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Sept. 11 And Iraq


Earlier today a ceremony was held at the Pentagon to remember those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta remembered the victims and also honored those who volunteered for service after the attacks.

CORNISH: The strength of our democracy has always rested on the willingness of those who believe in its values and in their will to serve to give something back to this country, to fight and to sacrifice - above all, to do that in times of crisis. September 11th was such a time and in the wake of the attacks, the generation of Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies and respond to them swiftly and justly.

CORNISH: A little more than a year later, American and British forces invaded Iraq, ultimately toppling Saddam Hussein and sparking widespread sectarian violence. NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Baghdad and joins us now. Hi there, Kelly.


CORNISH: Now, Kelly, much of the talk surrounding the invasion of Iraq was about the presence, the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction which turned out not to be true, and the alleged connection to al-Qaida, which also turned out not to be true. But al-Qaida definitely did make its presence known in Iraq after the invasion, correct?

MCEVERS: Right. Yes, definitely.

CORNISH: Is it that al-Qaida in Iraq used to be very connected to al-Qaida writ large?

MCEVERS: So they've lost that source of inspiration and of funding, frankly, that they had before.

CORNISH: Has the ongoing withdrawal of American troops made al-Qaida there any more or less relevant?

MCEVERS: You know, let's say you want to take out a business rival or, you know, it's easy to plant a bomb here in Iraq these days and just say, well, it was al-Qaida. So I think, you know, we all have to be really careful when Iraqi and American officials try to kind of link everything to this organization. I think now, as before, that's not always the case.

CORNISH: So at this point, what is the status of the debate over whether there'll be American troops in the country after the end of the year deadline for their withdrawal?

MCEVERS: In order to avoid that, it seems like both sides now are sort of looking for a way to do it, you know, in a different way that doesn't involve so much negotiations. So now, the latest numbers we're hearing out of Washington is just three or four thousand American troops - they would call them trainers - to stay here beyond the deadline into next year.

CORNISH: NPR's Kelly McEvers speaking to us from Baghdad. Kelly, thank you so much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.