This is all well and good, but it's also wrong. In 2008, the Institute
for Defense Analyses released a more thorough report on Iraq's
involvement in terrorism between the two gulf wars that was based on
more than 600,000 captured Iraqi documents.
The report says, "In December 1998, the IIS developed a new resource in
the form of a small, radical Kurdish-based Islamist movement. In a
series of memoranda, the IIS, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, reported
being impressed with the new terrorist organization's 'readiness to
target foreign organizations . . . . Iranian border posts, and Kurdish
For reasons that were never clear to me, the IDA never named the
organization in the report. But in 1998 the only radical Islamic groups
in Kurdistan were the two parties that eventually merged to form Ansar
al Islam in 2001. The report goes on to say that the "IIS decided it
was better to establish individual contacts within the organization and
to provide them them 'financial and moral support.'"
This episode exemplifies the broader approach to Islamic radicals that
Saddam Hussein's intelligence service took between the two Gulf Wars.
The report uncovers many different points of connection between Saddam
and al Qaeda, including evidence that the IIS funded Ayman Zawahiri in
the early 1990s when he was the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The IIS also sought out
suicide bombers to attack the Saudi royal family, and Iraq also sought
to send assistance to jihadists fighting U.S. peacekeepers in Somalia
in the early 1990s as well. This says nothing of Saddam's support for
Hamas and other Palestinians suicide bombers in the second intifada.
The IDA report debunks the wilder conspiracies that Iraq was behind the
9-11 attacks. But the report also undercuts the claim that Saddam
Hussein, being a secular Ba'athist, was incapable of cooperating with
radical Islamists who viewed the Iraqi dictator as an apostate ruler, Instead the report said that Iraq's relationship to radical Islamic
terrorist groups was more like the relationship between rival Colombian
cocaine cartels, in that it was possible for wary cooperation on mutual
short term goals, and then violent competition later. "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 report said.
addition to the IDA report, which I think is more definitive because it
is an analysis of documents captured during the war and not simply derived from
interviews with captured senior leaders, there are other good reasons
to think Iraq and al Qaeda had more of a relationship than widely
believed by the net left.
To start, this was the view of Carl Ford, the head of the State
Department's Intelligence and Research bureau before the war. The left
has singled out Mr. Ford for praise because his bureau dissented on the
claim that Iraq had an active nuclear program before the war. Also, Mr.
Ford was the star witness against John Bolton in 2005 during his
contentious nomination hearing to be the U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations. Thanks to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, we now know that
Mr. Ford in his memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell before his 2003
speech to the United Nations believed Saddam Hussein was strengthening
his relationship with al Qaeda before the war. "Our evidence suggests that Baghdad is
strengthening a relationship with al-Qaeda that dates back to the
mid-1990s, when senior Iraqi intelligence officers established contact
with the network in several countries," he wrote.
That memo continued, "We have some evidence that Iraqi Intelligence has been in contact
with elements in the northeastern area. And the al-Qaeda operatives
there are in regular contact with other operatives located in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government has also received information from other sources
alerting it to the presence of al-Qaeda operatives in Baghdad."
Ford in an interview with PBS Frontline has stood by his contention
that al Qaeda operatives were flooding into Iraq before the war.
I have on three occasions--once in public and twice in private--asked the
Prime Minister of Kurdistan, Barham Salih, whether he stood by this
particular intelligence from 2002.
He has on all these occasions said he did.
Intelligence reporting is a murky business. It relies a lot on
anonymous sources. It is rarely definitive. So I suppose I could be
persuaded that my current view on this is wrong. For anyone interested,
in 2002 I reported about the split between the Pentagon civilian
leadership and the CIA on this very question about Saddam's ties to al
Qaeda here: http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/need-know. I also recommend that skeptics read the IDA report for themselves. You can read it here: http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/iraqi/index.html