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Fellow CASI Listers: This is a third critical review of attempts to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, including claims that (1) Iraqi intelligence met with hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague*; (2) Iraq sponsored the US anthrax mailings**; and (3) that Al-Qaida has ties to Saddam Hussein. The claims are significant in that each would arguably constitue a casus belli, justifying an American invasion of Iraq. This review concerns the latter claim of associations between Al-Qaida and the Government of Iraq. In the American media, the claim of Al-Qaida / GoI links was popularized by William Safire of the NYTimes shortly after 9/11, in a column about the radical group Jund al Islam . The following March, the claim re-surfaced in a lengthy piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker that discussed Jund's successor, Ansar al Islam . The claim saw a renaissance last week with the airing of PBS's "Wide Angle" in the U.S. (though the latter's threadbare evidence was all too apparent, and it received scant mainstream coverage). Against these reports we have the following: (a) Thousands of captured Al-Qaida documents and hundreds of prisoner interviews have revealed no hints of linkage. If anything, they show the reverse. At least one set of captured documents has surfaced wherein Kurdish religious militants courted Al-Qaida to help overthrow Saddam Hussein. (b) The Economist  notes that IMK - the erstwhile parent of Jund al Islam - has a) stable relations with the US and Saudi Arabia, and b) it was among the targets of Saddam's atrocity at Halabja. An unlikely ally, in other words. A more recent Economist article [4a] identifies the passive supporter of Ansar al Islam as Iran - not Iraq. (c) It's universally held that militants connected with Al-Qaida have dispersed worldwide, including some that now reside in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, there's scant evidence (see 'd' and 'e') of anything but possible casual, opportunistic alliances, if that, between the militants and surrounding states. For example, the AP earlier reported that a band of radical Islamic militants - some perhaps trained in Al Qaida camps - was operating in Kurdistan, However, the militants were presented as inimical to all parties in the region -- as symptomatic not of Saddam's machinations, but rather of endemic political chaos and of fallout from the Afghan war. Last week, Washington Post hardliner Jim Hoagland (who was radicalized by the Anfal atrocities) makes a similar comment: "... whether Iraq's links to al Qaeda are shown to be strong and operational or, as I suspect, opportunistic and compartmentalized ..." (d) Reports claiming operational (as opposed to opportunistic) links between Ansar and Iraq are rare and stem from tainted sources -- factions who would benefit from destabilizing Iraq via American military involvement. This is acknowledged by Goldberg in his article, and in a later interview , Goldberg further disavows responsibility: Q: "What, if anything, can you conclude about the connections between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda?" A: "I'm making no conclusions; I'm just reporting what I've heard.". The Post's Hoagland also publicly expressed reservations about such tactics when carried to the extremes of "Wide Angle" [6a]. (e) Both Goldberg and PBS's "Wide Angle", in a film by Gwynne Roberts, reported claims of high-level operational links between Al-Qaida and the Government of Iraq, possibly extending back several years. In all cases, the charges stemmed solely from only one or two captors or defectors. No corraborating evidence was given. Reading Goldberg's article is a through-the-looking-glass experience. The most charitable interpretation is that of a reporter naive to the area, radicalized by exposure to the brutality of Halabja and the Anfal. As a result, Goldberg is blind to complexities of the story and disinterested in conditions in Iraq's center/South. In discussing Kurdish military strengths, Goldberg casually notes Kurds control "two important dams whose destruction could flood Baghdad". He neglects to mention, or does not realize, or does not care, that such destruction would violate the Geneva Convention and that the dams were excluded from Gulf War destruction for this reason. Goldberg interviews Benon Sevan in New York, going so far as to exorciate him for sanctions impact on conditions in the Kurdish North (?!). The interview's no-doubt-intended-to-be-damning closing quote from Sevan ("Please don't talk morals with me") will echo somewhat differently in the ears of CASI members. Goldberg's selection of experts is dismally one-sided for an article of this length (Butler and Spertzel, no Ritter; Sevan as a punching bag, but no Halliday or von Sponeck; Woolsey, Makiya, Hamza (on chemical(!) weapons), Milhollin). Goldberg sends his narrative through hoops in order to make plausible Saddam's alignment with radical fundamentalists, arguing that "ten years ago Saddam underwent something of a battlefield conversion to a fundamentalist brand of Islam." The sole evidence he cites (Amatzia Baram's analysis of Saddam's rhetorical flourishes) seems inadequate to the task of gauging Saddam's spiritual center, and one suspects that Dr. Baram would not be happy with the inferences spun from his analysis. As for Gwynne Roberts, he too has a long been active in popularizing the plight of Iraq's Kurds. Roberts also has a taste for shadowy defector interviews and incendiary claims***. Last year, Roberts reported a since-debunked claim of an Iraqi A-Bomb test under Lake Rezazza. In "Wide-Angle", the claim is that Bin Laden visited Iraq in 1998[7a]. Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA mailto: info@uncoverIraq.com * The Atta/Prague story is reviewed here: http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2002/msg00593.html ** The anthrax investigation is reviewed here: http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2002/msg00594.html *** Roberts' Lake Rezazza story is recapped here: http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2002/msg00961.html  ===== Last September 24, Safire wrote: "Kurdish sources tell me (and anyone else who will listen) that the Iraqi dictator has armed and financed a fifth column of al-Qaida mullahs and terrorists that calls itself the Jund al Islam ("Soldiers of Islam")." See "The Ultimate Enemy", William Safire, New York Times, Sept. 24, 2001 In April, he continued: "Sixty Islamic terrorists, trained in Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden, are holed up in the town of Biyara in northern Iraq, guests of Saddam Hussein. See "Saddam's Offensive", William Safire, NYT, Apr. 8, 2002 For an unashamedly crude, and hilarious, attack on "Gigantic Asshole William Safire", see Matt Talbi's piece at http://www.exile.ru/131/press.php  ===== Goldberg's lengthy article is here: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?020325fa_FACT1  ====== Scott Ritter, in a springtime appearance in Minneapolis, noted that American forces in Afghanistan have captured hundreds of Al-Qaida prisoners, tens-of-thousands of pages from Al-Qaida tactical, strategic, and operational documents, and megabytes of email communications. This information is being analyzed by government specialists and by private parties antagonistic to Iraq (e.g., The Wall Street Journal). Ritter asked: "What's missing from this information? Iraq!" To date, no documented linkage between Iraq and Al-Qaida has been discovered. In fact, a NYTimes article ("Al Qaeda's Grocery Lists and Manuals of Killing", David Rohde and C. J. Chivers, NYTimes, March 17, 2002) reports that help was requested from Al-Qaida by the "Islamic Battalion, Kurdistan" in their "jihad" *against* Saddam Hussein (emphasis added). http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/17/international/asia/17DOCU.html?pagewanted=print&position=top <extract only, due to length> ... Diverse Muslim groups joined Mr. bin Laden's global jihad. Sometimes, they also came seeking help in pressing their own causes back home. In a Qaeda house in Kabul, there was a public statement from the "Islamic Battalion, Kurdistan, Iraq," dated Nov. 20, 1999, calling on "the movement for Islamic unity" to help in the jihad against President Saddam Hussein. There was also a handwritten letter to Mr. bin Laden from an unidentified Russian who said his group needed training for two attacks in Russia. ... <end extract> [3a] ===== Yesterday's Oberver (UK) also remarked on the lack of a paper trail connecting 'Kurdish Jihadis' to Saddam's government. See Jason Burke's story at http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,754476,00.html.  ====== http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=800787 Iraqi Kurdistan Bandwagon The Kurds climb on it Sep 27th 2001 >From The Economist print edition IN THE not-so-safe haven of northern Iraq, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish militia leader, has launched an assault on his former ally, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), and its enclave close to the Iran-Iraq border. This week Mr Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) stormed the ill-fated town of Halabja, to oust the IMK from the place that has been its base for seven years. The PUK, which is said to have lost 100 fighters, is presenting the takeover as a victory in the war on terror. Within hours of the September 11th attacks on America, the group's websites accused the IMK and its hardline offshoot, Jund al-Islam (Army of Islam), of receiving training and money from al-Qaeda and, for good measure, Iraqi intelligence agents. They were planning, says the PUK, to create a haven within a haven for Osama bin Laden. Poppycock, says the IMK, perhaps the third-strongest of the Kurdish militias. Inspired by the Afghan jihad (struggle) against the Soviet Union, its own jihad against Saddam Hussein dates back to the 1980s (Saddam responded by dropping chemical weapons on Halabja). The IMK admits a few of its fighters are veterans of the Afghan war. But it says it has repeatedly refused to offer Arab afghanis a refuge, for fear of jeopardising its warm relations with America and Saudi Arabia. [4a] ===== http://www.economist.com/World/africa/PrinterFriendly.cfm?Story_ID=1147368 Iraqi Kurdistan Thinking federal thoughts May 23rd 2002 | ARBIL >From The Economist print edition <snipped due to length> Relations between the Turks and Mr Barzani have sharply deteriorated in recent months, mainly over the latter's refusal to continue to collaborate in military operations. Turkey has hit back by more or less halting the illegal import of Iraqi diesel through Kurdish-controlled areas since February, a move that has had a severe impact on the local economy. In addition, Turkey has been providing modest aid to Mr Talabani in a bid to dilute Mr Barzani's strength. This, in turn, has prompted Iran, another difficult neighbour, to indulge in its own trouble-making by allowing a murderous Islamic group, Ansar al-Islam, to operate in the impenetrable mountain terrain near the Iranian border. <end snip>  ====== http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=540&540&e=3&u=/ap/20020425/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_al_qaida_1 Iraq Kurds Possibly Al-Qaida Linked Thu Apr 25, 2002 By LOUIS MEIXLER, Associated Press Writer ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Islamic militants, including fighters who have trained in Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s camps, have carved out a small safe haven in northern Iraq, where they are apparently arming and have carried out attacks, Kurdish officials said Thursday. The militants share a radical Islamic ideology with bin Laden, but it is not clear if they are loyal to him or if they just trained in his camps, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The radicals include Iraqi Arabs, Iraqi Kurds and Jordanians, they added. There are fears that the militants could destabilize northern Iraq - an area run by two rival Kurdish groups which have opposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (news - web sites). The groups are considered key to any possible U.S. offensive aimed at overthrowing Saddam. Kurdish officials said that radical Islamic militants control an area of several small villages on the Iranian border near the town of Halabja. Estimates of the number of militants range from about 100 to several hundred. Kurdish officials said dozens of these fighters are believed to have trained in bin Laden's camps. Western diplomats could not confirm those reports or others that Taliban fighters fled to the region through Iran after the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan (news - web sites). Kurdish officials also said that some of al-Qaida trainees may have fled to northern Iraq via Iran and may be using it as a safe haven that is under the control of no central authority. The radicals are divided into several groups and their aims are not clear. <... remainder snipped ...>  ===== http://www.newyorker.com/online/content/?020325on_onlineonly01 In Saddam's Shadow Issue of 2002-03-25 Posted 2002-03-18 <Promotional interview, snipped due to space> Q: What, if anything, can you conclude about the connections between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda? A: I'm making no conclusions; I'm just reporting what I've heard. Without full access to secret intelligence, I'm not capable of making a definitive conclusion on this subject. The only thing I can say is that it seems worthy of further American investigation, because I spoke with people who seemed, to me, to be credible, who said they had information about such connections. <end snip> http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?020325fa_FACT1 <Snip: Disclaimer from the online article> For two days, the intelligence agency permitted me to speak with any prisoner who agreed to be interviewed. I was wary; the Kurds have an obvious interest in lining up on the American side in the war against terror. But the officials did not, as far as I know, compel anyone to speak to me, and I did not get the sense that allegations made by prisoners were shaped by their captors. The stories, which I later checked with experts on the region, seemed at least worth the attention of America and other countries in the West. <end snip> [6a] ====== http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52714-2002Jul10.html Evil Under Scrutiny By Jim Hoagland Thursday, July 11, 2002; Page A21 <snip> The "Wide Angle" production unfortunately muddies the water on that score by giving prominence to unsupported statements from an unidentified Iraqi military defector who says he saw bin Laden in Baghdad in July 1998, shortly before al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Linking Hussein and bin Laden provides the United States with an unavoidable casus belli. It is not to be undertaken lightly. "Wide Angle" should have made more of an effort to investigate this sensational charge before putting it on the air in this form. <end snip>  ====== The key charges from Goldberg's article (p65): "... the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam ... Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992 ... and that Iraqi intelligence agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan" CHARGE: Saddam and Al Qaida jointly control Ansar SOURCE: Imprisoned Iraqi intel officer, Qassem Hussein Muhammad CHARGE: Saddam hosted Ayman al-Zawahiri in '92 SOURCE: Imprisoned Iraqi intel officer, Qassem Hussein Muhammad CHARGE: Saddam transferred (chembio) weapons SOURCE: Imprisoned Iranian murderer and smuggler, Muhamad Mansour Shahab (Jawab) [7a] ===== I couldn't find a transcript of Gwynne Roberts' piece, but working from a favorable preview (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/11/arts/television/11JAME.html?pagewanted=print&position=top), it appears to regurgitate Goldberg's article and it's similarly light on evidence. CHARGE: Saddam hosted Ayman al-Zawahiri in '92 SOURCE: Same source as Goldberg? (Imprisoned Iraqi intel officer) CHARGE: Bin Laden visited Iraq in 1998 SOURCE: "an Iraqi whom Mr. Roberts tracks down in Turkey, his identity disguised by a jittery camera in a hotel room that shows his hands, his feet, never his face. He says he worked in a chemical weapons factory near Baghdad and that he actually saw Mr. bin Laden visit a terrorist training camp in Iraq in 1998, when Al Queda members were about to "graduate" from its program. ("Wide Angle") carefully couches all this information in phrases like "if these claims are true" ... _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk