Thursday, May 25, 2006

Proof Of Al-Qaida's Links To Iraq Just Too Strong To Be Dismissed

Richard Miniter, Investors Business Daily:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not expecting a broadside when a graying former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, stood to ask a question at speech in Atlanta recently. He read Rumsfeld back his own words from a 2002 article: "There is bulletproof evidence of links between al-Qaida and the government of Saddam Hussein.'"

Then he asked: "Was that a lie, Mr. Rumsfeld?"

While Rumsfeld simply denied that he lied, a fuller explanation might have been more beneficial to the country. In fact, the evidence of a long-standing relationship between Saddam and bin Laden has become stronger since 2003. U.S. forces now have access to Iraqi archives and have questioned hundreds of Ba'athist and al-Qaida prisoners.

Rather than trumpet this new evidence, the Administration and the military seem to regard it as historical.

They are more focused on today's decisions than justifying yesterday's. So the growing impression, especially among the press, is that there simply was no link between Iraq and al-Qaida. If so, they would have told us, goes the argument.

So let us look at the evidence from strong official or mainstream sources including the 9-11 Commission report, bipartisan reports of U.S. congressional committees, and news stories written by staff members of overseas center-left dailies, established American publications and respected Arab newspapers.

These sources reveal three kinds of undisputed connections between Iraq and al-Qaida: meetings, money, and training. READ MORE


• Photographs taken by Malaysian intelligence in January 2000 place Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi intelligence operative, meeting with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

• Captured Iraqi intelligence documents show that bin Laden met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Syria in 1992.

• Sudanese intelligence officials told me that their agents had observed meetings between Iraqi intelligence agents and bin Laden starting in 1994, when bin Laden lived in Khartoum.

• Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit and a critic of the Bush administration, writes in "Through Our Enemies' Eyes" that bin Laden "made a connection with Iraq's intelligence service through its Khartoum station."

Bin Laden met at least eight times with officers of Iraq's Special Security Organization, a secret police agency run by Saddam's son Qusay, according to intelligence made public by Secretary of State Colin Powell, at the United Nations on Feb. 6, 2003.

Bin Laden met the director of the Iraqi mukhabarat, Iraq's external intelligence service, in Khartoum in 1996.

• An al-Qaida operative now held by the United States confessed that in the mid-1990s, bin Laden agreed to cease all terrorist activities against the Iraqi dictator, Powell said.

• Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney in the Clinton Justice Department, noted in the bin Laden indictment: "Al-Qaida reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al-Qaida would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al-Qaida would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq."

In 2000, Saudi Arabia went on nation-wide alert when its intelligence learned that Iraq was working with al-Qaida to attack U.S. interests there.

• Weekly Standard writer Stephen Hayes cites captured Iraqi documents: "In 1998, according to documents unearthed in Iraq's intelligence headquarters in April 2003, al-Qaida sent a 'trusted confidant' to Baghdad for sixteen days of meetings beginning March 5. Iraqi intelligence paid for his stay in Room 414 of the Mansur al-Melia hotel and expressed hope that the envoy would serve as the liaison between Iraqi intelligence and bin Laden. The DIA \[the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency\] has assessed those documents as authentic."

• ABC News's Nightline interviewed a "twenty-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence," identified him by his nom de guerre, Abu Aman Amaleeki, who said: "In 1992, elements of al-Qaida came to Baghdad and met with Saddam Hussein. And among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri. I was present when Ayman al-Zawahiri visited Baghdad." Zawahiri is al-Qaida's no. 2.

• Another visit by al-Zawahiri, in 1999, was confirmed by former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi.

• Allawi also said that al-Zawahiri was invited to attend the ninth Popular Islamic Conference by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam's own no. 2. The Iraqi government, he said, has the invitation and other records.


• Documents found in an Iraqi intelligence center show that Baghdad funded the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan terror group led by an Islamist cleric linked to bin Laden. According to the Daily Telegraph, the organization offered to recruit young people "to train for the jihad" at a "headquarters for international holy warrior network" to be established in Baghdad.

• Al-Hayat reported on May 23, 2005:"A detained al-Qaida member tells us that Saddam was more willing to assist al-Qaida after the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Saddam was also impressed by al-Qaida's attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000."

• Le Monde, the Paris-based center-left daily, reported on July 9, 2005, that Ansar al-Islam "was founded in 2001 with the joint help of Saddam Hussein—who intended to use it against moderate Kurds—and al-Qaida, which hoped to find in Kurdistan a new location that would receive its members."

• In a follow-up report, Stephen Hayes writes in the Weekly Standard: "In 1992 the Iraqi intelligence services compiled a list of its assets. On page 14 of the document, marked 'Top Secret' and dated March 28, 1992, is the name of Osama bin Laden, who is reported to have a 'good relationship' with the Iraqi intelligence section in Syria. The (U.S.) Defense Intelligence Agency has possession of the document and has assessed that it is accurate."


• An Iraqi defector to Turkey, known by his cover name as "Abu Mohammed," told the Sunday Times of London that he saw bin Laden's fighters in camps in Iraq in 1997. At the time, Mohammed was a colonel in the Fedayeen, a brutal strike force that reported directly to Saddam. At Salman Pak, a vast compound run by Iraqi intelligence, Muslim militants trained to hijack planes with knives—practicing on a full-size Boeing 707. Colonel Mohammed recalls his first visit to Salman Pak:

"We were met by Colonel Jamil Kamil, the camp manager, and Major Ali Hawas. I noticed that a lot of people were queuing for food. \[The major\] said to me: 'You'll have nothing to do with these people. They are Osama bin Laden's group and the PKK \[a terror group known for atrocities in Turkey\] and Mojahedin-e Khalq \[a terror group in Kashmir\].'"

• Ravi Nessam, an Associated Press reporter, noted that satellite photos of "Salman Pak, about 15 miles southeast of Baghdad . . . show an urban assault training site, a three-car train for railway-attack instruction, and a commercial airliner sitting all by itself in the middle of the desert."

On Oct. 14, 2001, former Iraqi officer Sabah Khodada granted an interview to the PBS' Frontline: "This camp is specialized in exporting terrorism to the whole world" . . . and "They are even trained how to use utensils for food, like forks and knives provided in the plane'" to hijack it.

• Then-CIA director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2003: "Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb making to al-Qaida. It also provided training in poisons and gases to two al-Qaida associates; one of these \[al-Qaida\] associates characterized the relationship as 'successful.' Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence. It comes to us from credible and reliable sources. Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources."

Those who contend that Saddam was a secular strongman with no connection to radical Islamic terror organizations forget that Iraq worked with many Islamist terrorist groups. Hamas, for one, opened an office in Baghdad in 1999.

Iraq also provided diplomatic help to Islamic extremists. Abu Abbas of the Palestinian Liberation Front, hijacked the Achille Lauro and murdered Leon Klinghoffer in 1985. Abbas escaped by flashing an Iraqi diplomatic passport. If Saddam was a such secular strongman, why did he help Abbas?

Some skeptics still dismiss the evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida by contending that Saddam and bin Laden did not like each other. But self-interest can trump personal chemistry. Saddam and bin Laden had common enemies, common purposes, and interlocking needs.

The most compelling reason for bin Laden to work with Saddam is money. Al-Qaida operatives have testified in federal courts that the network was always cash hungry. Senior employees fought bitterly about the $100 difference in pay between Egyptians and Saudis. One al-Qaida member, linked to the 1998 embassy bombings, told a federal court how angry he was that bin Laden would not pay for his pregnant wife to see a doctor.

No connection? Well, al-Qaida and the Iraqis certainly had a lot of meetings, money changed hands, some terrorist training seems to have occurred in Iraq, a lot of personnel—including Zarqawi— moved freely through the Iraqi police state. In other words, there are connections.

On the strength of much weaker evidence, Saudi Arabia is "connected" to al-Qaida. Why is Iraq the one nation given the benefit of the doubt?

— Miniter is a bestselling author. His latest book is "Disinformation: 22 Media Myths that Undermine the War on Terror."