There has been much debate and second-guessing of the decision by President Bush and the Congress to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Claims have been made that US intelligence was mistaken about Saddam’s attempts to create weapons of mass destruction as well as Saddam’s ties to terrorist groups.
In reality, the Duelfer Report, issued in 2004, revealed that although Saddam did not have militarily significant stockpile of WMD, his production and procurement networks were intact and would have been able to resume production after UN sanctions were lifted. The report also detailed how Saddam used the UN Oil-for-Food program, which was meant to provide humanitarian relief for Iraqis, to instead rearm Iraq and bribe government officials around the world.
Often forgotten is the fact that UN inspectors found banned missiles in Iraq prior to the Coalition invasion. Iraq’s al-Samoud missiles had a range greater than allowed by UN resolutions, and thus were a violation of international agreements. Similarly, few remember that US forces were attacked with IEDs made from artillery shells containing the nerve gas sarin in 2004. The shell was determined to be from Saddam’s era and proves that Iraq did possess some stockpiles of chemical weapons. Saddam had used sarin in the past to attack both Iraqi Kurds and Iranian troops.
Clearly, Saddam’s WMDs were a legitimate justification for war, and now a new report reveals that Saddam’s ties to terror groups were also real. Conventional wisdom in some quarters has been that Saddam’s secular regime would never support religious fanatics. That assumption, however, turns out to be much in error. The report is based on 600,000 captured Iraqi documents and provides “strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism.”
There were many examples of Saddam’s cooperation with radical Muslim groups. In 1993, while the US was bringing humanitarian aid to Somalia, Saddam formed a “group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.” Al Qaeda was working against Americans in Somalia at the same time, culminating in the Mogadishu battle described in Black Hawk Down. The Iraqi military also trained Sudanese fighters in the 1990s. This was the same time that Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan. The Sudanese government offered bin Laden to President Clinton, but the offer was never accepted.
The report states that Saddam’s “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.” One example is how an Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) agent was told to support the Army of Muhammad, a group “under the wings of bin Laden” in Bahrain, according to “priorities previously established.”
Two other notable groups to receive Saddam’s support were Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Afghani Islamic Party. Egyptian Islamic Jihad was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri who is now bin Laden’s second-in-command. In 1989, Zawahiri was a founding member of al Qaeda and EIJ played a major role in al Qaeda’s early days. The Afghani Islamic Party was headed by Gulbiddin Hekmatyr. Peter Bergen, a skeptic of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, said that bin Laden and Hekmatyr “worked closely” in Afghanistan. IIS documents now show that Hekmatyr relied on Iraqi funding and that the relationship went back to 1989.
An Iraqi memo from 1993 proclaims support for a Palestinian group “dedicated to armed jihad against Americans and Western interests.” For over twenty years, training camps around Iraq turned out Islamic radicals into jihadists. The Iraqis offered “financial and moral support” to terror groups operating in Kurdish controlled areas of northern Iraq.
Saddam’s support for terrorism continued up until the fall of Baghdad. In 2002, the Iraqi government hosted a series of thirteen conferences for terrorist groups and issued hundreds of Iraqi passports to terrorists trained in Iraqi camps. The Iraqis developed, constructed, certified and provided training for the use of car bombs and suicide vests. The Iraqi government even developed a complex bureaucracy dedicated to recruiting, training, and financing terror groups. Baath Party leaders provided recruits to Saddam’s “Martyrdom Project” while the IIS began to build IEDs “designed to be used in civilian areas.”
This report, “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents,” will ultimately help to vindicate President Bush for his decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The Iraqi documents show that Bush’s claims that Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism under Saddam Hussein were accurate. As with al Qaeda, Iraq was at war with the United States long before we were at war with them.
“Saddam’s Terror Links,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2008