afghan and Iraq wars were part of one big war on terrorism, this isn't a very convincing Exhibit A. Nor is this:
"Many Iraqis would honor you as a guest and give you refuge, for you are a Muslim brother," according to the document. "However, they will not allow you to make their home a base for operations or a safe house."
In fact, all this even undermines the "flypaper theory" (you remember: the notion that war in Iraq was a neat idea because even if all the evildoers weren't in Iraq when we invaded, fighting the war there encouraged them all to show up later).
Alas, Iraq = al-Qaeda could well be the message an awful lot of people take from this story, even though it's utterly wrong.