September 22, 2003

Iraq and al Qaeda

The WSJ's (registration required) editorial today rightly makes the argument that there are reasonably supported linkages between the former regime in Iraq and al Qaeda, including, but not limited to:

  • About a month after September 11, reports surfaced that lead hijacker Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi embassy official and intelligence agent named Ahmed al-Ani. Al-Ani was a later expelled from the Czech Republic, in connection with a plot to bomb Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Iraq. Despite repeated attempts to discredit the report of a meeting between the two, Czech officials at the cabinet level have stuck by the story. Al-Ani has been captured in Iraq, and the public deserves to know what he's telling U.S. officials about that meeting.

  • Also in October 2001, two defectors alleged that a 707 fuselage at Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, was being used to train terrorists in the art of hijacking with simple weapons such as knives. Though no link to al Qaeda was alleged, some of the trainees were said to be non-Iraqi Arabs. The fuselage was clearly visible in satellite photos, and has since been found.

  • Press reports, which had begun in 1998, resurfaced that former Iraqi intelligence chief and then-ambassador to Turkey Faruk Hijazi had met with bin Laden and associates on multiple occasions. Hijazi is in U.S. custody too, and has reportedly confirmed some of the alleged contacts.
  • Indeed, given Saddam's willingness to work with terrorists (e.g., money to the families of Palestinia, amongst others), it is not a ridiculous leap of logic to think that Saddam rendered aid to al Qaeda.

    Further, it is often forgotten in the analysis of this issue that al Qaeda is a loose confederation of actors, not a monolithic, highly institutionalized organization. It isn't like there was going to be a treaty signed with Iraq or an ambassador from al Qaeda to Baghdad.

    As such, if the Saddam regime did, in any way aid members or cells of al Qaeda, it is legitimate to call such aid a "link to al Qaeda"--especially since transient organziations without a state "home" need such linkages to survive and act.

    Posted by Steven Taylor at September 22, 2003 08:29 AM | TrackBack


    If those in custody have confirmed the reports, you would think that the administration would have been touting that fact. Instead, Bush clearly said that they have no evidence of a link between Iraq and 9/11 (unless I've misinterpreted the point here, which is possible), and the al-Qaeda links are pretty tenuous. The first has never been confirmed, as far as I understand it, and you have to admit that the second point is pretty weak. Non-Iraqi Arabs? So what?

    Posted by: Brett at September 22, 2003 10:58 AM

    You know, the Airplane story is the stupidest one of the bunch. It doesn't take an airplane to practice taking one over. You never go outside - DUH! Why, oh why on earth would any terrorist do that? What? They want to advertise their presence?

    The only reason you'd want an airplane is to practice against hijackers.

    But amazingly, in this never ending effort to dig the hole we're in even deeper, no body has the brains to figure this out.

    Ah, the brilliant beam of light from the right.

    Posted by: JohnC at September 22, 2003 11:04 AM


    I am not trying to make any 911 link here, but am arguing that an al Qaeda link is not, nor in my opinion has it ever been, all that ludicrious a leap. Indeed, I am convinced that linkages exist. Of course, this is one of those topics that tends to bifurcate observers--reasonable people believe both sides (link/no link) and there tends to be a correlation between one's general view on the war itself and how one reads the evidence.


    Mi amigo--you need to do better than that--I would think that a mock up of a fuselage of a passenger plain would be quite useful in training for a hijacking. Why wouldn't it?


    Posted by: Steven at September 22, 2003 11:19 AM

    A mock up of the inside of an airplane is darn useful to the hijacker. But an entire airplane is only useful to those who are training to counter them. This is SOP for all anti-terrorist training around the globe (just look it up). It makes absolutely no sense for a terrorist to do this - you could create a mockup of the inside of any airliner pretty easy in any warehouse. It's just plain stupid to think they did this. And you'd have to ignore the anti-terrorist training that Iraq was known to be doing with this plane - yes, Virginia, Iraq did have their own problems with hijacking.

    Great, it's not that far of a leap of logic - maybe. You have to get past all the other reasons why they wouldn't have anything to do with each other.

    But merely being probable isn't evidence. And all anyone's got are the 6 degrees of Saddam Huessein and that's not even something my Grandmother would think is evidence.

    Posted by: JohnC at September 22, 2003 12:09 PM

    Oh, and this little tidbit really helps your case.

    Even that assertion has become a source of tension on the House Intelligence Committee, which is probing the handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq. At a closed hearing last week, a knowledgeable source tells TIME, Democrat Silvestre Reyes read into the record a secret memo he sent Republican chairman Porter Goss more than a month before the war. Reyes (who, through an aide, declined comment) raised concerns that intelligence agencies may have misled the panel by suddenly touting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Reyes told the panel that in closed-door testimony over the previous year, intelligence witnesses, when asked if there was any evidence of such links, had consistently said there was "none, or very little if we stretch it."
    Don't you guys have any other trick than this? I mean, four times in a row is pretty silly, don't you think? I mean, isn't that the definition of insanity?

    Posted by: JohnC at September 22, 2003 01:48 PM

    I'm sort of baffled that anyone would think Iraq/al-Qaeda "links" the least bit surprising. This is not the same issue as the evidence for same -- but what reading of contemporary Middle East history, Iraqi behavior under the Ba'ath, or al-Qaeda in general makes the very idea of links and contacts seem at all unlikely?

    There are press references, but nothing confirmatory, that at least some in the intelligence community discount such links because of secular/religious-nutcase differences between the parties. If true, this is astounding, and it's disturbing to think our tax dollars pay such dimwits. Check the Iraqi flag introduced after the Gulf War -- hmm, what are those funny chicken-scratchings between the green stars? Not a hummus recipe. A farcical and transparent grab at Islamic piety, of course -- but the point is that Iraq's dictator wouldn't hesitate to use Islamic kooks for his own ends, if the chance offered itself.

    What am I missing that makes it unlikely Saddam or al-Qaeda wouldn't resort to any expedient that offered benefits in dealing with each other?

    For historical analogies, it's worth recalling that a socially progressive American president would never, ever become the key backer and arms-supplier to the greatest totalitarian mass-murdering dictator of modern history, as a practical expedient -- wait, he did.

    And further, a secular Arab Ba'ath regime like Syria would never, ever get in bed with a non-Arab islamofascist nutcase regime like Iran, to the extent of helping arm said regime's wacko foreign legion and giving it shelter right in the heart of it's zone of control next door, and in all this repeatedly risking an ass-whupping by Israel on account of the wackos' misbehavior -- wait, it has, for years.

    But as to evidence of this utterly unremarkable idea of a link between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda, see DCI Tenet's declassified letter to the Senate committee -- decade of high-level contacts, talk of a non-aggression pact, requests for training in chem and explosives. And the very specific, very concrete Zarqawi matter. And the travel admin documents for a visiting al-Qaeda rep from Sudan found by the journalist in Baghdad in April. And -- as yet not publicly documented -- the interesting list of things in the Stephen Hayes piece in the Weekly Standard.

    Hopefully, per the comment above, a "white paper" sort of document bringing together all the available evidence will be forthcoming, but I have my doubts -- the absolute priority naturally is exploiting any real intel finds in the real world, not PR. Two years after the Afghan campaign, precious little has leaked out about interesting intel found there, but actions based on it have unfolded around the globe.

    But whatever the eventual record shows on al-Qaeda's or other terror groups' past links to a wildly reckless and very capable Ba'ath Iraq (if any), I have a bold prediction about future links of this sort.

    There won't be any.

    Which kinda seemed like the whole point of the exercise ......

    Posted by: IceCold at September 23, 2003 02:12 AM

    Please remember that the labels are your own.

    Posted by: Watkins Dan at December 10, 2003 11:06 PM

    People are just smart enough to not be happily ignorant.

    Posted by: Kingdon Jim at May 19, 2004 07:36 PM
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