The sequel to last week's summary of Pakistani involvement in the War on Terror will continue next week. In the meantime, I intend to argue that it was Europe, specifically Germany, rather than the United States, that politicized its intelligence during the lead-up to war with Iraq, in particular regarding Iraqi links to al-Qaeda.
After September 11, the Bush administration laid out what has now become a key staple of US foreign policy: "We will make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them." During the run-up to war in Iraq, the administration made an exceedingly convincing case that members of al-Qaeda led by Abu Musab Zarqawi were being assisted by the Iraqi government in unleashing a series of chemical weapons plots against European targets between November 2002 and February 2003. I documented a great deal about this connection and the factual basis behind it in the Imminent Threat a few weeks ago. Now these are very serious charges. If Iraq was involved with Zarqawi or al-Qaeda in providing training, safe haven, or assistance to the terrorist network then one could quite convincingly argue that it would constitute a casus belli in of itself rather than the current media fascination with denying any Iraqi complicity to the 9/11 attacks. Not surprisingly then, that many of the most vocal opponents of the war in both Europe and the United States have sought to dismiss any claim of Iraqi connection to al-Qaeda whatsoever. Unfortunately, such a view not only conflicts with what we know now (which may explain why this AP story is getting such little coverage), what some enterprising Freepers discovered we knew back in 1998, as well as what can now discern from 1993. Somebody give Bob Graham and Howard Dean a call. So how were charges of al-Qaeda complicity with the Iraqi government received in Europe? A simple scan of the European press from the time of Collin Powell's speech will easily reveal that the charges were widely viewed as "having been released from domestic consumption." Essentially, it's a nice way of saying that Powell lied about the connection in order to rev up the stupid masses of the American public for war. To be quite frank, many European leaders did not believe the evidence that Powell presented them with and in most cases disseminated that belief to their general public. The issue of Iraqi WMDs was generally regarded in Europe as a problem, but something that could be resolved through UNMOVIC and the age-old principle of MAD. The al-Qaeda connection, by contrast, was regarded as pure fiction for whatever cynical economic motives prompted the US decision to attack Iraq. Why the sudden skepticism? A recent article over in the Washington Post explains the rationale: bq. "Zarqawi had had a leg amputated at an exclusive Baghdad clinic in 2002, suggesting he had connections to government figures in Iraq, but European officials scoffed at the larger allegation. Zarqawi was an independent operator, they said, citing the interrogation of some of his allies in Germany." What "allies" are they referring to here? The reference is to members of an obscure affiliate terrorist organization of al-Qaeda run by Zarqawi (much the same way that al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri is also the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad) called al-Tawhid that is primarily dedicated to the establishment of a Wahhabi theocracy in Jordan. An 11-man al-Tawhid cell in Germany was disrupted in April and the leader of that cell, Shadi Abdallah, was turned to an informant for German authorities. Abdallah's interrogations by German authorities were obtained by Newsweek and placed on the MSNBC website in an attempt by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball to discredit the administration's claims of a link between Zarqawi and al-Qaeda and instead to paint him as an independent operator who was primarily interested in attacking Jewish and Jordanian interests. Abdallah's claims (and I imagine one can devise any number of theories as to why he made them) are quite demonstrably false, for reasons which I chronicled in my earlier Abu Musab Zarqawi analysis. Ignoring the fact that there is no way in hell that the Taliban would allow a rival organization to its primary patron (and puppetmaster) to set up a training facility in Afghanistan to begin with, the picture that Abdallah paints of Zarqawi bears no resemblance to reality. The leader of a lone terrorist group dedicated to overthrowing the Hashemite monarchy and killing Jews is not going to be issuing marching orders to known Iraqi, Moroccan, Chechen, and Algerian al-Qaeda affiliates, nor would he be coordinating chemical weapons plots in Europe or meeting with the military commander of the rival terrorist organization that he supposedly hates (as documented in the earlier Washington Post story) to receive instructions in order to coordinate attacks against US targets in Iraq. Nevertheless, this was the portrait of Zarqawi that one can find in any number of reputable articles, European and American alike, such as this article from ABC News dating from February 24 of this year. ABC News appears to have amended their view upon further inspection of the evidence, but I have my doubts that the European media will do so. In any case, the damage caused by Shadi Abdallah and his statements had already been done. While European governments could argue against war on the basis of Iraq's WMDs at the United Nations, they needed something to rebut the US claims of an al-Qaeda connection. This was what Abdallah provided them with, and he gave the governments of France, Germany, and Belgium a handy rebut to the claims of the United States. What he was effectively exploiting was what Bjorn Stark called the Golden Mean. The European leaders of France and Germany knew without a doubt that Saddam Hussein was sponsoring terrorist organizations ranging from the Abu Nidal Organization to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, as well as that he was a key patron of Hamas. However, they also recognized the threat posed by al-Qaeda and as such would have been forced to confront it (al-Qaeda has carried out attacks against Frenchmen in Pakistan and Germans in Tunisia) had they recognized that it was an active threat to their national security. The amount of political capital at stake were Zarqawi's network to carry out successful chemical weapons attacks in Europe was simply too great. But thanks to Abdallah and his testimony as well as what appears to be an extremely cynical view of the United States under George Bush among elements of the European leadership that I would tend to view as a direct consequence of the embrace of transnational progressivism by the European elites, al-Tawhid was seen as just another anti-Jewish group under Saddam's employment. An Islamist kin to the once-infamous Abu Nidal Organization can easily be dismissed as insignificant as far as a threat to international security. While there are a number of disturbing things that can be derived from such a position (namely that sponsoring terrorism against Israel is okay), this appears to have been the mindset of leaders in France and Germany during the run-up to war against Iraq, which brings us to Russia. Unlike Germany or France, Russia is currently involved in a shooting war with its own Islamist militants in Chechnya. Despite claims to the contrary, the Chechen rebels are very much an integral part of al-Qaeda's global network with Shamil Basayev, the rebellion's supreme commander, himself being a graduate of Afghanistan's terrorist training camps. These same al-Qaeda backed rebels orchestrated a number of high-profile attacks against Russian forces including the seizure of a Moscow theater in October, the assassination of Sayyid Amin Adizov (the Chechen head of the pro-Moscow United Russia Party), and the December suicide bombing of the Grozny government building that killed 57. As a result of Russia's war in Chechnya, if Iraq had been involved in plotting with al-Qaeda, Putin would have likely made some kind of effort against it as part of his efforts to rein in international support for the Chechen rebels. So why did Russia not take a stronger line against Saddam Hussein's al-Qaeda connection? Simple. They already knew about them. According to documents recovered by the Daily Telegraph dealing with the interactions between the Mukhabarat and Russian intelligence: bq. "The name of Osama bin Laden appears in a number of Russian reports. Several give details of his support for the rebels in Chechnya. They say bin Laden had built two training camps in Afghanistan, near the Iranian border, to train mujahideen fighters for Russia's rebel republic. The camps could each hold 300 fighters, who were all funded by bin Laden." This gave Iraq plausible deniability for any interactions that it had with al-Qaeda. So long as Iraq continued to send regular reports to Russia on the nature of the organization's activities in the Chechen theater, any US accusations that Iraq was involved with al-Qaeda could simply be discredited by Iraqi claims that they were simply doing it to gain better intelligence for Moscow. This enabled Saddam to play both ends against the middle in order to further his own interests. Al-Qaeda attacks against Western targets in Europe would serve to crumble support for the US war on terror, while spying on the network for Russia enabled Saddam to have the knowledge that he could rely on at least one veto at the Security Council. One other point to be mentioned on Russia is that there were a variety of rumors leading up to the beginning of the war that Russia was prepared to offer a deal with the US over Iraq in return for American non-interference in a Russian invasion of Georgia in order to deprive the Chechens of their sanctuary in the Pankisi Gorge. Othe rumors had Putin attempting to organize a coup against Saddam Hussein that would allow for the nation's disarmament while leaving its pro-Russian intelligence agency (and Russian oil deals) intact. I don't have anyway of judging the credibility of these rumors, but if one assumes that there is at least a kernel grain of truth to them it would mean that Russian opposition to war in Iraq was more an act in the perceived benefit of Russian interests (oil deals, intelligence) than to any kind of a principled stand. In summary, there appears to be a very probable scenario in which European intelligence on Zarqawi (and his relationship to al-Qaeda) was taken from an extremely dubious source and subsequently politicized to justify France and Germany's anti-war stance, even after Zarqawi's attempted chemical weapons attacks against Western Europe. Russian dealings with Iraq are even more complex. (I believe that Ion Mihai Pacepa wrote up a convincing piece a little while ago claiming that the Russians helped destroy Iraq's WMDs immediately prior to the war.) These relations deal with the fact that Russia was aware of Iraqi connections to al-Qaeda, but saw them as acting at Moscow's behest in order to garner intelligence on the Chechen rebels. Unfortunately, assisting al-Qaeda in developing its own WMDs would seem not to fall under this category, indicating as I said before that Iraq was playing a double game. Currently, there are any number of individuals who claim that US intelligence on Iraq was politicized, cherry-picked, or otherwise manipulated in order to present a view of the country that favored that of the administration's. These are extremely serious charges, though I would hold baseless at least as far as an al-Qaeda connection goes, based on the ample evidence I have been able to document here at Winds of Change. If there is any basis to them they should be investigated. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that it appears that the intelligence agencies on the other side of the Atlantic can be demonstrably shown to have been politicized or duplicitous in order to justify their nations' anti-war stance. UPDATES: P. has a roundup that includes a number of relevant links, including a Tech Central Station Article on the al-Qaeda-Iraq connections.