Iraq Was, and Is, Part of the War on Terror

By: Greg C. Reeson

You’ve heard them say it over and over again. Certain congressional leaders and presidential candidates repeating the mantra for audiences around the country: “Iraq is not part of the war on terror.” “The real terrorists are in Afghanistan.” “By going into Iraq, we took our eye off the ball.” But a new report, released last week from the Institute for Defense Analyses, reveals that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a leading state sponsor of regional and global terrorism, and that Saddam, at least indirectly, supported al Qaeda through associated terrorist groups.

After the report was released, most news organizations and some political pundits seized on one sentence from the report’s executive summary: “This study found no ‘smoking gun’ (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda.” There are two important things to keep in mind, though. The first is that the war on terror goes far beyond bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Afghanistan. It is, in fact, a war on Islamic radicalism wherever it may exist in the world. Al Qaeda is but one group that uses terrorist tactics in the name of Islam, and al Qaeda is certainly not our only enemy. The second thing to keep in mind is that the lack of a “smoking gun” does not mean there was no association at all between al Qaeda and Saddam’s Iraq. Going beyond a simple reading of the executive summary and actually analyzing the contents of the report provides a different picture than that portrayed by the news media headlines.

The study, which was commissioned by the military’s Joint Forces Command, reviewed some 600,000 Iraqi documents captured after a U.S.-led coalition removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, finding multiple sources of evidence that indicated Saddam’s support for terrorism. Some of the groups listed as having received support from Iraq include Fatah-Revolutionary Council (the group of international terrorist Abu Nidal), Palestine Liberation Front, Force 17, Renewal and Jihad Organization, The Palestinian abd al-Bari al-Duwaik, Islamic Jihad Organization (Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Islamic Ulama Group, The Afghani Islamic Party, and Jam’iyat Ulama Pakistan.

The report cites a captured memorandum that details an agreement with Islamic terrorists to conduct operations against the Egyptian government, an ally of the United States, during Operation Desert Storm, with financial support to continue to the Islamists after the Gulf War was over. Then there is the document that tells us the top ten graduates of each Fedayeen Saddam class in 1999 were to be sent to London so as to be in position to conduct operations throughout Europe. Yet another memorandum concerning the establishment of a terrorist training camp in Sudan says, according to the study, “…Iraq would send one administrative officer to establish and oversee the camp and that the following equipment would be provided initially: 15,000 Kalashnikov 7.62mm rifles, 15,000 [SKS] rifles, 5,000 Browning pistols, 5,000 Markarov pistols….” Let’s not forget that Osama bin Laden was active in Sudan in the 1990s.

A memorandum from Saddam’s presidential secretary to the Revolutionary Council in 1993, a time when bin Laden claims his henchmen were attacking U.S. forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, details Saddam’s interest in establishing “…a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.” Then there’s an article by Stephen Hayes in this week’s issue of The Weekly Standard that cites other captured Iraqi documents, since verified by the U.S. government, that were not included in the study. One of these documents, Hayes writes, “…describes Osama bin Laden as an Iraqi intelligence asset ‘in good contact’ with Saddam’s intelligence assets in Syria. Another, says Hayes, was examined by a Pentagon and intelligence working group that concluded the document not only corroborated, but expanded on, other sources of evidence detailing contact between Saddam’s Iraq and bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

It is non unrealistic to conclude, given Saddam’s interest in Somalia and Sudan, both places associated with bin Laden, that even if there was no direct connection, Saddam and bin Laden were operating in the same areas at about the same times, and that there was likely some form of contact between their operatives. For those who argue that bin Laden, a radical Islamist, would never cooperate with Saddam, a secularist of the type al Qaeda sought to destroy, the just released report says “Common interests, even without common cause, increased the aggregate terror threat.” It goes on to say, “Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda’s stated goals and objectives.”

There is no question that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of regional and global terrorism. “Saddam nurtured this capability,” the report says, “with an infrastructure supporting (1) his own particular brand of state terrorism against internal and external threats, (2) the state sponsorship of suicide operations, and (3) organizational relationships and ‘outreach programs’ for terrorist groups.” The report goes on to conclude “Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces.”

Vice President Dick Cheney last week defended the invasion of Iraq as part of the global war on terrorism launched by the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During an unannounced visit to Baghdad, Cheney said the 9/11 attacks led to the decision to take out Saddam Hussein’s regime. Critics who allege that Iraq is not part of the war on terror fail to realize that after 9/11, everything changed. The United States could no longer count on two ocean barriers to protect us from foreign attack at home. Playing defense ceased to be an option and the United States had to eliminate potential threats before they materialized in our own backyard. While there may not be a “smoking gun,” there is enough evidence available to link Iraq to regions used by al Qaeda at times when al Qaeda was present. There is also enough evidence available to link Iraq to groups that shared al Qaeda’s vision and groups that directly supported or aided al Qaeda.

Of course, when all is said and done, there will be no shortage of those choosing to stick to the “Bush lied” mantra when talking about Saddam’s links to al Qaeda and the war on terror, no matter what reports like the one produced by the Institute for Defense Analyses tell us. Personally, having only read the first volume of the study so far, I am looking forward to what I will learn from the remaining four.

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