It has become an article of faith among many that Saddam Hussein's regime had nothing to do with al Qaeda or jihadist terrorism in general. Tonight, the Weekly Standard
has posted a blockbuster article by Stephen F. Hayes
that thoroughly demolishes this myth:THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.
The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak--and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis. According to three officials with knowledge of the intelligence on Iraqi training camps, White House and National Security Council officials were briefed on these findings in May 2005; senior Defense Department officials subsequently received the same briefing.
On the one hand, this report merely confirms much of what was already known regarding ties between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and radical Islamists. For example, the Duelfer Report noted
that Iraqi Intelligence had trained foreign fighters at the Salman Pak camp. In addition, the links between the Iraqi regime and Algerian Islamists are well known and date back to the First Gulf War
, when the Islamist FIS movement openly supported Iraq against the U.S.-led coalition. Since the fall of Saddam, Algerians have provided a large portion
(link in PDF) of the foreign jihadists fighting on behalf of al Qaeda against the coalition and Iraqi government. Finally, in April 2003, the Christian Science Monitor
recovered documents showing that an African Islamist group
called the Allied Democratic Forces
had written to Iraqi Intelligence in 2001 requesting training and assistance.
What Hayes shows is the heretofore unknown extent to which Saddam's regime was prepared to go in order to support Islamist terrorism. According to the 9/11 Commission Report
, between 10,000 and 20,000 jihadists were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Now we know that at least 8,000 jihadists were trained in Iraq from 1999 to 2002, making that country a rival to Afghanistan as a training ground and safe haven for radical Islamists.
Hayes goes on to note that the documents revealing the existence of Saddam's training camps are just a fraction of the estimated 2,000,000 documents captured after the liberation of Iraq. The overwhelming majority of these items have yet to be translated and analyzed in full. Fortunately, it appears that most of these documents will soon be made openly available, so that media and research organizations will be free to translate and publicize them.
Just the small percentage of documents that have been translated, however, make clear the extent of Saddam's support for terrorism:"As much as we overestimated WMD, it appears we underestimated [Saddam Hussein's] support for transregional terrorists," says one intelligence official.
Speaking of Ansar al Islam, the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that operated in northern Iraq, the former high-ranking military intelligence officer says: "There is no question about the fact that AI had reach into Baghdad. There was an intelligence connection between that group and the regime, a financial connection between that group and the regime, and there was an equipment connection. It may have been the case that the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] support for AI was meant to operate against the [anti-Saddam] Kurds. But there is no question IIS was supporting AI."
The official continued: "[Saddam] used these groups because he was interested in extending his influence and extending the influence of Iraq. There are definite and absolute ties to terrorism. The evidence is there, especially at the network level. How high up in the government was it sanctioned? I can't tell you. I don't know whether it was run by Qusay [Hussein] or [Izzat Ibrahim] al-Duri or someone else. I'm just not sure. But to say Iraq wasn't involved in terrorism is flat wrong."
Finally, Hayes notes the story of a Syrian Islamist named Ahmed Mohamed Barodi, who has admitted being trained in guerrilla warfare in Iraq in the early 1980s:Barodi comes from Hama, the town that was leveled in 1982 by the armed forces of secular Syrian dictator Hafez Assad because it was home to radical Islamic terrorists who had agitated against his regime. The massacre took tens of thousands of lives, but some of the extremists got away.
Many of the most radical Muslim Brotherhood refugees from Hama were welcomed next door--and trained--in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Spanish investigators believe that Ghasoub Ghalyoun, the man they have accused of conducting surveillance for the 9/11 attacks, who also has roots in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, was trained in an Iraqi terrorist camp in the early 1980s. Ghalyoun mentions this Iraqi training in a 2001 letter to the head of Syrian intelligence, in which he seeks reentry to Syria despite his long affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reaching out to Islamic radicals was, in fact, one of the first moves Saddam Hussein made upon taking power in 1979. That he did not do it for ideological reasons is unimportant. As Barodi noted at last week's hearing, "He used us and we used him."
Contrary to "experts" such as Michael Scheuer, who has claimed that "Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies
" against al Qaeda, the evidence is now overwhelming that Baathist Iraq was an active sponsor of jihadist terrorism. Contrary to those who argue that the invasion of Iraq created a "breeding ground" for terrorism
, it is now clear that Iraq was breeding thousands of trained jihadists before George W. Bush even set foot in the White House. Contrary to those who claim that confronting Saddam's Iraq was a distraction from the war against Islamist terrorism, it is now apparent that Operation Iraqi Freedom destroyed a regime that not only supported anti-American terrorism through propaganda
, but actively trained and harbored jihadists on a scale rivaling Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Finally, Hayes's revelations show just how flagrantly Saddam's regime was violating UN Security Council resolutions
requiring it to cease all support for terrorism.
In short, the argument that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with jihadist terrorism is simply no longer tenable.