April 26, 2006

April 26, 2006 | Commentary on Middle East

Al Qaeda, Saddam

Bad news about Iraq is not hard to come by in current media coverage. Terrorist attacks on Iraqi citizens and U.S.troops are recorded day by day. Mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi security forces leaps to the headlines. Calls for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation are gathering steam among Democrats on Capitol Hill, with Congress set to debate the issue next week.

When it comes to any good news out of Iraq, the liberal media are negligent or simply silent. And if there is new information corroborating the reasons the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein in the first place, it is of no consequence to the media, which long ago decided that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs were a figment of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's fevered imaginations. And of course, in their view, there's no shred of evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. All of which will surely go down in journalistic annals of disgrace.

Fortunately, much like that of the Nazis, Saddam's regime was one of recordkeepers. Piles and piles of its intelligence documents have been captured by U.S. forces, but have until recently been classified in bulk. Two million documents were released in February by the U.S. government, and of them, only some 5 percent , or 100,000, have been translated. Even so, the evidence that's already emerging of Saddam's dealings with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives is highly incriminating. This should be front-page news.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Pete Hoekstra have carried the ball for the release of the documents, which ought to be the subject of extensive congressional hearings. In the media so far, Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes was for a while all but alone in pursuing the truth in the Iraqi documents, but he is gradually being joined by others. Even a cover story in the May/June issues of Foreign Affairs magazine, based on a partially declassified Joint Forces study of Saddam's regime, concludes that the delusions of Saddam and the deceptions of his terrified underlings made the war's outcome a foregone conclusion.

In an interview with Frontpagemag.com, intelligence expert Thomas Joscelyn, whose writing have also appeared in the Weekly Standard, points to some of the most incriminating facts that have so far come to light.

For instance, a document dating from early 1997 summarizes contacts dating from the mid-1990s between Iraqi intelligence and Saudi opposition groups, including al Qaeda. At the time, Osama bin Laden was seeking help from Iraqi television to carry al Qaeda propaganda against Saudi Arabia, and he also asked for Iraqi help in "joint operations against foreign forces," meaning those of the United States. Saddam's operatives "were left to develop doors of cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up." The document also records Iraqi contacts with one an al Qaeda propaganda operative, Dr. Muhammed al-Massiri, operating out of London, who has confirmed Saddam's contacts with the "Arab Afghans" who fled Afghanistan in 2001 to seek safe haven in northern Iraq.

Equally interesting, the Joint Forces study, also working from Iraqi documents, shows that from 1994 Uday Hussein's brutal fedayeen ran terrorist training camps, graduating more than 7,200 "good men with full courage and enthusiasm" in their first year - talk about euphemisms. From 1998, the camps included "Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, 'the Gulf', and Syria." In January 2003, the volunteers participated in a training event named "Heroes Attack," designed to prepare the fedayeen for resistance against U.S. forces.

Other incriminating information has been available for a long time, but remains conveniently ignored, for instance that al Qaeda and Saddam were working together in Sudan to produce chemical weapons of mass destruction. It will be recalled that the Clinton administration controversially bombed a pharmaceutical factory, suspected of producing nerve gas, in retaliation for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The fact that a large slice of the media and intelligence community have managed to overlook these connections, should not be a reason to allow them to ignore them any further. Documents have to be translated and authenticated with all due speed. November's mid-term election will be yet another referendum on the U.S. presence in Iraq. The American people should demand an accounting of all the facts before they vote.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Washington Times