Friday, March 24, 2006

The Saddam Hussein-al Qaeda Connection (?)

ABC News and the New York Sun are reporting that recently declassified documents indicate that, in 1995, an Iraqi official met with Osama bin Laden with approval from Saddam Hussein. Here's the text of the ABC report:

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

(Editor's Note: This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Ladn himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.

It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith by broadcasting the speeches of al Ouda, the radical cleric who was also a bin Laden mentor.

The document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship. Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting — on November 13, 1995 — terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.)

This is not evidence that Hussein and/or Iraq had anythign to do with the 9/11 attacks. Nor is it, as the report points out, proof that Iraq and al Qaeda had a working relationship or engaged in anything more than discussion and consultation. But according to Bob Kerrey (former Democratic senator from Nebraska and a member of the 9/11 commission), the report presents a "significant set of facts," and demonstrates that "Saddam was a significant enemy of the United States." The Sun reports that Kerrey believes that "America's understanding of the deposted tyrant's relationship with al-Qaeda would become much deeper as more captured Iraqi documents and audiotapes are disclosed."

The most relevant thing to be taken from these documents is setting aside the arguments that ideology would have kept Iraq and al Qaeda from working together. Again, this does not prove that Iraq and al Qaeda were collaborating on attacks against the US or any other country. But it does demonstrate that, as opposed to the views of some critics, that would not have been an impossibility.

1 comment:

patrick said...

Arguing that somehow Bin Laden and Iraq would not have cooperated flies in the face of history (Hitler-Stalin, Mao-Nixon, anyone?). As you noted, this is completely separate from the issue of proof of cooperation itself, but it reminds us that rumors of Iran-Al Qaeda cooperation should not be dismissed out of hand, even if jihadists see Shiites as heretics.