Iraq and Al Qaeda Connection

Conventional wisdom, once set, is difficult to budge even under the pressure of persuasive proof to the contrary. This is especially true when the conventional wisdom reinforces the common narrative of the main stream media. One axiom of conventional wisdom is that there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq regime and al Qaeda. The existence of a relationship would increase the probability that Iraq might provide logistical or even chemical weapons expertise to al Qaeda. On the other hand, the absence of any relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq would minimize the potential threat posed by Iraq to the United States.

Al Qaeda and its leaders Usama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri issued a fatwa in 1998 declaring war on the United States, urging Muslim’s to kill Americans wherever possible. Indeed, it was the “individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” Pursuant to this fatwa, al Qaeda operatives managed to kill 3,000 Americans with terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

The conventional wisdom that al Qaeda and Saddam’s Iraq were not allied or cooperating was buttressed by the preliminary, tentatively and carefully worded conclusion of the 9/11 Commission’s that it could find evidence of no “collaborative operational relationship” between the two. However, as is want with media shorthand the headlines became, “9/11 panel sees no link between Iraq, al-Qaida.”

In the political aftermath of the Iraq War, it is often conveniently forgotten that the Clinton Administration and other Democrats first made the strong case for an Al Qaeda and Iraqi relationship.

Before the Iraq War, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) saw a “substantial connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CN) reported that, “I’ve seen a lot of evidence on this. There are extensive contacts between Saddam Hussein’s government and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) “[Saddam Hussein] has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.” The Clinton Administration’s legal indictment in Federal Court against bin Laden in 1998 claimed, “Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government, and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.”

Additional consideration of the evidence included in the 9/11 Commission Report plus the availability of new evidence that has come to light since the liberation of Iraq paint a picture of a level of cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda that may have indeed endangered US security. This does not mean that Iraq Intelligence was operationally involved in the specific events of September 11. This straw man claim has never been made. However, it does mean that the level of cooperation and contacts of Saddam’s Iraq and Al Qaeda were sufficient that it would be irresponsible to ignore or dismiss it as insubstantial.

Much of this emerging picture is visible from public documents and has been pulled together by Stephen Hayes in Connections. A lot of dots are being connected and new dots are emerging to complete a picture of the pre-war Iraqi an al Qaeda connection. Here are a few of these dots:

The most conspicuous evidence of Iraq and al Qaeda cooperation is al Zawahiri himself. Al Zawahiri who, with bin Laden helped issued the fatwa against the United States, was in Afghanistan with al Qaeda fighting the US and was injured. He fled to pre-war Iraq and has subsequently led the insurgency against the Coalition and the new Iraqi government. Al Zawahiri was no stranger to Baghdad. He consulted with Iraqi officials during a visit in 1998 and received $300,000 for his efforts. It takes an ideologically-blinded eye not to see at least professional terrorist courtesy between Iraq and al Qaeda in al Zawahiri’s Iraqi visit, his refuge in Iraq after fighting in Afghanistan, and his present leadership of the Iraqi insurgency.

The US government has released information from interrogations of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba indicating an al Qaeda detainee had traveled to Pakistan with an Iraqi intelligence agent to blow up the US and British embassies. That plot was thwarted.

Captured documents from the Iraqi Intelligence Service indicate that they regarded al Qaeda members as useful assets. One Iraq Intelligence Service memo urged ties to al Qaeda and specifically averred that, “Cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreements.”

The Iraqis provided asylum for Abdul Rahman Yasin who was involved in the 1993 al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center. Iraq did not plan that 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but was apparently happy to protect someone who did.

Unwinding the intricate ties and relationships of intelligence services and terrorist organizations is always going to be a difficult an unsatisfying task. There is no clear way to assign accurate weights to the information found. The credibility of sources is usually murky. Conclusions must always be tentative. Often the patterns that appear to emerge are at least as much a function of the internal narratives of the viewers as of the data. Nonetheless, the burden of proof now appears to have shifted from those who were always concerned about the dangers of relationships between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda to those dismiss the pre-war Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship.

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