Monday, March 24, 2008

Iraq's Ties to International Terrorism

Last week, with very little fanfare, the Institute for Defense Analyses (an independent, non-profit think tank that provides the US government, and particularly the Department of Defense, with analysis and reporting) released its exceedingly comprehensive study of 600,000 captured documents laying out Iraq's connections, interactions, and activities connected to international terrorist groups (the redacted report, in five volumes, is available on the webpage of the Federation of American Scientists). According to the Executive Summary:

The Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) review of captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism. Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States. At times these organizations worked together, trading access for capability. In the period after the 1991 Gulf War, the regime of Saddam Hussein supported a complex and increasingly disparate mix of pan-Arab revolutionary causes and emerging pan-Islamic radical movements.


This study found no "smoking gun" (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda.
Saddam's interest in, and support for, non-state actors was spread across a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. Some in the regime recognized the potential high internal and external costs of maintaining relationships with radical Islamic groups, yet they concluded that in some cases, the benefits of association outweighed the risks. A review of available Iraqi documents indicated the following:

• The Iraqi regime was involved in regional and international terrorist operations prior to OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq.

• On occasion, the Iraqi intelligence services directly targeted the regime's perceived enemies, including non-Iraqis. Non-Iraqi casualties often resulted from Iraqi sponsorship of non-governmental terrorist groups.

• Saddam's regime often cooperated directly, albeit cautiously, with terrorist groups when they believed such groups could help advance Iraq's long-term goals. The regime carefully recorded its connections to Palestinian terror organizations in numerous government memos. One such example documents Iraqi financial support to families of suicide bombers in Gaza and the West Bank.

• State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training, and resourcing of terrorists. Examples include the regime's development, construction,
certification, and training for car bombs and suicide vests in 1999 and 2000.

From the beginning of his rise to power, one of Saddam's major objectives was to shift the regional balance of power favorably towards Iraq. After the 1991 Gulf War, pursuing this objective motivated Saddam and his regime to increase their cooperation with-and attempts to manipulate-Islamic fundamentalists and related terrorist organizations. Documents indicate that the regime's use of terrorism was standard practice, although not always successful. From 1991
through 2003, the Saddam regime regarded inspiring, sponsoring, directing, and executing acts of terrorism as an element of state power.
And from the abstract on the FAS webpage:
Captured Iraqi documents have uncovered evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. While these documents do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al Qaeda network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al Qaeda as long as Saddam could have these terrorist–operatives monitored closely. Because Saddam’s security organizations and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some ways, a “de facto” link between the organizations. At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust. Though the execution of Iraqi terror plots was not always successful, evidence shows that Saddam’s use of terrorist tactics and his support for terrorist groups remained strong up until the collapse of the regime.
So, while there is no evidence of any direct links between Iraq and al Qaeda, the report makes two things abundantly clear: One, that Iraq had extensive ties to numerous terror organizations and was willing and able to use terror as a tool of state politics, and; Two, that the religious nature of radical Islamic groups like al Qaeda would not prevent the secular, pan-Arab Iraq from working with them. As today's Wall Street Journal makes clear:

A pan-Arab nationalist, Saddam viewed radical Islamists as potential allies, and they likewise. According to a 1993 memo, Saddam decided to "form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia," where al Qaeda was then working with warlords against U.S. humanitarian forces. Saddam also trained Sudanese fighters in Iraq.

The Pentagon report cites this as "a tactical example" of their cooperation. When Saddam "was ordering action in Somalia aimed at the American presence, Osama bin Laden was doing the same thing." Saddam took an interest in "far-flung terrorist groups . . . to locate any organization whose services he might use in the future." The Harmony documents "reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda -- as long as that organization's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term version."

For 20 years, such "support" included using Fedayeen Saddam training camps to school terrorists, especially Palestinians but also non-Iraqis "directly associated" with al Qaeda, continuing up to the fall of Baghdad. Saddam also provided financial support and weapons, amounting to "a state-directed program of significant scale." In July 2001, the regime began patronizing a terror cartel in Bahrain calling itself the Army of Muhammad, which, according to an Iraqi memo, "is under the wings of bin Laden."

It's true that the Pentagon report found no "smoking gun," i.e., a direct connection on a joint Iraq-al Qaeda operation. Supposedly this vindicates the view that Iraq's liberation was launched on false premises. But the Administration was always cautious, with Colin Powell alleging merely a "sinister nexus" in his 2003 U.N. speech. If anything, sinister is an understatement. The main Iraq intelligence failure was over WMD, but the report indicates that the CIA also underestimated Saddam's ties to global terror cartels.

The Administration has always maintained that Iraq is just one front in the war on terror; and the report offers "evidence of logistical preparation for terrorist operations in other nations, including those in the West." In 2002, an IIS memo explained to Saddam that Iraqi embassies were stockpiling weapons, while many of the terrorists trained in Fedayeen camps were dispatched to London with counterfeit documents, where they circulated throughout Europe.

Around the same time, the IIS began to manufacture better improvised explosive devices "designed to be used in civilian areas," and the regime bureaucratized suicide operations, with local Baath Party leaders competing to provide recruits for Saddam as part of a "Martyrdom Project."

Reading over (or to be more accurate, looking over...volume 1 of the report alone is 94 pages while the volumes containing the documents are over 500) the report certainly paints a disturbing picture of a regime looking to export terror wherever and whenever possible. The documents show connections to nearly every major Islamic and Arab terror group, the operations of training camps, attempts to undermine Western and Arab states, the use of Iraqi embassies in countries like Greece, Austria, India, Turkey, and the Czech Republic to hide and distribute weapons such as missile launches and plastic explosives, as well as documentation of major operations. The report certainly gives credence that, as the WSJ put it "all of these are inconvenient facts for those who want to assert that somehow Saddam could have been easily contained and presented no threat to the U.S."


jweltsch said...

In the words of our esteemed vice-president: So?

Okay, I have not read anything beyond what you have posted, but what I can say is that we already knew about much of this. It was safe to assume that, given U.S. containment of Iraq after 1991, Saddam would use non-state channels to project his policies outside of Iraq. Such is the case today still with Syria and Iran. In fact, one can easily argue that Sudan, Syria and Iran were acting in this way long before 1991. Some would even say that Saudi Arabia has been acting in this way through surrogates since the late 1970s (e.g., funding the establishment of madrassas that foment radical Islamist extremism). Why did the Bush administration choose to invade Iraq instead of Iran or Syria, Sudan or Saudi Arabia? I won't go into that now and most of your readers are educated enough to answer that for themselves.

One final point is that the Bush administration indicated strong ties between al-Qaida and Saddam's government in Iraq in order to publicize a position for going to war there. The U.S. could not point to any evidence that Saddam's connections, proven or speculative, to other terrorist organizations led to direct attacks on the U.S. and therefore had to try to create a link to al-Qaida who did attak us.

In the end, the bigger question is whether such ties mean that we should adopt the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war in such cases. The Bush Doctrine states today that we should invade or attack, at least, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran - the latter of which we may yet do before the year is out. Do you believe that the authors of the study in question agree with that doctrine given what they have found? Do you?

jweltsch said...

One final nitpick:
Quoting from the WSJ article "The Administration has always maintained that Iraq is just one front in the war on terror..." This is a false statement. Just this past Monday, White House Spokesperson Dana Perino said "What we know is that al Qaeda has decided to make Iraq the central front in their war on terror and we are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here." I have als repeatedly heard the president and vice-president, as well as many others in the administration use the line that Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror."