DISTRACTED BY IRAQ?….As far as I know, we still don’t know for sure whether the Zarqawi memo is real. But one thing everyone agrees on is that Abu Musab Zarqawi is a nasty character indeed, the mastermind behind a long series of terrorist attacks ? possibly including today’s bloody attacks on Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala.

Today, in an ironic reprise of all those urban legends about how Clinton could have taken out Osama bin Laden if only he’d been serious about terrorism, NBC reports that we’ve passed up several chances to kill Zarqawi:

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

….Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

?People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president?s policy of preemption against terrorists,? according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Odd behavior from an administration supposedly focused like a laser on removing terrorist threats, isn’t it?