The United States is stepping up the effort to track down Osama bin Laden and key members of his Al-Qaida terrorist organization, but the Bush administration needs to come up with a better reason for this initiative than recent media reports that authorities in the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan no longer know the whereabouts of the terrorists.
We would suggest that the Jan. 30 election in Iraq provides a powerful incentive for capturing the mastermind of global terrorism. Given the death and destruction in Iraq being orchestrated by insurgents who are determined to keep Iraqis from going to the polls, and given Al-Qaida's involvement with the enemies of freedom, bin Laden dead or alive is certainly a goal worth pursuing in the next couple of weeks.
While the insurgency in Iraq has taken root from the seeds sowed by outside groups, including Al-Qaida, following the U.S.-led invasion and the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the fact remains that bin Laden still commands attention from the Sunni minority.
Indeed, he recently issued a call to the Sunnis, who had enjoyed power under Saddam, to boycott the election on the grounds that the pro-U.S. Shiite majority will inevitably control the government. His underlying message: Once in power, the Shiites will exact revenge for the decades of suffering, and Sunnis will be targeted.
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's public acknowledgment Tuesday that violence in parts of Iraq will dissuade people from voting simply served to intensify the call from Sunni leaders and the heads of neighboring Arab countries for a postponement of the election.
Postponement at this stage would be a mistake because it not only would be seen as a victory for the insurgents, but would undermine President Bush's whole argument for keeping American troops in Iraq. The people are craving freedom, Bush says, which can only be achieved through a democratically elected government.
However, Iraqis must be made to feel secure about participating in this historic endeavor.
That is why the death or capture of bin Laden is important. The longer he eludes forces from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan, the greater his reputation.
The State Department announced this week that rewards of up to $25 million each for him and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been involved with the insurgency in Iraq, would be advertised on Pakistani radio and television stations, as well as newspapers published in Urdu, the dominant language of Pakistan, and Pashto, the national language of Afghanistan. But that alone won't bring results. After all, the reward has been offered for more than two years, and while there have been reports of bin Laden sightings in the mountain region that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan, no one has come forward with an exact location of his whereabouts.
Indeed, there are persistent reports that bin Laden and members of his inner circle have been able to cross into Pakistan with no trouble because members of that country's intelligence agency are supporting him.
It was the criticism of the agency that prompted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to say recently that neither his country, the U.S. nor Afghanistan knows where bin Laden is holed up.
So long as the world's No. 1 terrorist remains at large, insurgents such as those in Iraq will remain emboldened. His death or capture will have great symbolic value.