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[casi] Iraq and 9/11: Purported Links Between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein

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 [1]. 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 [2].  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[3].

(b) The Economist [4] 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[5] 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 [6], 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

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

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].


Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

*   The Atta/Prague story is reviewed here:
**  The anthrax investigation is reviewed here:
*** Roberts' Lake Rezazza story is recapped here:

[1] =====
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

[2] =====
Goldberg's lengthy article is here:

[3] ======
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).

<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,6903,754476,00.html.

[4] ======

Iraqi Kurdistan

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

[4a] =====

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>

[5] ======

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 ...>

[6] =====

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>
<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] ======

Evil Under Scrutiny
By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, July 11, 2002; Page A21

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>

[7] ======
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
(, 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" ...

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