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What the Pentagon Report Missed

The recent Pentagon study was far from the final word on the Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection. Richard Miniter sheds light on what the report -- and the media -- overlooked.

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Richard Miniter

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March 18, 2008 - 12:30 am

When an Institute for Defense Analysis study seemed to announce that there was “no connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda,” the media was quick to parrot the line of Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers. Relying on a leaked executive summary of the report, Strobel wrote that “an exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents” found “no evidence” linking Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda.

Led by the Weekly Standard‘s Stephen Hayes, the right side of the blogosphere was quick to point out that the report did contain evidence of such connections, focusing mainly on Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged with Al-Qaeda in 1997, and the Army of Mohammed, a Kuwaiti affiliate of Al-Qaeda. The New York Sun‘s Eli Lake and the Weekly Standard‘s Thomas Joscelyn found in the report evidence that at least five Al-Qaeda affiliates were funded by Iraq.

Still, both the MSM and blogosphere have missed some key points:

The report utterly demolishes the myth that Saddam Hussein, a “secular dictator,” would never work with radical Islamists. The report contains a wealth of information demonstrating that Saddam Hussein was in touch with nearly every Islamist terrorist group in the Middle East and that his intelligence services had standing orders to monitor and reach out to any group of significance. That includes factions of Fatah, Hamas, the Army of Mohammed, and even Iran’s favorite terror group, Hezboallah. Of course, Hussein also worked with a number of Al-Qaeda proxies. Claudia Rossett has a good summary here. But the bigger point remains unnoticed: secular socialist Saddam did work with Islamist terrorists, despite their “ideological differences.”

The report was not “exhaustive,” as McClatchy Newspapers and others described it. Virtually every news story and blog post says that the researchers surveyed 600,000 captured documents in the Harmony database.

There are two problems with that claim. The Harmony database contains some two million documents. So the report examined less than a quarter of the captured Iraqi documents — hardly exhaustive. In the fine print, the report concedes it was not able to access many documents because they were being actively used by “other agencies” — meaning one or more of the nation’s 16 intelligence services, the State department, or other elements of the Defense department.

The second problem: The researchers didn’t even examine all 600,000 documents available to them, the report concedes. Only 15% — about 90,000 — of those 600,000 documents have been translated into English. The remaining 510,000 documents were, in the language of the report, “screened” not read. Every Harmony document has a title, number, and several key words in English. Researchers simply sifted through the labels looking for “bin Laden,” “Al-Qaeda” and so on. That isn’t very exhaustive; officials who have used the Harmony database say that the key words and titles were typed in by hourly contractors who often missed the significance of what they were inputting. Besides, they were rewarded for speed, not thoroughness. Worse still, Al-Qaeda did not refer to itself by its name until after 2001. Instead, it was known as “the company,” “the organization,” and so on, and bin Laden was simply referred to as “the director.” So it would be unusual for the phrase “Al-Qaeda” to show up in captured Iraqi documents. In short, the keyword search applied to 85% of the available documents is meaningless.

The report definitely missed documents that established the Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection. On Friday, I spoke with a former government official whose position required him to review captured Iraqi documents in the Harmony database. (He insisted on anonymity because his work was classified and he continues to consult on intelligence matters.) “I have been in that database and I saw an instruction from the [Iraqi] foreign ministry to its embassy in Havana, instructing them to cooperate with members of Al-Qaeda. The document named specific individuals we know are connected to Al-Qaeda.” Yet, that document does not appear in this report. Why? Most likely, my source says, because it is still being used by the State department or the CIA.

The report was never supposed to be the final word on the Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection. Instead, it was supposed to mine the Harmony database for information that could be useful to military commanders. On page vii, the report lays out its mission. Getting to the bottom of one of the most vexing issues of the Iraq war wasn’t listed.

So how did the press get it wrong? One official familiar with the history of the report told me what he believed happened. Kevin M. Woods, the main author of the report, wrote a factual report whose conclusions clung narrowly to the available facts. Somewhere along the line, a politically motivated supervisor inserted a one-liner into the executive summary, and that person, or another, leaked it to Strobel, at McClatchy Newspapers. The rest of the MSM dutifully followed Strobel’s line. That made a mostly neutral report into a politically-charged weapon, much like the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

The report does not say that there is “no connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda,” as many in the media have summarized it. It states that researchers looking in essentially 15% of one-quarter of the Harmony database found no evidence of an “operational link.” An operational link is one in which Iraqi officials order Al-Qaeda to carry out specific operations. There is a big difference between “no link” and “no operational link.” The phrase “no operational link” concedes that there are many other types of links, such as training, financial assistance, exchange of personnel and so on.

The report ignores open sources. If researchers really wanted to be “exhaustive” in their investigation, they would have looked at the numerous “open source” links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

Before exploring the myriad links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, let us consider sources. To be persuasive, the best sources have to be authoritative and impartial — and preferably independent of the White House. So the main sources for this article are the official reports of the 9-11 Commission, bipartisan reports of U.S. Congressional committees, and news stories written by staff members of overseas center-left dailies, mostly the Guardian and the (London) Observer as well as established center-left American publications, such as the New Yorker.

The main Administration source relied on here is Colin Powell, who was the most independent member of the Bush cabinet and certainly not a cheerleader for war in Iraq. (And I only relied on words that he did not later retract.) The other Administration source cited is CIA Director George Tenet, who was first appointed by President Clinton. I also relied on my own prior reporting in Egypt, Sudan and Iraq.

There are four kinds of undisputed connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda found in open sources: meetings, personnel, money and training.

Meetings

  • Photographs, taken by Malaysian intelligence in January of 2000, place Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a suspected Iraqi intelligence operative, at key planning meetings with Al-Qaeda members for the bombing of the USS Cole and the September 11th attacks.

  • “In the spring of 1992, according to Iraqi Intelligence documents obtained after the war, Osama bin Laden met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Syria,” Colin Powell told the United Nations. Why didn’t researchers look for these documents in the Harmony database?
  • Sudanese intelligence officials told me that their agents had observed meetings between Iraqi intelligence agents and bin Laden starting in 1994, when bin Laden lived in Khartoum.
  • Former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA and sharp critic of the Bush Administration, Michael Scheuer, writes in his 2002 book, Through Our Enemies Eyes, that Bin Laden “made a connection with Iraq’s intelligence service through its Khartoum station.”
  • Bin Laden met at least eight times with officers of Iraq’s Special Security Organization, a secret police agency run by Saddam’s son Qusay, according to intelligence made public by Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking before the United Nations Security Council on February 6, 2003.
  • Bin Laden met the director of the Iraqi mukhabarat, Iraq’s external intelligence service in 1996 in Khartoum, according to Powell.
  • An Al-Qaeda operative now held by the U.S. confessed that in the mid-1990s, bin Laden had forged an agreement with Saddam’s men to cease all terrorist activities against the Iraqi dictator, Powell said.
  • Saddam’s relationship to bin Laden was documented while the archterrorist was based in Sudan from 1991 to 1996. Patrick Fitzgerald, an U.S. attorney in the Clinton Justice Department, prepared an indictment of Osama bin Laden: “Al-Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, Al-Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.”
  • In 1999 the Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that Farouk Hijazi, a senior officer in Iraq’s mukhabarat, had journeyed deep into the icy mountains near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1998 to meet with Al-Qaeda officers. Mr. Hijazi is “thought to have offered bin Laden asylum in Iraq,” the Guardian reported.
  • “In 2000, Saudi Arabia went on kingdom-wide alert after learning that Iraq had agreed to help Al-Qaeda attack U.S. and British interests on the peninsula,” Powell said.
  • In October 2000, another Iraqi intelligence operative, Salah Suleiman, was arrested near the Afghan border by Pakistani authorities, according to Jane’s Foreign Report, a respected London-based defense newsletter. Jane’s reported that Suleiman was shuttling between Iraqi intelligence and Ayman al Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command.

Why are all of those meetings significant? The London Observer reports that FBI investigators cite a captured Al-Qaeda field manual in Afghanistan, which “emphasizes the value of conducting discussions about pending terrorist attacks face to face, rather than by electronic means.”

  • As recently as 2001, Iraq’s embassy in Pakistan was used as a “liaison” between the Iraqi dictator and Al-Qaeda, Mr. Powell told the United Nations.

  • Qassem Hussein Muhammed, a twenty-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence, was interviewed by New Yorker veteran reporter Jeffrey Goldberg in 2002 — almost a year before the war. Muhammed said that he was one of the seventeen bodyguards assigned to protect Zawahiri on a 1992 trip to Iraq. Zawahiri, according to Qassem, stayed at the al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad. Qassem claimed that he was on the security detail that shuttled Zawahiri to one of Saddam’s opulent palaces for a meeting with Saddam.
  • Both ABC News’s Nightline and the PBS’ Wide Angle interviewed a “twenty-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence” who told the same story. He was not named by Wide Angle. Nightline identified him by his nom de guerre, Abu Aman Amaleeki. “In 1992, elements of Al-Qaeda came to Baghdad and met with Saddam Hussein,” Amaleeki said, “And among them was Ayman al Zawahiri.” Amaleeki added, “I was present when Ayman al Zawahiri visited Baghdad.”
  • Another visit by Zawahiri, in September 1999, was confirmed by former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi in a wide-ranging interview with a reporter from the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. Allawi said the Iraqi secret service in the new Iraqi intelligence service had found documents from the Saddam era that detailed the relationship between the Iraqi strongman and Al-Qaeda.
  • Allawi said that Al-Qaeda’s number two al Zawahiri was invited to attend the ninth Popular Islamic Conference by Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, Saddam’s second-in-command. The Iraq government has the invitation and other documents.
  • Yusuf Galan, also known as Luis Galan Gonzales, is a Spanish convert to Islam linked to Al-Qaeda by Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzon. Galan is charged by a Spanish court with being “directly involved with the preparation and planning” of the September 11 attacks. In the course of their investigation, Spanish police searched Galan’s home and found an array of documents related to al Qaeda — and an invitation to a party at Iraqi embassy in Madrid. Galan worked for a former roommate of Mohammed Atta, who led the 9-11 attacks. The invitation used his “Al-Qaeda nom de guerre,” London’s Independent reports.

Money

  • Documents found among the debris of the Iraqi Intelligence Center show that Baghdad funded the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan terror group led by an Islamist cleric linked to bin Laden. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, the organization offered to recruit “youth to train for the jihad” at a “headquarters for international holy warrior network” to be established in Baghdad.

  • The Arabic-language daily al-Hayat reported on May 23, 2005: “A detained al Qaeda member tells us that Saddam was more willing to assist Al-Qaeda after the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Saddam was also impressed by Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.”
  • Mullah Melan Krekar ran a terror group (the Ansar al-Islam) linked to both bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Krekar admitted to a Kurdish newspaper that he met bin Laden in Afghanistan and other senior Al-Qaeda officials. His acknowledged meetings with bin Laden go back to 1988. When he organized Ansar al Islam in 2001 to conduct suicide attacks on Americans, “three bin Laden operatives showed up with a gift of $300,000 ‘to undertake jihad,’” Newsday reported. Krekar is now in custody in the Netherlands. His group operated in a portion of northern Iraq loyal to Saddam Hussein — and attacked independent Kurdish groups hostile to Saddam. A spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan told a United Press International correspondent that Krekar’s group was funded by “Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad.”
  • Le Monde, the Paris-based center-left daily, reported on July 9, 2005, that Ansar al Islam “was founded in 2001 with the joint help of Saddam Hussein — who intended to use it against moderate Kurds — and Al-Qaeda, which hoped to find in Kurdistan a new location that would receive its members.”
  • A captured Ansar al Islam terrorist, Rebwar Mohammed Abdul, revealed to the Los Angeles Times: “‘I never talked to [Abu] Wael [an Iraqi intelligence officer] but I saw him three times in meetings with Mullah Krekar [the head of Ansar al-Islam]. The mullah told us that Wael was a friend of his for 23 years and that they had met in Baghdad while Wael was an intelligence officer.”
  • The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed several prisoners held by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the Kurdish factions fighting Ansar al-Islam. The prisoners related an intricate web of coordination between an Al-Qaeda splinter group and Saddam’s intelligence service, the mukhabarat. Goldberg writes: “The allegations include charges that Ansar al-Islam has received funds directly from Al-Qaeda; that the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al-Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al-Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992 [Zawahiri]; that a number of Al-Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan.”
  • In Iraq in May 2007, I interviewed Adullah Rahman al-Shamary, a former assistant to Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son. Al-Shamary was a liason between Hussein and Abu Wael, who essentially commanded Ansar al Islam, Al Qaeda’s first Iraq affiliate.

Training

  • An Iraqi defector to Turkey, known by his cover name as “Abu Mohammed,” told Gwynne Roberts of the Sunday Times of London that he saw bin Laden’s fighters in camps in Iraq in 1997. At the time, Mohammed was a colonel in Saddam’s Fedayeen, a brutal strike force that reported directly to Saddam Hussein. Mohammed described an encounter at Salman Pak, a training facility southeast of Baghdad. At that vast compound run by Iraqi intelligence, Muslim militants trained to hijack planes with knives — on a full-size Boeing 707. Col. Mohammed recalls his first visit to Salman Pak this way: “We were met by Colonel Jamil Kamil, the camp manager, and Major Ali Hawas. I noticed that a lot of people were queuing for food. (The major) said to me: ‘You’ll have nothing to do with these people. They are Osama bin Laden’s group and the PKK [a Muslim terror group known for atrocities in Turkey] and Mojahedin-e Khalq [a terror group active in Pakistan].’”

  • After the end of major combat operations in Iraq, an Associated Press reporter visited Salman Pak. “Salman Pak, about 15 miles southeast Baghdad… satellite photos show an urban assault training site, a three-car train for railway-attack instruction, and a commercial airliner sitting all by itself in the middle of the desert.”
  • Ravi Nessam, the Associated Press reporter, continued: “Speaking at an April 6, 2003 press conference, General [Vincent] Brooks said: ‘The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their influences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.’”
  • Nationally syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock sifted through the publicly available information about al Qaeda operatives training in Iraq’s Salman Pak facility: “Sabah Khodada, [is] a former Iraqi army captain who once worked at Salman Pak. On October 14, 2001, Khodada granted an interview to PBS television program Frontline stating, ‘This camp is specialized in exporting terrorism to the whole world.’ He added: ‘Training includes hijacking and kidnapping of airplanes, trains, public buses, and planting explosives in cities… how to prepare for suicidal operations.’ He continued: ‘We saw people getting trained to hijack airplanes…They are even trained how to use utensils for food, like forks and knives provided in the plane.’”
  • The following year, according to 9-11 Commission Staff Statement 15, bin Laden took the Iraqis up on their pledge. [Iraqi intelligence officer Farouk] Hijazi told his interrogators in May 2003 that bin Laden had specifically requested [from Iraq] Chinese-manufactured anti-ship limpet mines as well as training camps in Iraq.”
  • Mohammad Atef, the head of Al-Qaeda’s military wing until the U.S. killed him in Afghanistan in November 2001, told a senior Al-Qaeda member now in U.S. custody that the terror network needed labs outside of Afghanistan to learn how to make chemical weapons, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell asked: “Where did they go, where did they look?” said the secretary. “They went to Iraq.”
  • The Iraqis, who had the Third World’s largest poison-gas operations prior to the Gulf War I, have perfected the technique of making hydrogen-cyanide gas. (The Nazis used to call that gas Zyklon-B.) In the hands of Al-Qaeda, this would be a fearsome weapon in an enclosed space — like a suburban mall or subway station.
  • CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb making to Al-Qaeda. It also provided training in poisons and gasses to two Al-Qaeda associates; one of these [Al-Qaeda] associates characterized the relationship as ‘successful.’ Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence. It comes to us from credible and reliable sources. Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources.”

Personnel

  • Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, entered the U.S. on a phony Iraqi passport.

  • Abdul Rahman Yasin was the only member of the Al-Qaeda cell that detonated the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bomb to remain at large in the Clinton years. He fled to Iraq. U.S. forces recently discovered a cache of documents in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, that show that Iraq gave Yasin both a house and monthly salary. This confirmed ABC News reports from the Clinton era.
  • ABC News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reported on July 27, 1994: “Last week, [television program] Day One confirmed [Yasin] is in Baghdad…Just a few days ago, he was seen at [his father's] house by ABC News. Neighbors told us Yasin comes and goes freely.”
  • Six months before the 9-11 attacks, which were plotted in Germany, Germany federal police arrested two Iraqi men suspected of spying.
  • “They are suspected of carrying out missions for an Iraqi intelligence service in a number of German towns since the beginning of 2001,” said a spokeswoman for state prosecutors Kay Nehm in Karlsruhe.
  • On March 16, 2001, a Paris-based Arabic-language newspaper reported fresh details on the arrests. The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin translated the report from al-Watan al-Arabi:

    Al-Watan al-Arabi (Paris) reports that two Iraqis were arrested in Germany, charged with spying for Baghdad. The arrests came in the wake of reports that Iraq was reorganizing the external branches of its intelligence service and that it had drawn up a plan to strike at US interests around the world through a network of alliances with extremist fundamentalist parties.

    The most serious report contained information that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were working together. German authorities, acting on CIA recommendations, had been focused on monitoring the activities of Islamic groups linked to bin Laden. They discovered the two Iraqi agents by chance and uncovered what they considered to be serious indications of cooperation between Iraq and bin Laden. The matter was considered so important that a special team of CIA and FBI agents was sent to Germany to interrogate the two Iraqi spies.

  • In 1998, Abbas al-Janabi, a longtime aide to Saddam’s son Uday, defected to the West. At the time, he repeatedly told reporters that there was a direct connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.
  • “The Senate Intelligence Committee report says that [Abu] Zubaydah was the ‘senior al Qaeda coordinator responsible for training and recruiting.’ Zubaydah, who is in U.S. custody, is often cited by skeptics of the Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection because he told interrogators that he thought it ‘unlikely’ that bin Laden would establish a formal alliance with Iraq for fear of losing his independence. But the skeptics often ignore other aspects of Zubaydah’s debriefing. Again, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Zubaydah ‘indicated that he had heard that an important al Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and others had good relationships with Iraqi intelligence.”
  • In 2001, Saudi Arabian border guards arrested two Al-Qaeda members entering the oil-rich kingdom from Iraq. “They were linked to associates of the Baghdad cell, and one of them received training in Afghanistan on how to use cyanide,” Powell said.
  • Following the defeat of the Taliban, almost two dozen bin Laden associates “converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there,” Powell told the United Nations in February 2003. From their Baghdad base, Powell said, they supervised the movement of men, materiel and money for Al-Qaeda’s global network.
  • Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi oversaw an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, Powell told the United Nations. His specialty was poisons. Wounded in fighting with U.S. forces, he sought medical treatment in Baghdad in May 2002. Official records discovered in Baghdad revealed that Zarqawi received medical treatment at the Olympic hospital run by Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son.

    When Zarqawi recovered, he restarted a training camp in northern Iraq. Almost a year before the Iraq war, Zarqawi’s Iraq cell was later tied to the October 2002 murder of Lawrence Foley, an official of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in Amman, Jordan. The captured assassin confessed that he received orders and funds from Zarqawi’s cell in Iraq, Powell said. His accomplice escaped to Iraq. “After the attack, an associate of the assassin left Jordan to go to Iraq to obtain weapons and explosives for further operations.”

  • Powell told United Nations: “the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp, and this camp is located in Northeastern Iraq.”
  • Powell added: “Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein’s controlled Iraq, but Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000, this agent offered Al-Qaeda safe haven in the region.”
  • Iraq was clearly harboring Zarqawi before the Iraq war and refused twice to turn him over to U.S. Powell told the U.N.: “We asked a friendly security service to approach Baghdad about extraditing Zarqawi and providing information about him and his close associates. This service contacted Iraqi officials twice, and we passed details that should have made it easy to find Zarqawi. The network remains in Baghdad; Zarqawi still remains at large to come and go.”
  • Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi was sent to Iraq by bin Laden to purchase poison gases several times between 1997 and 2000. He called his relationship with Saddam’s regime “successful,” Powell told the United Nations.
  • Mohamed Mansour Shahab, a smuggler hired by Iraq to transport weapons to bin Laden in Afghanistan, was arrested by anti-Hussein Kurdish forces in May of 2000.
  • “Hissam al Hussein, the former second secretary at Iraq’s embassy in Manila. The Philippine government expelled him on February 13, 2003, just five weeks before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Cell phone records indicate he had spoken with Abu Madja and Hamsiraji Sali, two leaders of Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaeda’s de facto franchise for the Philippines. The timing was particularly suspicious, as he had been in contact with the Abu Sayyaf terrorists just before and after they conducted an attack in Zamboanga City.

    “Abu Sayyaf’s nail-filled bomb exploded on October 2, 2002, injuring 23 individuals and killing two Filipinos and one American. That American was U.S. Special Forces Sergeant First Class Mark Wayne Jackson, age 40.”

  • Vice President Dick Cheney sat down with Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, in 2004. Here is how Cheney summarized the evidence:

    RUSSERT: But is there a connection [between Iraq and al Qaeda]?

    CHENEY: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example on BW [biological weapons] and CW [chemical weapons], that al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved, the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al Qaeda organization.

  • CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell have also testified that the trail of meetings between Iraq and Al-Qaeda stretch back to the early 1990s. Tenet wrote the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 7, 2002 that the CIA and other American intelligence services had amassed “solid reporting” of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.
  • Powell said that the U.S. had documented “decades-long experience with respect to ties between Iraq and al Qaeda,” in his speech to the United Nations. “Going back to the early and mid-1990s when bin Laden was based in Sudan, an al-Qaeda source tells us that Saddam and bin Laden reached an understanding that al Qaeda would no longer support activities against Baghdad. Early al Qaeda ties forged by secret high-level intelligence service contacts with al Qaeda.” “There is evidence of linkage between al Qaeda and Iraq,” Powell told the panel at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 26, 2002. “There is not linkage to 9-11 that we are aware of, but I can’t dismiss that possibility.”

No connection? Well, Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi state certainly had a lot of meetings, money changed hands, some terrorist training occurred in Iraq, and a lot of personnel — including Abu Musab al Zarqawi — moved freely through the Iraqi police state. In short, there are connections.

None of this means that Iraq ran Al-Qaeda or had foreknowledge of its most gruesome attacks. It certainly does not mean Iraq was behind the 9-11 attacks or even knew about them in advance.

Still, for there to be “no connection” between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, it would mean no meetings, no money, no training and no movement of personnel. On the strength of much weaker evidence, Saudi Arabia is “connected” to Al-Qaeda. Why is Iraq the one nation given the benefit of the doubt?

Richard Miniter is PJ Media’s Washington correspondent.

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