By: E&P Staff
At the daily White House press briefing Wednesday, reporters raised with Press Secretary Scott McClellan a bombshell story from Iraq carried earlier Wednesday in The New York Times and wire services, based on a CIA report. Essentially, the questions at the White House boiled down to: Has the invasion and occupation of Iraq actually created more terrorists than it has crushed, and also given them much-needed experience in killing Americans and others?
According to the classified CIA report, the Iraq insurgency poses an international threat and may produce better trained Islamic terrorists than the 1980s Afghanistan war that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
?The assessment, completed last month and circulated among government agencies, was described in recent days by several Congressional and intelligence officials,? Doug Jehl wrote in The New York Times. ?The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict.?
The report says Iraqi and foreign fighters are developing a broad range of deadly skills, from car bombings and assassinations to tightly coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets. If and when the insurgency ends, Islamic militants are likely to disperse as highly organized battle-hardened combatants capable of operating throughout the Arab-speaking world and in other regions including Europe.
Vice President Dick Cheney has recently argued that the insurgency is in its “last throes,” despite reports that the guerrillas have grown more sophisticated and more deadly.
Naturally, McClellan was asked about all this today at his daily press briefing. Here is the relevant part of the official transcript:
Q Scott, how concerned is the administration about the potential for Iraq to become a sort of training ground for Islamic extremists who may go back to their home countries and use these techniques to destabilize their governments? There’s a new report on that recently.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention a couple things. As the President has said for some time now, Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. Wherever you stood before the decision to go into Iraq, I think we can all recognize that the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. That’s why, as the President said earlier today, we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them here at home. And that’s where things are. And that’s why the terrorists understand how high the stakes are …
Q The report suggested that there’s concern that Egyptians, Jordanians, and others will go back to their home countries, using the techniques they’ve learned in Iraq to destabilize those countries.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don’t know what your question is.
Q Are you concerned about that? Do you think there’s potential for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. In terms of what’s your question on it, I think you’re making the assumption that these individuals would just be sitting around sipping tea, as Secretary Rice likes to refer to in her previous comments. So I don’t know what your question is regarding that.
Q Just following up on that question, you said at the outset of that, the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. I thought it was a central front in the war on terrorism before we invaded.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is. It’s part of the war on terrorism, yes.
Q It was.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it is.
Q It is now —
MR. McCLELLAN: Both.
Q Was it prior to —
MR. McCLELLAN: Both. It’s part of the war on terrorism, David.