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Symposium: The Saddam-Osama Connection: Part II By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 11, 2005


Yet if people disagree with this construction, they are under some obligation, one would think, to explain why it is wrong and to borrow a phrase from Claudia Rosett, what makes this Baluch family the Flying Walendas of the terrorist trade.

FP: Dr. Gunaratna?

Gunaratna: The US government has over 700 Al Qaeda and associated group members detained in Afghanistan and Pakistan now under its control in Guantanamo Bay and in secret detention facilities. None of these detainees (except one detainee who lied) have spoken of sustained ties between Al Qaeda-Saddam. Furthermore, the 9-11 commission that reviewed the Al Qaeda and the Iraq case said that there was no evidence to support the Al Qaeda-Saddam relationship. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism but not Al Qaeda.  

 

FP: Mr. Murdock, does Dr.. Gunaratna have a point here? If no Guantanamo Bay detainees have spoken of the connection and the 9/11 Commission didn’t find it, does it then mean it doesn’t exist?

 

Murdock: I disagree.

 

The notion that silence from Guantanamo detainees refutes the Iraq-terror link presupposes several things:

 

a) The U.S. government is sharing with the general public everything on this matter the detainees have said.

 

b) These detainees are being completely candid about what they know.

 

c) They have knowledge about those ties that existed.

 

Just as the CIA’s activities are compartmentalized and understood on a need-to-know basis, Iraqi intelligence surely did not blab all of its business with terrorists across the entire Islamo-fascist world.

 

Secondly, the 9-11 Commission did find evidence of ongoing contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda. I summarize some of the Commission’s findings in a National Review Online article.

 

This article also outlines extensive comments by prominent Democrats, Democratic-led federal agencies, and center-left media outlets supporting the notion of Saddam Hussein as terror master. Of course, this story spun 180 degrees during the just-concluded presidential election, during which the Left whitewashed Hussein’s terrorist activities.

 

In my article, I cite both The 9/11 Commission Report and the Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report. As The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol observed, both studies concluded that Hussein's regime and al Qaeda were, in fact, in communication. However, both documents deny a formal, Hussein-bin Laden treaty-type alliance.

 

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 95, page 347): "The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment on safe haven — that al-Qaida or associated operatives were present in Baghdad and in northeastern Iraq in an area under Kurdish control — was reasonable."

 

The 9/11 Commission Report (page 61): "With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Ladin himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded to this request." However, "the ensuing years saw additional efforts to establish connections."

 

The 9/11 Commission Report (page 66): "In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, [Ayman al] Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis."

 

Did Saddam Hussein fly to Geneva to sign a mutual assistance pact with Osama bin Laden? No. Did these two murderers collaborate? Yes.

 

The third and most vital point is this:

 

America is fighting a broad battle against militant Islam, not a narrow revenge effort against the group that executed the September 11 massacre. To say that the Iraq War only is justified if Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda is to say that the FBI’s organized crime unit only should prosecute members of the Gambino gang, not the wiseguys who populate the Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families. Obviously, this is absurd.

 

Likewise, Saddam Hussein provided financing, safe haven, diplomatic passports, consular assistance, and even medical care to members of the Abu Nidal terrorist group, Abu Abbas, Hamas, Hezzbolah, and numerous other purveyors of militant Islam. If nothing else, his $25,000 bonuses to the families of homicide bombers in Israel, who killed at least 12 Americans, is far beyond dispute.

 

This evidence is overwhelming, extensive, exhaustively documented, and readily available to anyone with curiosity, an open mind, and Internet access. My website, HUSSEINandTERROR.com provides a quick glimpse of these facts and figures. So do the footnotes and further readings the site offers. Stephen Hayes’ book, The Connection, which only concerns Saddam Hussein’s links to al-Qaeda, is as persuasive as it is terrifying.

 

Those who dismiss Saddam Hussein’s philanthropy of terror are in deep denial. To claim that he did not support terrorists across four decades is to call the Mariana Trench a dry hole.

 

Leiken: I have identified with Laurie Mylroie. During the mid 1980s I found myself reviled by the “experts” of the Central American conflict. I determined that the Sandinista regime was deeply despised by its own people and that the Contras, who were much maligned in the liberal press, had a broad following and a just cause. Later I was ridiculed for an op-ed in the New York Times on the upcoming Nicaraguan elections (“The Sandinistas Might Lose, February 12, 1990). Like Laurie’s today, my analysis then was embraced by neo-conservatives, whose views I shared, or came to share, on many issues including the Soviet Union, Israel and Ronald Reagan (I became a “Reagan Democrat”). I too was supported by future CIA director James Woolsey, an admirable man.

 

So all this led me to take Laurie Mylroie’s claims seriously when I followed Iraq and looked into September 11. However, I have found little to support and much to refute her claims.

 

Part of my research took me to Europe where I interviewed intelligence and security officials. Some of them supported the war in Iraq and were very pro-American; others disagreed. But all of them, without exception, found the Saddam-al Qaeda relationship to be nothing more than tentative and insignificant communications between organizations who shared a common enemy but who despised one another just as much. One of the conceptual failings at the heart of Laurie’s argument is the assumption that our enemies must be friends. More on that in a moment.

 

Laurie has discovered Saddam’s hand in every major attack on US interests since the Persian Gulf War, including U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and even the federal building in Oklahoma City. These allegations have all been definitively refuted by the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  and other investigatory bodies, as summarized in a piece by Peter Bergen, a journalist who has covered al Qaeda for many years. 

 

Here are some of Laurie’s allegations:

·        Saddam was behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and one of the plotters, Terry Nichols, was in league with Ramzi Yousef.

 

·        The crash of TWA flight 800 into Long Island Sound in 1996 likely was an Iraqi plot (A two-year investigation by the NTSB ruled it was an accident).

 

·        Iraq perpetrated the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. (In 2001, a grand jury returned indictments in that case against members of Saudi Hezbollah, a group tied not to Iraq but to Iran.)

 

·        The attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 might have been "the work of both bin Laden and Iraq." (An FBI overseas investigation of unprecedented scope uncovered no such connection).

 

·        Iraq supplied the bomb-making expertise for the attack which killed 17 U.S. sailors on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. (Again, despite a major FBI investigation, no American law enforcement official has made that claim.)

 

·        Iraq was responsible for the post-9/11 anthrax attacks on the United States. (Marilyn Thompson, the Washington Post's investigations editor, who wrote the authoritative book on those attacks, says, "The F.B.I. has essentially dismissed this theory and says there is no evidence to support it.")

 

·        Ramzi Youssef and KSM, the planners of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing and 9-11 were undercover Iraqi agents. (They had long-standing and deeply rooted attachment to radical Islam, one of whose tenets was hostility to the secular Ba’athists regimes in Iraq and Syria, which had murdered many of the co-religionists.)

 

·        As we have just read, she maintains that the 1993 Trade Center bombing was a "false flag" operation, run by Iraq. 

And of course she also believes Saddam perpetrated 9-11 in spite of the fact that the joint FBI-INS-police PENTBOM investigation, the FBI program of voluntary interviews and numerous other post-9-11 inquiries, together comprising probably the most comprehensive criminal investigation in history—chasing down 500,000 leads and interviewing 175,000 people -- has turned up no evidence of Iraq's involvement; nor has the extensive search of post-Saddam Iraq by the Kay and Duelfer commission and US troops combing through Saddam’s computers. 

 

Moreover, the U.S. State Department's yearly authoritative survey of global terrorism, stated in its 2000 report: "[Iraq] has not attempted an anti-Western attack since its failed attempt to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait."

 

KSM, like several other high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, specifically denied any connection to Iraq, at the same time that he offered up actionable intelligence about terror plots all over the world.

 

Sadly, Laurie seems to have become something of a conspiracy theorist, clinging to her thesis that Saddam masterminded for more than a decade a vast terrorist conspiracy, notwithstanding  all the evidence and expert opinion to the contrary.

 

To an extent this is understandable because conspiracy is terrorism’s lifeblood, but when it extends to broad reaches of the American government, we enter Oliver Stone’s terrain. As Bergen concludes: “We are expected to believe that the senior Bush administration officials whom Mylroie knows so well could not find anyone in intelligence or law enforcement to investigate the supposed Iraqi intelligence background of the mastermind of 9/11, at the same time that 150,000 American soldiers had been sent to fight a war in Iraq under the rubric of the war on terrorism.”  We are also expected to accept the preposterous conclusion that in a presidential campaign in which John Kerry asserted repeatedly the absence of Saddam’s involvement in 9-11 or collaboration between Saddam and al Qaeda the Bush administration would not produce evidence of such collaboration.

 

On the contrary Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who at one time set up an intelligence office in the Pentagon devoted to proving Laurie’s thesis, had the rare integrity to acknowledge on October 4, 2004 that he had “not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two. “

 

Laurie herself is reduced to recycling old claims which have been thoroughly vetted not just by the CIA and the FBI but by the 9-11 Commission which heard Laurie’s testimony but concluded definitively that it had found “no evidence [of] a collaborative operational relationship” between Saddam and al Qaeda. Likewise, the report of the Senate Select Committee on the CIA, scathing in its exposure of CIA’s errors regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, found the CIA’s judgments on Iraq-al Qaeda “reasonable and objective.” These bi-partisan boards, both chaired by Republicans, came closest to proving a negative in this murky domain.

 

These conclusions echoed the judgment of virtually every outside expert and government authority. To cite but a few examples:

Jack Straw, Tony Blair’s foreign secretary during the Iraq war, was asked if he had seen “evidence of active links between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi Regime before Sept. 11.” He replied: “I haven’t.” 
 

Baltazar Garzon, the magistrate investigating al Qaeda’s Spanish operations, including the Madrid bombings, says of Saddam’s regime: “I have seen no link to Al Qaeda.”

Jean Louis Bruguiere, the French counterterrorism investigator who has presided over hundreds of cases said: “We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.” 

Kenneth Pollack, the former NSC and CIA point man on Iraq, who wrote a major book on Iraq and strongly supported the war, told CNN “I have yet to see evidence … that there was some kind of a meaningful relationship between them [Iraq and al Qaeda].”

Rohan Gunaratna’s encyclopedic study of al Qaeda presented a summary of the organization’s international relations in the form of calls from Bin Laden’s satellite phone. 1/5 of the total volume went to Britain, the next highest went to Yemen.  Other recipients of phone calls mentioned were Iran, Azerbaijan, the Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Iraq did not even make the list. (for sources of these citations and further discussion of this issue, see my article The Truth about the Saddam - al Qaeda Connection.

Much of Laurie’s arguments rests on suppositions about Ramzi Yousef that virtually no one who has studied the matter accepts. Perhaps Rohan Gunaratna would care to comment about Yousef and his uncle KSM. I’ll confine myself to the following.

 

Laurie tells us that “no other major terrorist organization has a family at its core.  This is without precedent, and it requires an explanation.” But the leading investigator of al Qaeda’s enlistment procedures, Marc Sageman, studied the biographies of 172 mujahideen in Understanding Terror Networks. In the case of one-seventh of his sample, kinship played a central role, with entire families dedicated to the jihad, KSM’s family being but one. As for Baluchistan, together with the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province, it is the area of Pakistan with the heaviest Islamist penetration as illustrated by the showing of Islamist parties from that region in Pakistan’s 2003 parliamentary elections. Islamism has a long history in Pakistan dating back beyond the writings of one of its most important modern founders, Maulana Mawdudi, the appearance of whose first book, Jihad in Islam, coincided with the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. (Those interested can find more information on the history of Islamism in the third chapter of my study Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11 available at Nixoncenter.org.) 

 

On last point on Laurie’s Ramzi Yousef legend. According to several journalists, shortly after 9-11, Jim Woolsey went to London on a mission with Justice Department personnel, on what Bergen describes “as an extraordinary trip to check out a key aspect of Mylroie's argument about Yousef.”

 

During the early '90s, Abdul Basit, the Pakistani, whose identity Yousef had supposedly assumed, attended a Welsh college to study electrical engineering. Mylroie writes that Basit was quite different in appearance from Yousef, thus further proving her contention that Yousef was a substitute, a fact that could be proved by visiting Basit's former college in Wales. As Woolsey has made no comment on his trip to the United Kingdom, it's fair to assume that his efforts to replicate these findings did not meet with success.

 

An earlier report stated:

Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, sent James Woolsey, a former CIA director, to Swansea, in search of evidence to back up the theory that Ramzi Youssef, convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre, was the same person as an Iraqi student who had been at the Welsh university. Mr Woolsey returned empty-handed. "The two sets of fingerprints were entirely different," says a source familiar with the investigation.

Laurie lists among her supporters Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to Washington. Bandar belongs to the most fanatic faction of the dominant Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia, firm opponents of the somewhat reform-minded Prince Abdullah. (See, Front Page contributor Steven Schwartz’s The Two Faces of Islam: pp. 282-3).

 

The connection between Wahhabism and radical Islamism requires none of the murky, strained suppositions of the so-called Iraqi connection. Osama bin Laden, like most of the “Afghan Arabs” who trained in Afghanistan camps and 15 of the 19 hijackers, is a Wahhabi. Saudi oil money has funded virtually every radical mosque in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the U.S. Wahhabis export radical imams around the world. To attribute 9-11 et al. to the Iraqis is to divert attention from the lucrative “connection” between the U.S. and the Wahhabis dating back to Valentine’s Day 1945 when FDR signed a pact with the Saudi rulers aboard the Quincy. The 9-11 Commission sought retrospectively to connect the dots; not one single dot had Saddam or Iraq’s name on it but most had a Wahhabi label. A conspiracy theorist, like Oliver Stone or the infamous Michael Moore, might wonder how much of the emphasis on the Iraq “connection” serves to cover-up the lucrative Saudi connection. This is not to reduce the Islamist phenomenon or al Qaeda to Wahhabi influence anymore than Communism could be reduced to Soviet influence. As with Communism, only more so, we face a broad movement involving many regions.

 

No one is suggesting that Saddam was not a firm supporter of terrorism over the years. He was a major supporter of what I’ll call secular or nationalist-socialist terrorism (e.g. Abu Nidal, PFLP, and PFLP-GC) as well as other Palestinian groups like Hamas and PIJ, but not al Qaeda. My opponents in this debate, like many in Washington, seem to imagine some kind of terrorist club or Terrorist International. They fail to grasp that terrorism is a method adopted by often utterly opposed political ideologies.

 

Al Qaeda is the terrorist outgrowth of the Islamist revival movement.  The Saddam’s Ba’ath was an Arabist secular political party inspired by Hitler and Stalin.  The animosity between Islamism and secularism (in the form of socialism, fascism or Arab nationalism) bloodied campuses and cities across the Middle East, including those in Baathi Syria and Iraq, for two generations.

 

In 1982 the Ba’athist Syrian government smashed the Muslim Brotherhood in Homs and Hama.  Saddam executed both Sunni and Shi’ite extremists and viewed Islamism as a threat to his regime.  He worked to prevent Iraqi youth from joining al Qaeda. Bin Laden in turn sponsored anti-Saddam Islamist fighters (forerunners of Zarqawi-linked Ansar al Islam) in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Immediately following Iraq’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait Bin Laden went to Saudi officials with a plan to raise an international brigade of mujahidin to liberate Kuwait and protect the kingdom from Saddam.

 

Would Saddam have been pleased to have the Saudi’s terror network working on his behalf? Why yes, but that was not in the ideological or political cards, except in extremis on the eve of the American invasion and in its aftermath. But today it is the Islamists not the Saddam loyalists who appear to be calling the shots, if not supplying the manpower, according to reports such as John Burns’ in the August 29, 2004  New York Times. Baghdad’s knowledge of unconventional weapons intrigued Bin Laden.  But as the Republican-chaired Senate Select Committee found last summer “al-Qaida, including Bin Laden personally, and Saddam were leery of close cooperation.”

 

The Senate Committee did find that Iraq’s small-scale, sporadic “interaction with al Qaida is impelled by mutual antipathy towards the United States and the Saudis.” To picture the real “connection” between Islamist terrorists like Zarqawi or bin Laden and Arabists like the Ba’th, consider the relationship between Nazis and Communists, who likewise shared antipathy toward the West. They fought on the streets of Berlin and Hamburg and the Nazi army invaded Soviet Russia.  Could they collaborate?  The brief Hitler-Stalin pact and the alliances of the Comintern’s short “third period” show that tactical and temporary totalitarian partnerships against a common enemy do occur – “tactical and temporary,” because their mutual enmity remained ideological, programmatic, historical, strategic, and permanent.  And the Nazi-Soviet pact certainly did not comprehend transfer of available weapons of mass destruction (neither gases nor chemicals nor atom or rocket technology).

 

Of course, Baghdad’s knowledge of unconventional weapons whetted Bin Laden’s appetite. But Baghdad could not be expected to trust al Qaeda with such information.  In 1998, as U.S. pressure on Iraq swelled, Saddam sent a delegation to Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban and Bin Laden.  Baghdad’s offer of safe haven in 1999, coming as it did when Bin Laden’s relationship with the Taliban appeared shaky, was timely but spurned. 

 

Laurie is right to assert that the notion of state sponsorship is at the heart of this dispute. If nothing else, the Madrid bombings show that al Qaeda is capable of spectacular mass terror without even state hospitality still less sponsorship. The theory of independent terrorist networks comes not from the CIA but from the Rand Corporation. I’ll leave this long reply at that with the hope that we can go further into the matter of state sponsorship in the next round.

 

Mylroie: The central issue in this exchange is indeed the question of state sponsorship of terrorism—and more specifically, Iraq’s involvement in major Islamic terrorist attacks against the United States in the period since the 1991 Gulf War. The view that Saddam’s regime represented a major terrorist threat was a significant part of the reason for the present war in Iraq, as Bob Leiken states in his withering critique of the administration, posted on ITNI just before the November elections (linked in his statement).  Leiken made a serious charge: the administration got it wrong and now refuses to admit it. 

 

That is essentially the same charge he levels against me.  And he does so in the same fashion.  He cites authorities whose work he may not even have read (that certainly seems to be the case with the Duelfer report) and reiterates that there is “no evidence.”   But as I explained in my opening statement and will further explain, there is, in fact, a great deal of evidence.  Leiken just refuses to acknowledge it. 

Indeed, one might legitimately ask what expertise does Leiken have to make the sweeping assertions that he does?  He is basically a Latin Americanist, who only started writing about the Middle East and terrorism in the past two years.  Even then, he has focused on an issue that, important as it may be—immigration policy--is peripheral to the questions at hand.

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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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