Friday, July 23, 2004

The relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam

From National Review Online

Here is what you won't read in the liberal press about Al Qaeda and Saddam.

Now, with the release of the commission's final report, it is clear what Hamilton and Cheney were talking about. The final report details a much more extensive set of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda than the earlier staff statement. It also modifies the original "no collaborative relationship" description, now saying there was "no collaborative operational relationship" (emphasis added) between Iraq and Al Qaeda. And it suggests a significant amount of contact and communication between the regime of Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden.

The report describes a time in 1996 when bin Laden, newly arrived in Afghanistan, could not be sure "that the Taliban would be his best bet as an ally." In 1997, the report says, bin Laden began making his Taliban sponsors nervous with a number of flamboyant and militant statements. At the time it seemed possible that bin Laden, who had gone to Afghanistan after being forced out of Sudan, might find himself at odds with his new hosts. What then? The report says bin Laden appears to have reached out to Saddam Hussein:

There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported to have received a significant response. According to one report, Saddam Hussein's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.

Since Saddam wasn't interested, the report says, nothing came of the contacts. But by the next year, Saddam, struggling under increasing pressure from the United States, appeared to have changed his mind, and there were more talks:

In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December.

The meetings went on, the report says, until Iraq offered to formalize its relationship with al Qaeda:

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of the United States.


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