A much-publicized report released by the Pentagon last week details the extensive ties between the regime of Saddam Hussein and a wide variety of international terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
“Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States,” the report’s authors at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) state.
But instead of reporting on this conclusion, most of the media accounts have focused on a single sentence that appears in the executive summary, stating that the report’s authors found “no smoking gun” or “direct connection” between Saddam’s Iraq and al-Qaida.
The United States Joint Forces Command, which commissioned the report from IDA, provided reporters late last week with a CD containing nearly 2,000 pages of supporting documents that purportedly formed the basis of the conclusions authored by Lt. Col. Kevin Woods and James Lacey in the 94-page redacted summary that initially was leaked to the press.
An analysis by Newsmax identified several documents with critical evidence of Saddam’s close ties to al-Qaida that were overlooked or ignored by the report’s authors, however.
These documents, published previously by the Foreign Military Studies Office of the Joint Reserve Intelligence Center, Fort Leavenworth, have since been taken down from U.S. government Web sites. Newsmax downloaded copies when they were still available.
“This is not a comprehensive, end-all, all-in-one study,” a source familiar with the drafting of the report told Newsmax. He spoke on background because his comments had not been cleared in advance by the U.S. military.
“This was a study very specifically for military lessons learned, to explain an environment. People shouldn’t make this report into something it’s not,” he added.
Another source involved in the report told Newsmax that one reason some documents were not included in the analysis was because of the sheer mass of material available — more than 600,000 documents, in all.
I have written about the Harmony data base of captured Iraqi military and intelligence documents in my recent book, Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender.
One of the most damning documents to emerge from the Harmony data base, I wrote, was a Jan. 18, 1993 order from Saddam Hussein, transmitted to the head of Iraqi intelligence, “to hunt the Americans that are in Arab lands, especially in Somalia, by using Arab elements or Asian (Muslims) or friends.”
In response, the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service informed Hussein that Iraq already had ties with a large number of international terrorist groups, including “the Islamist Arab elements that were fighting in Afghanistan and [currently] have no place to base and are physically present in Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt.” In other words, al-Qaida.
The authors of the IDA study note that Saddam’s Iraq “was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism,” and that these particular documents provided ‘detailed evidence of that support.’”
The study also points out that the captured documents “reveal that Saddam was training Arab fighters (non-Iraqi) in Iraqi training camps more than a decade prior” to the 2003 war.
But the study shies away from identifying them as al-Qaida terrorists, even though many of them were members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, became the deputy leader of al-Qaida in 1998.
Preparations for Suicide Operations Against U.S.
While the IDA study includes no information that would show operational ties between Saddam’s regime and the 9/11 hijackers, it reveals that Saddam personally gave orders on Sept. 17, 2001 to his general military intelligence directorate to recruit Iraqi officers for “suicide operations” against the United States.
The 112-page Harmony data file ISGQ-2005-00037352 contains Saddam’s order, as well as personal pledges to carry out suicide operations from more than one hundred “volunteers,” including a brigadier general.
In the order he issued just one week after the 9/11 attacks, Saddam stated that the volunteers should sign pledges “to be written in blood,” presumably their own.
Four years before this order, Saddam announced with great fanfare that he had tasked a prominent Iraqi calligrapher to produce a Quran written with his own blood. Saddam reportedly had doctors draw his blood for the task.
Several other key documents are glaringly absent from the IDA report and provide direct evidence of Saddam Hussein’s deep involvement with al-Qaida and its component organizations.
Among them is a 1999 notebook kept by an unidentified Iraqi intelligence official that detailed meetings between top Iraqi leaders and visiting Islamic terrorists. (Harmony document ISGP-2003-0001412).
One Baghdad visitor was Maulana Fazlur Rahman a signer of Osama bin Laden’s infamous 1998 fatwa calling on Muslims to “murder Americans.” Another was Afghan mujahedin leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who was also supported by Iran.
Roy Robison, a former U.S. government contractor who published an analysis of Saddam’s relationship to al-Qaida last year, argues that when Rahman met with Iraqi Vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan in 1999 “he did so as the father of the Taliban and as a leader of the World Islamic Front which declared war on the U.S the year before.”
Another document not included in this latest report was a review by Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) of their ongoing ties with Osama bin Laden and other opponents to the Saudi regime (Harmony document ISGZ-2004-009247).
This document reads like a memorandum for the record, written in early 1997, tracing the beginnings of the Iraqi regime’s relationship to Osama bin Laden.
In a letter dated Jan. 11, 1995, Saddam Hussein personally authorized the General Director of Intelligence to establish direct contact with bin Laden in Sudan, the report states.
The initial meeting with bin Laden took place just one month later, on Feb. 19, 1995, and included an offer by Iraq to provide bin Laden with broadcasting facilities and a discussion of plans “to perform joint operations against foreign forces in the land of Hijaz [ie, Saudi Arabia].
Following bin Laden’s expulsion from Sudan, in July 1996, the memo states that the Iraqi intelligence service is “working to revitalize this relationship through a new channel.”
The IDA report includes in its supporting documentation a detailed report by the Iraqi general director of intelligence in response to an “action directive” issued by Saddam on Jan. 18, 1993, ordering his intelligence service to establish relations with terrorist groups around the world and to develop the “expertise to carry out assignments.”
In addition to a variety of Palestinian groups, the document lists the Hezb Islami of Afghanistan, the Islamic Scholars Group of Pakistan, the Jam’iyat “Ulama Pakistan, all of which subsequently became affiliated with al-Qaida.
The authors of the IDA report note in the abstract accompanying their work that the captured documents provide “evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including . . . Islamic terrorist organizations.”
While the documents “do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al-Qaida network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al-Qaida,” and to provide financing and training of these outside groups.
“This created both the appearance of and, in some ways, a ‘de facto’ link between the organizations,” the report’s authors stated.
Much of the polemic over Saddam’s support for al-Qaida arises from disputed claims, put forward in a Czech government intelligence report, that an Iraqi intelligence official met with 9/11 pilot Mohamed Atta in Prague in the April 2001.
No documents have surfaced that would corroborate that claim, while in press interviews well after the liberation of Iraq, the Iraqi intelligence officer who reportedly met with Atta in Prague told reporters that the meeting never took place.
All Iraqi Roads Lead to Terrorism
Contrary to the accounts that have appeared in mainstream media outlets, the Harmony documents and the IDA report show beyond any doubt that Saddam Hussein was willing to fund, train, and use Islamic terrorists, including groups affiliated with al-Qaida, to carry out his long-standing plans against the United States and U.S. allies in the region.
A 2002 annual report to the Iraq Intelligence Service M8 directorate of liberation movements shows that the IIS hosted 13 terrorist conferences during the year, and that Saddam personally received 37 congratulatory messages from international terrorist groups. The annual report also noted that the IIS had issued 699 passports to terrorists during the year.
“Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al-Qaida [such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri], or that generally shared al-Qaida’s stated goals and objectives,” the IDA report states.
But an element of competition also kept Saddam from too much direct involvement with al-Qaida, the IDA report states.
While both Saddam and bin Laden wanted to drive the West out of Muslim lands and to create a single powerful state that would replace America as a global superpower, “bin Laden wanted — and still wants — to restore the Islamic caliphate while Saddam, despite his later Islamic rhetoric, dreamed more narrowly of being the secular ruler of a united Arab nation,” the report’s authors state.
The relationship between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden bore some resemblance to the Cali and Medellin drug cartels.
While the seemingly rival cartels were vying for market share, “neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective,” the report’s authors state.
“Recognizing Iraq as a second, or parallel, “terror cartel” that was simultaneously threatened by and somewhat aligned with its rival helps to explain the evidence emerging from the detritus of Saddam’s regime,” the IDA report states.
Link to First World Trade Center Attack
One terror tie apparently put to rest in this latest report are the suspicions that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
Analysts such as Laurie Mylroie have argued for years that Saddam’s regime was behind the 1993 attack, and cited as evidence the fact that a key member of the plot, Abdul Rahman Yasin, fled to Iraq immediately after the bombing.
As I reported in Shadow Warriors, Saddam Hussein recorded all meetings in his presidential office, and the Harmony data base includes tapes from a series of meetings during 1993 that discussed the interrogation of Yasin.
Saddam “discusses the possibility that the attack was part of the ‘dirty games that the American intelligence would play if it had a bigger purpose,’” and expresses concern that Yasin might be an American agent, the IDA report states.
According to Saddam, Yassin was “too organized in what he is saying and [he] is playing games, playing games and influencing the scenario” during his interrogations by Iraqi intelligence. Saddam ordered that the interrogations continue but “actually warns against allowing Yasin to commit suicide or be killed in jail,” the report states.
Saddam believed that “the most important thing is not to let the Arabic public opinion [believe] we are cooperating with the US against the opposition. I mean that is why our announcement [that Yasin is being held] should include doubts . . . [about] who carried out this operation. Because it is possible that in the end we will discover — even if it is a very weak possibility — that a fanatic group who carried it organized the operation.”
Saddam and his advisors were hoping to use the interrogations of Yasin, and whatever information they could gather from him about the organizers of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to enhance their position in world public opinion.
If handled correctly, Saddam said, Yasin’s confessions “will benefit us greatly; it will benefit us in our issue in the matter of the stance that the U.S. has taken against us.”
Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).