STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
So in his speech, the president laid out a detailed case linking Osama bin Laden's terror network to its offshoot in Iraq.
INSKEEP: They know they're al-Qaida. The Iraqi people know they are al-Qaida. People across the Muslim world know they are al-Qaida. And there's a good reason they are called al-Qaida in Iraq. They are al-Qaida in Iraq.
MONTAGNE: Joining us now to talk about that is NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Welcome.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What evidence did the president give to link al-Qaida in Iraq with al-Qaida's central leadership?
LOUISE KELLY: Well, what he did really was try to walk step by step through the founding of al-Qaida in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the president stressed was a Jordanian. He described how even after Zarqawi was killed last summer, he was replaced by another foreigner, an Egyptian. The point the president was trying to make was that al-Qaida in Iraq is not merely an Iraqi phenomenon and therefore an Iraqi problem. But that - as he sees it - it's part of the global terror problem, and that therefore the U.S., he says, should not pull out of Iraq - cannot pull out of Iraq without undermining the overall war on terror.
MONTAGNE: One of the striking things about this speech is how many times the president mentioned al-Qaida. He really - he seemed to be insisting that al- Qaida is the problem in Iraq.
LOUISE KELLY: That's true. In fact, he said so explicitly. And I've got another line from this speech that we can play just here.
INSKEEP: Al-Qaida is public enemy number one for the Iraqi people. Al- Qaida is public enemy number one for the American people. And that is why, for the security of our country, we will stay on the hunt. We'll deny them safe haven, and we will defeat them where they have made their stand.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
LOUISE KELLY: The question here is whether you believe, as the president does, that the U.S. troops who are in Iraq fighting are there fighting a terror network which is led - in a big picture sense - by Osama bin Laden, or do you believe that U.S. troops are in Iraq fighting what has turned into a civil war? Which is the argument that many Democrats would make.
MONTAGNE: And how does the president, when he gives a speech like this, respond to critics who point out that al-Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S. invaded Iraq?
LOUISE KELLY: That's exactly the criticism, and we heard that yesterday again from Democrats responding to the speech. President Bush in his speech didn't deny that that is, in fact, the case. But he argued - he went on from that and said it's flawed logic to say that terrorism is caused by American actions. And he pointed out the U.S. was not in Iraq when terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. The U.S. was not in Iraq when terrorists attacked on 9/11. So he says this is just not the argument that's central to what's going on there.
MONTAGNE: And just finally, Mary Louise, what about the timing here?
LOUISE KELLY: Well, there's clearly the political timing. We have a debate hotly underway in Washington over the way forward in Iraq. There's also this new National Intelligence Estimate, which is just out of the last week, and which stresses the al-Qaida core threat coming out of Pakistan. So I think it's made a little bit harder for the president to make his case that the central front in the war on terror should be in Iraq as opposed to in Pakistan, where U.S. intelligence seems to be judging is, in fact, the group that is posing the clearest, most direct threat to the U.S. at this point.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's intelligence correspondent, Mary Louise Kelly.
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