MyDD :: Media Finally Sees Through Bush's 'Number 2 Man' Myth

Ever notice how many times the Bush administration and the Pentagon tout the killing or capture of high level al Qaeda operatives? Just how many 'Number 2,' 'Number 3,' and 'Number 4' men can bin Laden and Zarqawi possibly have, anyway? I know, I know. It's an old joke. But while we may realize that, the media has seemed completely incapable of recognizing that maybe not every al Qaeda figure we eliminate is as important as the administration claims he is.

In an online-only piece for Newsweek, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball delve into the claim that Abu Azzam, a terrorist recently killed in Iraq, was Zarawi's number two man. Speaking in the Rose Garden this morning, Bush made just such a claim.

...Iraqi and coalition forces tracked down and killed Abu Azzam, the second most wanted al Qaeda leader in Iraq. This guy is a brutal killer. He was one of Zarqawi's top lieutenants. He was reported to be the top operational commander of al Qaeda in Baghdad. He is one of the terrorists responsible for the recent upsurge in attacks in the Iraqi capital...

Isikoff and Hosenball ran down the information and found that's not really the case. Abu Azzam may have been important, especially in Baghdad, but there are serious holes in the claim that he was anywhere close to being second in command for all of Iraq.

But veteran counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said today there are ample reasons to question whether Abu Azzam was really the No. 2 figure in the Iraqi insurgency. He noted that U.S. officials have made similar claims about a string of purportedly high-ranking terrorist operatives who had been captured or killed in the past, even though these alleged successes made no discernible dent in the intensity of the insurgency.

"If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they've arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd be a millionaire," says Kohlmann, a New York-based analyst who tracks the Iraq insurgency and who first expressed skepticism about the Azzam claims in a posting on The Counterterrorism Blog (counterterror.typepad.com). While agreeing that Azzam--also known as Abdullah Najim Abdullah Mohamed al-Jawari--may have been an important figure, "this guy was not the deputy commander of Al Qaeda," says Kohlmann.

Three U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, also told NEWSWEEK today that U.S. agencies did not really consider Abu Azzam to be Zarqawi's "deputy" even if he did play a relatively high-ranking role in the insurgency.

On my own, referring to nothing more than the CENTCOM press release announcing the warrant for Abu Azzam's arrest, I checked out the rewards being offered for certain figures linked to Zarqawi. It would make sense that the more important someone is, the higher the reward for his capture would be.

Out of 29 wanted terrorists listed in the warrant, no one has a smaller reward offered for his capture than Abu Azzam. In fairness, he's tied for last place with nine others. However, the $50,000 offered for Abu Azzam pales in comparison to the $25 million, $10 million, $1 million, and $200,000 offered for others. If he was "the second most wanted al Qaeda leader in Iraq," as Bush referred to him, why such a small reward?

With Bush's poll numbers in the toilet and Tom DeLay about to be indicted, it wasn't at all surprising that this claim was made this morning. When Bush needs good news and there isn't any to be had, they just make it up.

MyDD :: Media Finally Sees Through Bush's 'Number 2 Man' Myth


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