How polarized are we on Iraq? Well, President Bush and Iraq war supporters think it's a central front in the larger war on Islamic terrorism. And critics of the war are torn between calling it a distraction from the war on terror or worse—a breeding ground for more terrorists upset about what the Great Satan is up to in Iraq.
It makes for rip-snorting debates across the globe, but what we think and say is now almost beside the point. It's what Islamic terrorists think and say, because we've seen that ignoring what they think and say can get Americans and others killed by the hundreds.
Never mind that violent Islamic radicals managed to come up with all kinds of reasons to slaughter infidel innocents in the years before the Iraq war. Never mind that nations opposed to the Iraq war haven't been spared the reality or threat of Islamic terror. Al-Qaida has been killing Indonesians, despite the fact that Indonesia is the globe's largest Muslim nation and opposed the Iraq war. And this summer, German police arrested four Lebanese men suspected in the failed bombing of two trains there. It didn't matter that Germany famously opposed the Iraq war.
No, never mind all that. What do the terrorists themselves say about Iraq? Do they see it as a central front in our war against them?
Happily, we don't have to guess. We know. We can choose to ignore what they say, but they've made themselves clear. It was one of the strengths of Bush's Aug. 5 speech to the Military Officers Association of America that he let the terrorists do the talking.
"Listen and understand," Osama bin Laden said to Iraqi Muslims in a December 2004 audio message. "The issue is big and the misfortune is momentous. The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world's millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate."
What the al-Qaida leader called a "war of destiny between infidelity and Islam" would end in either "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."
He sure seems to think the war in Iraq is a big deal. As he remarked earlier this year in a message to Americans, "The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever."
Distraction? Bin Laden sees Iraq as Armageddon.
And lest you think his Iraq musings are the result of simply spending too much time alone in a cave, consider the words of his second in command. Ayman al-Zawahiri spelled out just what "victory and glory" for al-Qaida's terrorocracy would look like in a letter to the group's man in Baghdad, the recently bombed-to-hell-and-gone Musab al-Zarqawi. After sending U.S. forces in Iraq packing, al-Zawahiri wrote, the new, al-Qaida-approved Islamic authority would "extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq" and, from there, on to Israel.
Somehow, it seems, American involvement in Iraq isn't the terrorists' only beef.
Most Iraq war critics like to distinguish between Iraq (bad war) and Afghanistan (good war). It's worth remembering, however, that Islamic terrorists do not. They're as ticked about Afghanistan as they are about Iraq. In fact, they're still busting to return parts of Spain (Andalusia) to the Islamic caliphate.
"The Jihad movement is growing and rising ..." al-Zawahiri has stated. "(I)t is waging a great heroic battle in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and even within the Crusaders' own homes."
Maybe you didn't favor the war in Iraq. Maybe you're weary of the fighting and dying and tough going there. Maybe you think the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power. But the terrorists don't give us the option of believing Iraq is not now a central front in the terror war.
Consider Idris Bazis. According to Britain's Daily Mirror, this French Algerian suicide bomber is mentioned in a new BBC2 documentary. He trained to become a "jihad warrior" in Afghanistan before living in Manchester. After two years there, Bazis left to blow himself up—in Iraq.
Call Iraq a distraction or breeding ground if you like. What's clear is that Idris Bazis did his homicide-bombing in Iraq instead of the United States.