“Al-Qaeda in Iraq” is of course just a bogeyman phrase to describe Salafi Jihadis there. But they obviously feel some kinship to the real al-Qaeda (you never want to see that) and they are threatening to get up an attack on the United States. There was no al-Qaeda in Saddam`s Iraq, so it is Bush who has created this current threat, which did not have to be there.
From being a single network of training camps and cells, al Qaeda has turned into a catch-all term. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that “al Qaeda” simply means “the base” in Arabic? It’s a wonderfully vague term that must sound vaguely menacing in its native tongue, even absent the baggage it has acquired in the past ten years or so. It’s also unique in not being laden with any very specific ideological connotations.