Sunday, May 29, 2005

More Evidence of Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties

The following item was published Tuesday by Frontpage Magazine, reproduced from a European news site. If this information is accurate, it further undermines the argument that Baathist Iraq and al-Qaeda had no real relationship:

The number two of the al-Qaeda network, Ayman al-Zawahiri, visited Iraq under a false name in September 1999 to take part in the ninth Popular Islamic Congress, former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi has revealed to pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. In an interview, Allawi made public information discovered by the Iraqi secret service in the archives of the Saddam Hussein regime, which sheds light on the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the Islamic terrorist network. He also said that both al-Zawahiri and Jordanian militant al-Zarqawi probably entered Iraq in the same period.

"Al-Zawahiri was summoned by Izza Ibrahim Al-Douri - then deputy head of the council of the leadership of the revolution - to take part in the congress, along with some 150 other Islamic figures from 50 Muslim countries," Allawi said.


In Allawi's view, Saddam's government "sponsored" the birth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, coordinating with other terrorist groups, both Arab and Muslim. "The Iraqi secret services had links to these groups through a person called Faruq Hajizi, later named Iraq's ambassador to Turkey and arrested after the fall of Saddam's regime as he tried to re-enter Iraq. Iraqi secret agents helped terrorists enter the country and directed them to the Ansar al-Islam camps in the Halbija area," he said.

There have been a number of false or unsubstantiated allegations put forward regarding ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. This particular item, however, strikes me as credible. The main reason being that it conforms to much of what we do know about the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. In particular, the following details ring true:

1. Saddam Hussein did indeed host a number of "popular Islamic congresses" in Baghdad. To quote Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard:

Saddam Hussein hosted regular conferences for terrorists in Baghdad throughout the 1990s. Mark Fineman, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, reported on one such gathering in an article published January 26, 1993. "There are delegates from the most committed Islamic organizations on Earth," he wrote. "Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors), Palestinian militants, Sudanese fundamentalists, the Islamic Brotherhood and Pakistan's Party of Islam." One speaker praised "the mujahid Saddam Hussein, who is leading this nation against the nonbelievers. Everyone has a task to do, which is to go against the American state."

2. The role of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Saddam's number two man, and the highest ranking Baathist still at large, al-Douri is a committed Islamist who spearheaded the regime's Islamization campaign of the 1990s. As Newsweek reported in its February 7th, 2005 issue, al-Douri was also involved with the popular Islamic congresses:

But in the largely secular Baath Party, al-Duri stood out for his mystical religiosity. In the 1990s, when Saddam put the phrase GOD IS GREAT on the national flag and banned the drinking of alcohol, al-Duri's influence began to show. Now Islamists were welcome. In January 1993, as the official Baghdad Observer newspaper reported, al-Duri hosted a convention for "more than 1,000 religious, political and cultural dignitaries from 51 countries," urging them "to conduct holy jihad against the U.S. and its allies."

3. The involvement of bin Laden's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Stephen Hayes, in his seminal article from the November 24th, 2003 Weekly Standard entitled "Case Closed", quotes from a US intelligence report showing Zawahiri had longstanding ties to Baathist Iraq:

According to a May 2003 debriefing of a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, Iraqi intelligence established a highly secretive relationship with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and later with al Qaeda. The first meeting in 1992 between the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and al Qaeda was brokered by al-Turabi. Former IIS deputy director Faruq Hijazi and senior al Qaeda leader [Ayman al] Zawahiri were at the meeting--the first of several between 1992 and 1995 in Sudan.

Chapter Two of the 9/11 Commission Report confirms Zawahiri's connections with Baghdad:

In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis.

4. The part about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi being in Iraq at the same time as Zawahiri is a little more problematic. A commenter at Austin Bay's site points out that it is unlikely that Zarqawi had the opportunity to travel there in 1999. However, it appears that he did go to Iraq in 2002 after the American liberation of Afghanistan. King Abdullah of Jordan has recently confirmed this, and mentioned that the Iraqi regime refused Jordanian requests for his extradition.

Further evidence of Zarqawi's presence in Iraq is provided by Great Britain's Butler Report, which quotes this March 2003 UK intelligence assessment (paragraph 483, p. 120):

Reporting since [February] suggests that senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab al Zarqawi has established sleeper cells in Baghdad,to be activated during a US occupation of the city. These cells apparently intend to attack US targets using car bombs and other weapons. (It is also possible that they have received CB materials from terrorists in the KAZ.) Al Qaida-associated terrorists continued to arrive in Baghdad in early March.

Finally, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah has stated that Zarqawi was believed by other jihadists to have good relations with Iraqi intelligence.

5. Finally, the evidence is overwhelming that the Iraqi regime facilitated the entry of jihadists into the country. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was an active state sponsor of terrorism, and this included harboring and training Islamist terrorists. According to the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002 report, several hundred al-Qaeda members gained refuge with Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq after being driven from Afghanistan, while others fled to Baghdad. In the words of the report, "(i)t is inconceivable these groups were in Iraq without the knowledge and acquiescence of Saddam's regime." Abu Wael, the number three man in Ansar al-Islam, was reportedly an Iraqi intelligence operative who facilitated the travel of foreign jihadists to Iraq. The Duelfer Report confirms that Iraqi intelligence trained foreign fighters at its Salman Pak facility. Finally, the Baathist regime brought literally thousands of jihadists into the country prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There are plenty of reasons, therefore, to regard Dr. Allawi's comments as credible. I hope that the relevant documents he cited are made available to the US for authentication and ultimately made public. Contrary to what has become conventional wisdom, Saddam Hussein's Iraq did indeed have a relationship with al-Qaeda. Determining the full extent of that relationship should be a priority.


Anonymous Mark E said...

All excellent points.

2:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home