news from the war on terror
I was interested this morning by an NPR story (RealAudio file) discussing on the WaPo's report that an al-Qaeda-afiliated group is suspected to have obtained the deadly nerve agent VX in northern Iraq and smuggled the chemical weapon out of the country via Turkey. The Post story has an air of surety about it, but CNN is downplaying the report, quoting administration officials as saying it's "far too conclusive sounding."
The Post story correctly notes two key milestones should the report prove true: It's the first time al Qaeda would be known to have access to a sophisticated chemical weapon. And it would, at long last, be solid evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Given the tight control Iraq maintains on its armaments--headed by Saddam's son Qusay--I would be skeptical that the transfer, if it occurred, did so without Saddam's knowledge. If this report proves true, it would justify military action against Iraq.
I'm genuinely puzzled, then, by the downplaying. I would have expected Bush to trumpet this thing from every rooftop, even if it isn't true. (CNN also had this: "Speaking more broadly on whether there is cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda, this official said it remained an issue of significant concern to the administration but also acknowledged disagreements within the intelligence community on the level of any such communication or cooperation.")
One thing concerns me, though. We all know the CIA sounded a discordant note among the Bush administration's war drums by saying the only was Iraq was likely to turn a weapon of mass destruction over to terrorists was if Saddam was convinced military action against him was imminent, and he was on the way out. As the alleged transfer appears to have taken place recently, it'd be a seriously grim, if unintended, consequence if the Bush administration's war fever brought about the very dangerous situation it had ominously predicted. (Since, as Dr. Strangelove points out, a doomsday weapon is no good if it's kept secret, there's also the possibility that the report may be disinformation intended to deter an attack.)
[note: My archives have gone all goofy, so I'll have to add some links later on.]