Not many understand how road from Sept. 11 led to Baghdad

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq When the picture of a jetliner slicing into the World Trade Center flashed on the television in Rabia Ibrahim's Baghdad apartment, his friend exclaimed ''God is great!'' a superpower had been humbled.

At the same time, Daniel Salas sat in shock as the news reached him at a Texas high school on Sept. 11, 2001. The room buzzed with talk of war. A television was wheeled in, playing the horrible images over and over.

Two years later, American tanks rumble below Ibrahim's window. Salas, now a 19-year-old Army private, is in one of them.

But neither the American nor the Iraqi can fully explain the link between the Sept. 11 attacks and the American occupation of Iraq. But other Americans do see a connection.

President Bush has declared Iraq the front line in the war on terrorism. According to a Washington Post poll, nearly seven in 10 Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Bush administration, in the months leading up to the Iraq war, said Saddam had ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network the group blamed for the attacks. To date, there's been no proof.

Yet the fighting in Iraq has produced a link, with nearly all sides agreeing foreign fighters have entered the country. It remains unclear if foreigners have joined the resistance in a major way, but there is general accord that al-Qaida members are in Iraq and preparing to fight.

In a speech Sunday, Bush declared the United States would battle the global terror threat in Iraq, saying: ''We have carried the fight to the enemy. We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power.''

Some soldiers in Baghdad buy that argument.

''I don't know, maybe if we hadn't come in here, Saddam Hussein would have attacked us,'' said Salas, of Kenedy, Texas. He's concerned, he says, about what terrorists might have planned for today's second anniversary of the attacks.

Ibrahim, a 33-year-old electronics dealer, says the attacks on New York and Washington were ''horrible for the whole of humanity.''

Nevertheless, he contends that four deadly bombings last month show the U.S. military has created a terrorist problem in Iraq.

''We did not have this kind of attacks before. America must recognize that they helped allow them to happen,'' he said.

Even the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has pronounced the American presence in Iraq ''a terrorist magnet.''

''We clearly understood from the very beginning that the introduction of coalition forces into this environment would in fact engender some sort of terrorist activity,'' Sanchez said. ''It has manifested itself.''

On Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq state television broke into programming to show the attack on the twin towers. Ahmed Khalid, now a 24-year-old business student, watched with his family.

Khalid's mother and brother thought it was abhorrent. His father and uncle disagreed.

''They thought the incident would keep Americans occupied,'' Khalid said. ''People at the time were afraid the United States would attack Iraq.''

For Khalid, the attack embodied the fury he said many in his country felt against America for helping to impose a decade of crippling sanctions on them and siding with Israel against the Palestinians.

''It was terrible innocent people were killed,'' Khalid said. ''But as an official response against the government, it was right.

''At that time I thought the American people would understand that people were angry against them and they would change their policy. But it was the opposite, they started fighting people in Afghanistan and in Iraq.''

For Staff Sgt. James Light, 26, of Holly Springs, Miss., the attacks sent an entirely different message.

''Sept. 11 finally gave the United States a reason to take on problems overseas,'' he said in Baghdad. ''It showed that if you don't take care of them, they will fester and blow up all over you.''

He acknowledged, however, that he doesn't see a direct link between Sept. 11 and what he and his men are doing in Baghdad.

''It's kind of difficult to make a connection. I think there are similarities out there,'' Light said. ''Al-Qaida is a terrorist organization and Saddam Hussein was a terrorist in his own country.''

But for Spc. Clint Brookins, the connection is clear.

''It was Saddam Hussein. Ever since the Gulf War, he's been trying to get back at us,'' the 23-year-old from Clio, Mich., said ''Maybe it was Osama bin Laden's people, but my feeling is it was Saddam Hussein behind it. He footed the money.''



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