It's a common feature of any government pronouncement on the subject of terrorism that We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists. Dissenting voices on almost every issue thereafter can be and usually are countered with "If you get your way, the terrorists have already won." What is unusual with regard to al-Qaeda in general and Osama bin Laden in particular is the reticence of both governments and media to describe or report their motives for terrorism.

Rhetorical devices and blinds are frequently used. "They hate our freedom." "They call the US the Great Satan." "They want everyone to follow Sha'ariah Law". "They won't be satisfied until we are destroyed or slaves of an Islamic state". All of these are eminently suitable for soundbites and may or may not be true. However, not a single one of those statements has been a part of any communication from al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden himself.

Very few people actually know what al-Qaeda wants. At this point, it is as well to thoroughly distinguish between al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda In Iraq. The latter has the stated aim of driving out US and British occupation forces and is clearly understood by almost everyone. What's less-well understood is that al-Qaeda and AQIR are utterly seperate organizations with no proven ties to each other either ideologically, fiscally or among their personnel. Exhaustive investigation by every known Security Service has repeatedly failed to show any links at all. They are two completely seperate entities.

With that in mind, what we can divine from al-Qaeda's communiqués makes one thing abundantly clear. al-Qaeda regards Saudi Arabia as sacred land. It contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Since the time of the Prophet up until World War II, no non-muslim was permitted access - not just to the cities but to the whole country. Since World War II, there has been an American presence in Saudi, ostensibly to protect the interests of the ruling ibn Saud family and also to prevent other interest groups (such as the USSR) from gaining a foothold in a place which still has approximately 25% of the world's available oil resources based in eight oilfields. This presence was significantly enlarged and the bases made officially permanent by George Herbert Walker Bush during and after the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The only significant demand made by al-Qaeda (apart from demanding release of personnel, which is almost de rigeur) has been the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia.

Communications from al-Qaeda increased in the wake of Twin Towers bombing and continued through the early phases of the war in Afghanistan. Please note that this is still going on. We hear a great deal about the infringement of women's rights and other such behaviour by the Taliban as it is useful for gaining popular support and we are beginning to hear of their regrouping and reconquering efforts aided by militant fighters - many Saudis - who have found solidarity with their cause. We rarely hear how much funding was pushed toward the Taliban before the war to support their fruitless effort to conquer the Northern Territories and secure the Baku oil pipeline. Again, we see the pattern. The causes may not be what we are told they are.

Subsequent to the actual invasion of Iraq, communications from al-Qaeda all but ceased. Since that point, we have seen one VHS recording and heard one audio tape, both heavily redacted by US Government censors. Co-incidentally(?), at the same time as George Walker Bush declared the war in Iraq won and "mission accomplished", construction of 17 permanent bases in Iraq began. Two of those are now approaching completion.

All these areas have been garrisoned and reinforced by US personnel moved from Saudi Arabia. The bases on Saudi soil are now deserted and there is no longer any US military presence in that country.

We may or may not negotiate with terrorists. They may or may not have already won. But they have certainly achieved their only clearly stated objective so far.

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