Frontpage has an interview with Thomas Joscelyn, an expert on the international terrorist network. The interview focuses on the light recently realeased documents shed on the connection between Saddam's Iraq and its support for terrorist entities such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Millions of documents captured in Iraq and Afghanistan by American forces are only now being released. Joscelyn says the documents are important they provide a window into the Iraqi regime’s activities prior to the war and can potentially shed light on Saddam’s Human Rights atrocities, connections to terrorism and what happened to Iraq’s WMD programs:
One IIS document, in particular, has received significant attention. The document was apparently authored in early 1997 and summarizes a number of contacts between Iraqi Intelligence and Saudi oppositionist groups, including al Qaeda, during the mid 1990’s. The document says that in early 1995 bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in two ways. First, bin Laden wanted Iraqi television to carry al Qaeda’s anti-Saudi propaganda. Saddam agreed. Second, bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in performing “joint operations against the foreign forces in the land of Hijaz.” That is, bin Laden wanted Iraq’s assistance in attacking U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.
We do not know what, exactly, came of bin Laden’s second request. But the document indicates that Saddam’s operatives “were left to develop the relationship and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up.” Thus, it appears that both sides saw value in working with each other. It is also worth noting that in the months following bin Laden’s request, al Qaeda was tied to a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia.
The same document also indicates that Iraq was in contact with Dr. Muhammad al-Massari, the head of the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR). The CDLR is a known al Qaeda propaganda organ based in London. The document indicates that the IIS was seeking to “establish a nucleus of Saudi opposition in Iraq” and to “use our relationship with [al-Massari] to serve our intelligence goals.” The document also notes that Iraq was attempting to arrange a visit for the al Qaeda ideologue to Baghdad. Again, we can’t be certain what came of these contacts.
Just recently, however, al-Massari confirmed that Saddam had joined forces with al Qaeda prior to the war. Al-Massari says that Saddam established contact with the “Arab Afghans” who fled Afghanistan to northern Iraq in 2001 and that he funded their relocation to Iraq under the condition that they would not seek to undermine his regime. Upon their arrival, these al Qaeda terrorists were put in contact with Iraqi army personnel, who armed and funded them.
Joscelyn tells us that the 9-11 Commission's proclamation that there was no operational relationship between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda is now more tenuous than ever:
Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator who served as a 9/11 commissioner, told Eli Lake of The New York Sun that the document is a “very significant set of facts.” While cautioning that it does not tie Saddam to the September 11 attack, Kerrey said that the document “does tie him into a circle that meant to damage the United States.” That circle includes al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf, which was funded by bin Laden’s brother-in-law. One document, which has not yet been released to the public, indicates that Iraqi Intelligence also funded Abu Sayyaf. Steve Hayes first reported the existence of this document last month. The document includes a series of IIS memos from 2001 in which Saddam’s henchmen discuss funding the group, but consider withdrawing support after a string of high-profile kidnappings of westerners brought unwanted attention. But whatever concerns Iraqi Intelligence had appear to be short-lived. In 2003, one Abu Sayyaf leader openly admitted to the press that the Iraqis had been funding his group.One should always be cautious when analyzing documents such as these. But those who insist Saddam had nothing to do with terrorism or al Qaeda should read the interview. The often repeated assumption that Saddam’s secularism precluded significant cooperation between Saddam and al Qaeda is in fact only an assumption. The assumption is called into question by Joscelyn's analysis and facts.