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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
International terrorism threat
On Sunday 04 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed the BBC's John Simpson, Peter Bergen, US Journalist and Khalid Abdalla

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Khalid Abdalla and Peter Bergen
Khalid Abdalla, Actor and Peter Bergen, US Journalist

ANDREW MARR: Our world affairs editor, John Simpson, joins me now from Baghdad and in the studio I'm joined by the American Middle East expert Peter Bergen. John, welcome.

Can I ask you first of all what the reaction has been to that terribly disturbing film that you broadcast through the BBC over the last 24 hours or so of a potentially serious massacre?

JOHN SIMPSON: The strange thing, Andy, here is that there's been less reaction inside Iraq, as far as I can make out, certainly judging from the newspapers and the people I've been talking to, than there has been outside, and that's for two rather major reasons, and very depressing reasons.

One is that this took place in April, just as the earlier Haditha one, allegedly at any rate, took place in November. That's the past, I mean this is the place where 50, 60 people die every day, and in some of the most gruesome circumstances, and people just feel that.. you know.. there's not much point necessarily in digging up these old stories because there are so many things that are happening day by day.

The second depressing thing is that most Iraqis you speak to here simply say: "Well that's what we always assumed that the Americans do." So the precise sort of rights and wrongs of it, the truth or fiction of it, goes by the board here because people think that the Americans.. they know that their own experiences, experiences of their families, that the American soldiers do not treat them necessarily with kid gloves.

ANDREW MARR: And the protests by the new Iraqi government grow more desperate and anguished all the time. The Iraqi armed forces are now saying they might not be in a position to take over, which leaves, presumably, President Bush and Tony Blair in a very, very difficult position about withdrawal.

JOHN SIMPSON: Yes, that's certainly true. I mean there are problems all around. When Mr al Maliki said it was unacceptable and so forth, clearly the Americans got to him and went round there and said look, this is not a very helpful thing to say, and he then said that he'd been misquoted, it wasn't quite clear which bit of what he'd said was misquoted, but anyway, that was what it was.

Perhaps one word was slightly mistranslated. In the case of the massacre that we.. well at least the killings, I don't think it was a massacre really, but the killings that we brought to light, first of all one of Mr al Maliki's closest advisers said: "This is outrageous and the Americans must look into it more and they can't just bat it away."

And then a statement comes out saying: "Well that was just his personal comments, it wasn't the government's comments." The┐ you know.. the American Embassy here runs things pretty much and Mr al Maliki is the Prime Minister and he's proving quite an interestingly good Prime Minister, but he doesn't entirely run the show.

ANDREW MARR: And John, this might be a completely impossibly difficult question for which I apologise in advance, but is it reasonable to talk about Al-Qaeda influence in Iraq these days or is it all local?

JOHN SIMPSON: It's not all local. There is a big body still I think of foreign fighters. I don't frankly know what I mean by the word 'big' but there are people that have come in from all sorts of different parts of the world because they see it as a great cause to get involved with and it's not difficult to get across the borders and so forth.

Nevertheless I just think it's a terrible mistake to think that everything here is imposed on Iraq from the outside, and I just think, if that's the line that.. you know.. some of the strategists are taking, then that's a real misunderstanding because I've always felt here, and I've been watching this from the very early stages, I mean.. well, since long before the war itself, or even the first war, that it's just a nationalistic response to having foreign troops coming into your country, tipping over the government and then running things themselves, and that's I think the real body of the anger against the coalition forces.

ANDREW MARR: John that's very interesting. Thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning. Very kind.


ANDREW MARR: Peter Bergen, you've written a book: "The Osama bin Laden I know".

Now you've interviewed him only once yourself, but this is really a patchwork of different people who knew him right back to his teacher in prep school days and many other people who've come alongside him.

What is the most important thing in your view about Osama bin Laden that people don't fully understand but should?

PETER BERGEN: Well the picture that emerges in the book, based on people who.. you know.. his childhood teacher, his soccer playing buddies, his university friends, is somebody who was motivated by a religious zeal, even as a teenager, somebody who was fasting seven times a day, praying and.. you know.. somebody who was involved in religious entertainments for the poor of Saudi Arabia.

I think if you ask the question what is motivating him, his brother-in-law and close friend would have said that this is somebody who believes that he is doing God's will, and that if he doesn't do what he's doing, that God will punish him, which was the best psychological explanation I could find for what he's doing.

ANDREW MARR: So you would see him as a highly successful inspirational leader rather than the gang leader, or the black terrorist painted by the West.

PETER BERGEN: Well both, I mean.. look, a physicist described light as a wave and a particle, so things can.. just as John was talking about the insurgency in Iraq, of course it's local but there is a foreign fighting dimension, these are not either/or things.

And so with Bin Laden, there is an organisation that attacked United States on 9/11, there is also an ideological movement from which Bin Laden sprang and to which he has contributed, and so these are not either/or ideas, and if you look at the July 2005 bombing in London, I think the British press has misunderstood it to some degree. It almost misunderstood the Home Office report that was written about it.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm hm - how so?

PETER BERGEN: The British press has said that the attack was basically a self-generated local cell.

Now from the British Government perspective that would be a rather good thing because self-generated cells are very hard to detect, but as we know more and more about this attack, it turns out that it was Mohammad Sidique Kahn that was the ringleader.

He visited Pakistan twice, he's calling people in Pakistan regularly before the bombing attack. There's so many questions.. we don't know enough about the attack but it seems to me it's more of an Al-Qaeda classic operation than people may give it credit for.

ANDREW MARR: So you, presumably, don't take this view that's been around quite a lot that Al-Qaeda in some way doesn't exist, that it's an idea but it's not a functioning organisation.

PETER BERGEN: Well just look at the 9/11 attack, ideologies don't get ah┐ you know.. organisations get people onto planes and we're going to talk to one of your next guests about the 1993 attack, you know, that was an organisation that did that.

Since the 9/11 attacks that organisation has been somewhat damaged but it remains rather vibrant. Look what's happening in Afghanistan right now. Suicide attacks, we've had 30 of them in the last 9 months. Afghanis don't engage in these things. These are people trained in Pakistan by Al-Qaeda or Taliban together.

If you look at.. as I said, the July 2005 attack, that┐ the Pakistani Diaspora in which Al-Qaeda has got quite a lot of hold has proven rather effective, and so you know.. the ideological movement has obviously had a tremendous boost by the Iraq war but.. you know.. to go back to what John was talking about, Al-Qaeda in Iraq is the name of the organisation that Abu Musab Zarqarwi - a Jordanian, who is the most effective insurgent commander - runs.

ANDREW MARR: So it's still there?

PETER BERGEN: It's still there.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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