Saddam supported at least two al-Qaeda groups: Pentagon Update: What it means

posted at 8:15 am on March 14, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that an investigation into over 600,000 documents captured at the end of the invasion of Iraq showed no operational links to al-Qaeda — or at least, that’s how the media reported it. After a strange few days in which the Pentagon delayed the report, it finally hit the internet last night — and it’s clear that the analysis done by the media was superficial at best. If no operational “smoking gun” could be found, the report still shows that Saddam Hussein had plenty of ties to all sorts of terrorist groups, including radical Islamist jihadis.

For instance, how about their support for The Army of Muhammad, a known al-Qaeda subsidiary operating in Bahrain? On pages 34-35 of the report, we find communications between their Bahrain agent and IIS headquarters confirming Army of Mohammad’s loyalty to Osama bin Laden. What is the response from Baghdad?

The agent reports (Extract 25) that The Army of Muhammad is working with Osama bin Laden. …

A later memorandum from the same collection to the Director of the IIS reports that the Army of Muhammad is endeavoring to receive assistance [from Iraq] to implement its objectives, and that the local IIS station has been told to deal with them in accordance with priorities previously established. The IIS agent goes on to inform the Director that “this organization is an offshoot of bin Laden, but that their objectives are similar but with different names that can be a way of camouflaging the organization.”

AoM had ambitious plans — including attacks on American interests. On page 35, the Iraqis list their aims as attacking Jewish and American interests anywhere in the world, attacking American embassies, disrupting American oil supplies and tankers, and attacking the American military bases in the Middle East. The Iraqi support for AoM may not be an operational link, but it’s certainly a financial link that goes right to Osama bin Laden. The Iraqis certainly understood that much, and hoped to keep it quiet.

Nor was that Saddam’s only support for an AQ subsidiary. Saddam put money into Egypt’s Islamic Jihad. The IJ opposes the Hosni Mubarak regime for a number of reasons, but primarily because of Egypt’s shaky diplomatic relations with Israel. One leader of IJ that Westerners can easily name was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Osama’s chief deputy and primary mouthpiece to the world.

Even when working separately, the report notes that Saddam and Osama worked to develop the same terrorist pool from which they would draw support and operational agents. Put simply, Saddam’s more secular aims and Osama’s drive for an Islamic Caliphate worked in tandem to increase the threat of terrorism. Saddam endeavored to create a “business model” for terrorism, especially when it could assist in his own pan-Arab vision. He funded and trained terrorists of all stripes in Iraq, from secular Arab Marxists to radical jihadists (page 41-42).

The media also skipped over the conclusion of the study, which begins thusly:

One question remains regarding Iraq’s terrorism capability: Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against United States? Judging from examples of Saddam’s statements (Extract 34) before the 1991 Gulf War with the United tates, the answer is yes.

In the years between the two Gulf Wars, UN sanctions reduced Saddam’s ability to shape regional and world events, steadily draining his military, economic, and military powers. The rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam’s “coercion” toolbox, not only cost effective but a formal instrument of state power. Saddam nurtured this capability with an infrastructure supporting (1) his own particular brand of state terrorism against internal and external threats, (2) the state sponsorship of suicide operations, and (3) organizational relationships and “outreach programs” for terrorist groups. Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces.

So we have Saddam supporting at least two AQ subsidiaries, one of which had open aspirations to attack American interests, and evidence from these captured materials that Saddam planned to use his terrorist capabilities to conduct war on the United States. Perhaps in the world of the mainstream media the big news from this would be “no smoking gun” connection to an actual attack, but for the rest of us, it shows that Saddam needed to go — and the sooner, the better. (via the Weekly Standard)

Update and Bump: Several points need to be made more clear. First, it’s pretty apparent that the vast bulk of the reporting on this paper has come from leaks within the Pentagon, and not from a read of the paper itself. Stephen Hayes more generously attributes it to a shortsighted focus on the executive summary, but even that makes clear that Saddam used Islamist radical terrorist groups to his advantage, and that state support of terrorism grew so large as to require an expansion of government bureaucracy to manage it. Anyone who reads the executive summary would be compelled to look for the support within the body of the document.

Furthermore, one has to remember the purpose and structure of al-Qaeda. It is not a top-down hierarchical organization like the PLO. Rather, it serves as a framework for a web of affiliated terrorist organizations, both for funding and for inspiration. AQ’s leadership structure maintains communications and coordination with these groups, which often merge with and split into other organizations. The report itself tries to remind readers of this, and sees Saddam and Osama as using essentially the same network for the same ends, when their interests overlap. That’s why Iraq’s IIS winds up funding the Army of Mohammad and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad — both of which are authentically AQ, and in the case of AoM, Iraq funded it specifically because of its goals of attacking American interests.

Reader Sam Pender points out that Egyptian Islamic Jihad actually has more significance than most in the AQ network. EIJ at one time provided the lion’s share of AQ’s leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, and certainly that was true in the period between 1991 and 2003. Saddam’s support for EIJ shows a more direct connection to AQ leadership than anyone had predicted before the capture of the documents on which this report is based.

Update: The FBI’s Deputy Director for counterterrorism testified before Congress about the connection between AQ and EIJ on December 18, 2001:

Although Al-Qaeda functions independently of other terrorist organizations, it also functions through some of the terrorist organizations that operate under its umbrella or with its support, including: the Al-Jihad, the Al-Gamma Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group – led by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and later by Ahmed Refai Taha, a/k/a “Abu Yasser al Masri,”), Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and a number of jihad groups in other countries, including the Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, the Kashmiri region of India, and the Chechen region of Russia. Al-Qaeda also maintained cells and personnel in a number of countries to facilitate its activities, including in Kenya, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. By banding together, Al-Qaeda proposed to work together against the perceived common enemies in the West – particularly the United States which Al-Qaeda regards as an “infidel” state which provides essential support for other “infidel” governments.

Saddam Hussein provided funding for EIJ for the same reasons. And when one starts to consider the differences between Afghanistan’s Taliban after 9/11 and Saddam, the gaps narrows considerably. The Taliban gave AQ shelter while probably not realizing the extent to which it made them a target; Saddam funded their main leadership source and at least one of their subsidiaries in order to help them succeed in their mission against the US. That’s at least arguably an act of war, attempting to use terrorists as a proxy to fight it — and it very clearly fell within the post-9/11 Bush doctrine.

Update: Eli Lake at the New York Sun gets the story correct: “Report Details Saddam’s Terrorist Ties”. I guess this means he actually read the report.

Update: Thanks to Andy McCarthy at The Corner for the link, and he has some further thoughts on this as well.


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Comment pages: 1 2

for the rest of us, it shows that Saddam needed to go — and the sooner, the better.

That’s B.S.: Iran and Syria had (and have) greater ties to international terrorists than Saddam Hussein ever did. But (at the time), they had no visible WMD obfuscation, no UN entanglement, so they weren’t the right targets; Iraq was. Every time we put it as a simple case of “Iraq funded terrorists, thus we changed the regime,” we present a weak and incomplete argument that plays into the left-wing arguments against the war.

If enabling terror was the gold standard, Iraq might be one of the last countries in the region we would have gone after: Iran first, then Syria. Iraq would be somewhere in the middle of terror-ambivalent governments like those in the PA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Lebanon. Iraq was a threat because it had had nuclear and other WMD programs, it used WMDs, it continued to hide the status of these programs, and it demonstrated antagonism toward its neighbors, Israel, and the U.S., to the point of both invasions and terror programs. This could be said of no other country in 2003. “Terror-friendly” could be said of sadly many countries (and still can).

calbear on March 15, 2008 at 4:48 PM

Desert Shield was only in a cease-fire condition after he invaded Kuwait and had to be beat back. SADDDAM played the wrong game with the wrong people after that.

johnnyU on March 15, 2008 at 6:17 PM

I don’t care whether or not Saddam was connected to aq. He we slaughtering his own people and was a threat to the region. That was enough to go in and kill him. Besides look at all we learned about how crooked the UN and a few other countries were after the invasion. Oil for food anyone?

boomer on March 15, 2008 at 7:07 PM

Great report Ed. Now, does anyone know what a GBU-57 is? It will soon be fitted to the B-2A and my guess is that it’s a new bunker buster with Iran’s address printed on it…

Zorro on March 15, 2008 at 8:56 PM

calbear,
The difference is that after 9-11 Iran and Syria at least pretended to be helping the U.S. and turned over some al Qaeda members, Iraq basically flipped the U.S. the bird and condemned coalition attacks on Afghanistan and cheering the 9-11 attacks.

Not splitting hairs and trying to apologize for the two terror sponsoring regimes in Damascus and Tehran but at least they knew when to not mess with us (apparently now it’s ok again to kill Americans for them though).

ikez78 on March 16, 2008 at 12:16 AM

Comment pages: 1 2