In the oceans of ink produced following Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s death, there’s been little more than a trickle on one of the most memorable elements of the Zarqawi saga: the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported years ago, the Pentagon had plenty of chances to take Zarqawi out before the war even began, but didn’t, in part to assuage the Europeans and in part because his presence in Iraq served the administration’s purposes as proof of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link. The irony, of course, is that while Zarqawi was already training terrorists back then, he had not yet formalized his ties to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That would occur after the war, when the insurgency began to grow. From the WSJ piece:
The Pentagon drew up detailed plans in June 2002, giving the administration a series of options for a military strike on the camp Mr. Zarqawi was running then in remote northeastern Iraq, according to generals who were involved directly in planning the attack and several former White House staffers…. Gen. Keane characterized the camp “as one of the best targets we ever had.”
Also worth a look is a report from Australian news program Four Corners, from May of this year, in which former CIA agent Mike Scheuer says this:
“Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq.”
In the post-bombing stories, very few have so much as mentioned the prewar opportunities; Newsweek‘s cover story is an exception, with two short paragraphs that hit all the right notes.
Some American intelligence determined that Zarqawi and his cohorts were manufacturing crude chemical weapons [at Ansar Al-Islam]. The Pentagon developed plans to bomb the Ansar camp in 2002, but the White House withheld its approval. “He was up there, we knew where he was, and we couldn’t get anybody to move on it,” said a former US intelligence official who had worked on the plans to take out Zarqawi, but who refused to be identified discussing military secrets. “We were told they didn’t want to disrupt the war planning. It was a real opportunity lost.
The Bush administration wanted to exploit Zarqawi in a different way. When Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to make the case for going to war against Saddam in February 2003, he charged that Saddam “harbors” a “deadly terrorist network” headed by Zarqawi, whom he described as a “collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants.”