June 05, 2004

Iraq and al Qaeda

A constant refrain from opponents of the war is that "there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda". In fact, that's a quote from George Soros during his recent speech equating the abuses at Abu Ghraib to September 11. Al Gore recently said that Bush used "forged and blatantly false assertions that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda". Similar beliefs have been confidently stated by ranks of pundits, as well as many of my friends.

Whether this belief is because they have not heard the evidence or because they choose not to listen to it, I don't know. It does seem to be the case that you have to dig in order to find the facts, since unlike other more negative stories, it is not being shoved down our throats daily.

But the fact remains that there is strong evidence of an connection between Iraq and al Qaeda – a connection that, rather than commencing with the Iraq War, goes back a decade at least.

So to make it easier to sort through, I've collected the evidence that I've seen about the connections:

  1. 1993 WTC bombers – Saddam Hussein gave Abdul Rahman Yasin, as suspect in the 1993 WTC bombing safe haven in Iraq. "We now know based on documents that we've captured since we took Baghdad that they put him on the payroll, gave him a monthly stipend and provided him with a house, sanctuary, in effect, in Iraq in the aftermath of ... the '93 attack on the World Trade Center," Cheney said. Yasin was indicted for the '93 bombings and is on the FBI most-wanted list. He currently is believed to be in Iraq, fighting coalition forces. By the way, Ramzi Yousef his partner and the mastermind of the 1993 bombings is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

  2. al-Shifa facility – In August 1998, Clinton hit the al-Shifa chemical factory in the Sudan with Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was a direct response to al Qaeda's bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam (despite Republican claims that it was designed to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal). This factory is owned by the Sudanese Military Industrial Corporation, which was (and is) widely believed to be controlled by Osama bin Laden, and was suspected of manufacturing chemical weapons, including VX nerve gas.
    The CIA had soil samples from outside the factory that tested positive for VX precursors – specifically EMPTA the precursor used in Iraq's VX program (it turns out that there are several methods for producing VX, of which Iraq's was fairly unique). Added to this was the fact that, reportedly, Emad Husayn Abdullah al-Ani, the "father" of the Iraqi VX program had visited the plant during its construction.
    Richard Clarke, recent Bush nemesis and one of the driving forces behind the al-Shifa attack, still stands by the action in his book Against All Enemies, refusing to backpedal from the justification used at the time, that Iraq and al Qaeda were collaborating on chemical weapons. In fact, according to NewsMax, "EMPTA is a compound that had been used as a prime ingredient in Iraqi nerve gas," writes Clarke. "It has no other known use, nor had any other nation employed EMPTA to our knowledge for any purpose."

  3. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir – An Iraqi of that name was hired as a "greeter" in the Kuala Lumpur airport, reportedly with the help of the Iraqi embassy in Malaysia. The embassy contact told him when to show up for work at the airport to facilitate the entry of visitors. On January 5, 2000 he expedited the entry of Khalid al Mihdhar and drove with him in car to a meeting that lasted 3 days. It is now believed that several al Qaeda leaders were at this planning meeting, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
    After September 11, when detained in Qatar, Shakir had the contact information for several al Qaeda operatives on him, including several of the terrorists who were responsible for the 1993 WTC bombings. He was arrested in Jordan, but eventually returned to Iraq because of consistent pressure for his release from the Iraqi government.
    Recently, his name has been found on three separate lists of members of Saddam Fedayeen as a Lieutenant Colonel in that organization.

  4. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – born in Zarqa, Jordan and trained in Afghanistan under bin Laden, al-Zarqawi is behind many of the attacks against US troops (and Shi'ite pilgrims) in Iraq. He's also linked to the (foiled) Millenium bombings, the 3/11 attacks in Madrid, and is believed to have beheaded Nick Berg last month. After holing up in Iran for several months after the fall of Afghanistan, he reportedly had nasal surgery in Baghdad in summer 2002, before receive weapons and funds from Iraqi intelligence and heading north to Khumal, the base camp of Ansar al-Islam, which he led with Mullah Krekar.

  5. Mohamed Atta in Prague – Not long after September 11, the Czech government reported that Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague on April 8, 2001. That operative was reportedly Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Consul of Iraq's Czech embassy. While skeptical, the FBI could not account for Atta's whereabouts between April 4 (when he cashed an $8,000 check) and April 11. The Czech intelligence service has not retracted the claim and, in fact, after the fall of Baghdad when they were able to exploit the contents of the embassy, they found an appointment in al-Ani's datebook for an April 8 meeting with a "Hamburg student" &nash; the exact phrase that Atta used to describe himself on a Czech visa gotten a year before in May 2000. (al-Ani was expelled from Prague a few weeks later for plotting to blow up Radio Free Europe (and Radio Free Iraq) headquarters.)

So while the question of whether Saddam Hussein had knowledge of 9/11 ahead of time is still open, I believe the question of whether he had connections with al Qaeda is fairly certain (he definitely offered bin Laden asylum in 1999). And that is ignoring the larger, more obvious question, of his support for terrorists above and beyond al Qaeda. His harboring and support of Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and his blood money to Palestinians should answer that easily.

The one shell of Sarin gas found in Iraq, presuming there is only one, if given to one of these groups, could have killed around 10,000 people if used correctly in an urban area.

Here are some other references:

Free Republic also has a collection of news stories from before 2000, linking Iraq and al Qaeda. And of course, Regnum Crucis is indispensible for collecting and analysing background information on all of the terrorists and their relationships.

Posted by richard at June 5, 2004 03:59 PM

This is pretty weak stuff, Richard. The fact that al Queda operatives are in Iraq now has no bearing whatsoever with whether Saddam Hussein was connected with terrorism before we attacked him or whether he has any connection to 9/11.

Do you want to know why this bunk is not in the news? It's because it's too flimsy for even the White House. As I understand it, Bush sees Iraq as part of the "broader" war on terrorism. Except for Cheney's retracted statement linking al Queda to Iraq, Bush himself has admitted there was no meaningful connection between al Queda and Iraq for over a decade.

Unlike bin Laden, Saddam was a regional thug with a real power base. He knew as well as anybody else that any action that was remotely aggressive towards the US might jeopardize his number one priority, survival. That's why containment is a game that we could have won, especially if we had turned the screws on France and Russia.

Anyway, you might want to consider posting this on e-thePeople if you want to get some more feedback. There are members there who like a good conspiracy theory and others who can debunk them point by point.

Posted by: Michael W. at June 7, 2004 09:36 PM

Um, Mike, who said anything about al-Qaeda operatives being in Iraq now. Did you even read the post? Every single one of the items that I mentioned was about pre-Iraq war connections.

I agree, if the only evidence was al-Zarqawi in Iraq now, that would be one thing. But the evidence goes back a decade or even longer if you count non-al-Qaeda terrorists (Abu Nidal Organization and Abu Abbas for instance).

And sure, some of the stuff is a bit sketchier than others. But I ask you, what's the threshhold? A polaroid of Saddam handing Bin Laden a cannister of Sarin?

What about Richard Clarke's assertions about al-Shifa? You seemed to be a fan of his, doesn't that strike you as credible?

Posted by: richard at June 7, 2004 10:08 PM

Um . . . but really, what would the 9/11 Commission know? They're just a bunch of political hacks.

I wonder, is the Richard Clarke comment still in the hopper, or are we just to accept this crouton of evidence that supports your thesis, damning the larger loaf that flies in the face of it?

Forgive the image of ballistic bread; I'm floundering today, and I'm sorry.

And just because I'm not sure the words ever appeared on this site, I'm going to write them now — in the interest, 'ow you say, of "balanced" coverage: Abu Ghraib, prisoner abuse.

If Mike and I have to stand up and recite that we don't want to exterminate Republicans, we want to hear in exchange that torturing and humiliating prisoners is wrong.

Posted by: Brad A. at June 16, 2004 10:26 AM

First, all they are saying is that Iraq and al-Qaeda never "cooperated on attacks against the United States". That's not as strong as saying that they had no ties and did not support each other. I'd be interested in hearing the actual refutation of the individual claims I listed above. If there's evidence to refute them, I'd like to hear it. Certainly, if there's evidence to call into question Clinton and Clarke's statements about al-Shifa and the Sudan, I'd be interested.

To your other point, I've actually condemned Abu Ghraib a couple of times, but always as an aside, I admit. Why? Because I have a couple of posts in the hopper that I want to write, but I need to do more research and spend time getting it right.

A couple of points, with nuance constrained by time and space:

  • Torture is wrong, period
  • There is no excuse for Abu Ghraib, and punishment should go as high as warranted
  • Much of what is being called torture is not torture – I hold out humiliation, threats, sleep deprivation, murder
  • We need Jack Bauers to do the wrong thing sometime to save the world
  • Imminence of the threat is the key – it is unlikely that anyone in Gitmo or Abu Ghraib are even close to qualifying
  • the Geneva convention is more complicated than most people would have us believe
See how unsatisfying that is without elaboration? Now I'm sure to get a bunch of shit for being a neanderthal, because I didn't supply enough nuance in 50 words or less.

Posted by: richard at June 16, 2004 11:41 AM

Read what the Republican say in response to the commission.

1. Undermine the source: Its biased (a common theme with all reports critical in any way of Bush. If a Democrat says something negative - clearly partisan; if a former cabinet member says something negative - had an ax to grind.) They're very good at discrediting any and all sources.

2. Avoid specifcs: They both hate Americans. OK, fine. I suppose by that logic Castro was working with them, too.

3. Change the subject: “Iraq is a strategic move to offer a democratic alternative in the Middle East.” OK fine, but this is a different point. There may very well have been other reasons for going to war, but the commission just pointed out that "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”

I know the object of this debate isn't to point out stupid remakrs by members of the party we like least – I just found their responses so weak that it seems they don't really believe their own story.

Posted by: Mike F. at June 16, 2004 09:00 PM

I don't like that woman's hair; I don't like her logic; and I don't like her use of the word "meritorious." She offends me in every imaginable way.

Now let's get out there and "shed the blood" of everyone who hates Americans.


Posted by: Brad A. at June 16, 2004 10:00 PM