February 21, 2004

Saddam's Al Qaeda Liaison

The evidence of Saddam Hussein's involvement with Al Qaeda continues to mount as documents surface in liberated Iraq, and prisoners are interviewed, providing firsthand testimony on the connections. Just such an interview took place recently in a Kurdish prison where Jonathan Schanzer interviewed Abdul Rahman al-Shamari, an Iraqi intelligence operative who says he worked for Saddam's "ambassador" to Al Qaeda.

It has been demonstrated by numerous documents and testimony that Saddam cooperated with Al Qaeda and its affiliates, financed Al Qaeda operations, trained Al Qaeda operatives at Salman Pak and other camps, and gave safe harbor and medical treatment to Al Qaeda terrorists. As this blog has dutifully noted, Stephen Hayes has led the way on reporting these links, and in October, 2003, Deroy Murdock published a useful summary of some of what we know. As Murdock noted, before the war, Uday Hussein himself blundered into an admission of the connection, which had to be followed up by a damage control operation:

the official Babylon Daily Political Newspaper published by Hussein's eldest son, Uday, ran what it called a "List of Honor." The paper's November 14, 2002, edition gave the names and titles of 600 leading Iraqis, including this passage: "Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan." That name....matches that of Iraq's then-ambassador to Islamabad.

Carter-appointed federal appeals judge Gilbert S. Merritt discovered this document in Baghdad while helping Iraq rebuild its legal system. He wrote in the June 25 Tennessean that two of his Iraqi colleagues remember secret police agents removing that embarrassing edition from newsstands and confiscating copies of it from private homes. The paper was not published for the next ten days.

In his interview with Schanzer, Al-Shamari said he worked for a man known as Abu Wael, an Iraqi intelligence officer chartered with coordination with Al Qaeda operations. And it wasn't just an involvement with Ansar al-Islam, the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda based in the northern Kurdish region. Abu Wael worked with outside groups from Lebanon and Egypt among others:

Al-Shamari also told me that the links between Saddam's regime and the al Qaeda network went beyond Ansar al Islam. He explained in considerable detail that Saddam actually ordered Abu Wael to organize foreign fighters from outside Iraq to join Ansar. Al-Shamari estimated that some 150 foreign fighters were imported from al Qaeda clusters in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon to fight with Ansar al Islam's Kurdish fighters....

....Al-Shamari stated that Abu Wael sometimes traveled to meet with these groups. All of them, he added, visited Wael in Iraq and were provided Iraqi visas. This corroborates an interview I had with a senior PUK official in April 2003, who stated that many of the Arab fighters captured or killed during the war held passports with Iraqi visas.

Al-Shamari said that importing foreign fighters to train in Iraq was part of his job in the Mukhabarat. The fighters trained in Salman Pak, a facility located some 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. He said that he had personal knowledge of 500 fighters that came through Salman Pak dating back to the late 1990s; they trained in "urban combat, explosives, and car bombs." This account agrees with a White House Background Paper on Iraq dated September 12, 2002, which cited the "highly secret terrorist training facility in Iraq known as Salman Pak, where both Iraqis and non-Iraqi Arabs receive training on hijacking planes and trains, planting explosives in cities, sabotage, and assassinations."

When postwar Iraq was found to be crawling with Al Qaeda operatives, the head-in-the-sand deniers of Saddam-Al Qaeda links like Sens. Kennedy and Rockefeller were quick to claim that it was the U.S. presence there that attracted the Islamist terrorists to Iraq. Of course they are right that many Al Qaeda terrorists entered Iraq after the war in an attempt to create chaos and wage war with America, and at that they have succeeded to a degree.

But for the adminstration critics like Kennedy to continue to insist that there was no pre-war connection between Saddam and the Al Qaeda organization, in the face of all of the evidence to the contrary, is at best a transparent attempt at face-saving for their earlier statements, and at worst a kind of demagoguery that ignores facts, and misleads and misinforms American citizens about an important justification for the liberation of Iraq.

Posted by dan at February 21, 2004 1:55 PM