THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION Tuesday received further support for its claims of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda from an important source: new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Allawi, who has long claimed knowledge of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, reiterated these beliefs in an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw.
Brokaw: I know you and others like you are grateful for the liberation of Iraq. But can't you understand why many Americans feel that so many young men and women have died here for purposes other than protecting the United States?
Allawi: We know that this is an extension to what happened in New York. And the war have been taken out to Iraq by the same terrorists. Saddam was a potential friend and partner and natural ally of terrorism.
Brokaw: Prime minister, I'm surprised that you would make the connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The 9/11 commission in America says there is no evidence of a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and those terrorists of al Qaeda.
Allawi: No, I believe very strongly that Saddam had relations with al Qaeda. And these relations started in Sudan. We know Saddam had relationships with a lot of terrorists and international terrorism. Now, whether he is directly connected to the September atrocities or not, I can't vouch for this. But definitely I know that he has connections with extremism and terrorists.
Allawi has made such claims before. In an interview with CNN on December 31, 2003, he said that al Qaeda terrorists were "present in Iraq, they came and they were active in Iraq before the war of liberation." Al Qaeda fighters, he continued, "had the backing of Saddam prior to liberation, and they remained in Iraq after the collapse, and after the vacuum was created."
Allawi's claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda link have not always been credible. Earlier in December, he provided journalists with a document claiming that lead hijacker Mohammed Atta had trained in Baghdad the summer before the 9/11 attacks. The three-page report, which also claimed Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, was quickly rejected as a forgery. (That last claim, however, received a boost yesterday with an article in the Financial Times that laid out intelligence suggesting that despite the fact that a key document relating to the Iraq-Niger uranium story had been forged, the broader contention was likely true.)
But as the CIA's favorite Iraqi exile, Allawi was in a unique position to assess the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. And his views have been echoed consistently by the man who is now Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih. Salih's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, has interrogated several captive Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) officials who claim firsthand knowledge of the relationship between the IIS and Ansar al-Islam, the al Qaeda affiliate that operated northern Iraq before the war. One detainee, Abdul Rahman al Shamari, described his duties as an IIS operative to terrorism expert Jonathan Schanzer. Al Shamari, who says he served the IIS from 1997 to 2002, told Schanzer of his role as a conduit for arms and funding between Iraqi Intelligence and the Islamic radicals working in a part of Iraq not controlled by Saddam. Al Shamari says that the IIS provided weapons--"mostly mortar rounds"--to Ansar. He recalled providing one payment of approximately $700,000 to Ansar and told Schanzer that such assistance came "every month or two months."
A May 2002 report from the National Security Agency, which specializes in communications intercepts, also includes intelligence on IIS funding for Ansar. According to a summary in a memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the report "claimed that an Iraqi intelligence official, praising Ansar al Islam, provided it with $100,000 and agreed to continue to give assistance."
Says Deputy Prime Minister Salih: "Saddam Hussein, a secular infidel to many jihadists, had no problem giving money to Hamas. This debate [about whether Saddam worked with al Qaeda] is stupid. The proof is there."