Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Iraq's terror ties

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

It's only been weeks since the Office of the Director of National Intelligence started releasing captured documents from Iraq and Afghanistan. True, nobody has uncovered a smoking gun or sputtering explosive, much less a cache of weapons of mass destruction. But it's early in the process, and what we have seen so far clearly vindicates those who found Saddam Hussein's thugocracy unacceptable in a post-9/11 world.

The new material includes a kind of primer on Saddam's spy agency, Mukhabarat. It's a document in English off the Federation of American Scientists Web site. A cover page and notes in Arabic accompany the analysis: "You will find below some relevant information about the intelligence published on the Internet. It is clear that the information is somewhat old, but nevertheless it contains some important and accurate details . . . ."

Those details include a rundown on the Mukhabarat's manifold operations. One office tests and produces "weapons, poisons and explosives: for covert offensive operations." Another directorate works "outside Iraq in coordination with other directorates, focusing on operations of sabotage and assassination." And another sets up and trains "agents for clandestine operations abroad."

But that couldn't mean Saddam supported terrorism, could it? After all, aren't we repeatedly told that Saddam's Iraq had no ties to terrorists in general and al-Qaida in particular? Well, the same document mentions that "special six-week courses in the use of terror techniques are provided at a camp in Radwaniyah" and you don't find the Iraqi analyst writing "Liar, liar, pants on fire" in Arabic on the margins.

Moreover, other recently released documents reveal specific terror connections. In June 2001, for example, the Iraqi ambassador to the Philippines sent an eight-page fax to Baghdad about Abu Sayyaf. That's the al-Qaida-connected terror group founded by Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law. The fax suggests Iraq was funding Abu Sayyaf through Libya until the jihadists started kidnapping tourists, including three Americans, and attracting international attention in June 2001. "The kidnappers were formerly . . . receiving money and purchasing combat weapons," the ambassador wrote. "From now on we are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them."

But Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law is one thing. Bin Laden himself is another. Didn't the 9/11 Commission tell us there was no "collaborative operational relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaida? That's true, but the commission didn't say there was no relationship at all, and several of the commissioners said there was still more to learn.

Here's some of the more. ABC News and The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes have reported on one Iraqi document that was written sometime after January 1997. It discusses relations between Saddam's regime and bin Laden in the 1990s -- meetings between Saddam's representatives and bin Laden in Sudan, the al-Qaida leader's request for help (to broadcast a radical preacher's speeches and engage in joint operations against the foreign forces in Saudi Arabia) and Saddam's approval of the broadcasts and the exploration of future cooperation.

"Due to the recent situation of Sudan and being accused of supporting and embracing of terrorism, an agreement with the opposing Saudi Osama bin Laden was reached," Iraqi intelligence reported. "The agreement required him to leave Sudan to another area. He left Khartoum in July 1996. The information we have indicates that he is currently in Afghanistan. The relationship with him is ongoing through the Sudanese side. Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location."

Now what could that have meant?

Of course, one document or a set of documents won't provide a clear picture of Saddam's terror ties. Regimes intent on invigorating relationships with terrorists don't always write down every detail. But the first findings from the U.S. government's document dump offer an instructive glimpse into the twilight world of Saddam and global terrorists. Happily it's a world we'll only experience through the archives now that coalition forces have dispatched Saddam's regime to the dustbin of history.

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