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Testing The Standard, Part II: Analyzing the al-Qaeda Alliance

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Opener | Iraq & AQ | Sudan Years | Afghanistan | World-Wide | Conclusion
Al-Qaeda training chief Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj to Saudi magazine al-Majallah, May 25, 2003: bq. "Allah has turned to him [Saddam Hussein] with forgiveness. He declared jihad and did not recognize Israel. There is nothing to bar cooperation with a Muslim who has made jihad his course and way for liberating the holy lands." By now, I expect that just about everyone in blogosphere has heard from one source or another about the memo that was leaked to the conservative Weekly Standard that provided a considerable listing of evidence regarding a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. What I'm now going to do is to examine the memo excerpts that were provided by The Weekly Standard and endeavor to see whether or not the raw data is consistent with what we already know or can reasonably deduce from reported stories in the press. This is a far from ideal method of verifying the excerpts in the Standard's piece, but short of full declassification of all US intelligence in relation to al-Qaeda (something that might happen around 2025 or so), it's probably the best that we're going to get here in the blogosphere. Because of the length and detail required, this is a 6-part series. Part 2 deals with Iraq's alliance with al-Qaeda in more detail, esp. as it applies to Saddam's self interest and the defense of his regime. We'll also be returning to this topic in the final installment.
I Just Flew in From Peshawar and boy, Zawahiri! bq. "According to a sensitive reporting [from] a "regular and reliable source," [Ayman al] Zawahiri, a senior al Qaeda operative, visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi Vice President on 3 February 1998. The goal of the visit was to arrange for coordination between Iraq and bin Laden and establish camps in an-Nasiriyah and Iraqi Kurdistan under the leadership of Abdul Aziz." I am still trying to locate a hard news source for the original story of the al-Zawahiri visit to Iraq (some accounts that I found through Google referenced the visit as having occurred in July rather than February as stated here), but the visit is mentioned and the Iraqi vice president in question named as Taha Yassin Ramadan in anecdotes found on both BBC News from August 6, 2002 and a CNN story from September 5, 2002 that cites "coalition intelligence sources" as verifying that the meeting did in fact occur. Any alleged al-Qaeda training camp at An Nasiriyah would not be the much-talked about Salman Pak, incidentally, which is located just several kilometers outside of Baghdad. There was, however, an alleged biological weapons facility that was located in the marshes just southeast of the city. Other than that, I'm not aware of any significant al-Qaeda or Iraqi activity in An Nasiriyah, though the Iraqi daily al-Yawm al-Aakher reported on October 16, 2003 that al-Qaeda fighters were trained at both Salman Pak and an unknown location called "Nahrawan" that I suppose could be located in or around the vicinity of An Nasiriyah. The Iraqi paper goes on to claim that ~100 al-Qaeda fighters were sent to join "the 11th Company Division" (of the Republican Guard?) in Nasiriyah, the site of some of fiercest fighting of the war. Iraqi Kurdistan was not under Saddam's control at this point either, so any al-Qaeda training facilities established there would have to be done under the auspices of the organization's two major players in that region, Jund al-Islam which eventually evolved into Ansar al-Islam (the stick) and Komala Islamiyyah (the carrot). During his presentation to the UN Security Council, Collin Powell showed a slide of an al-Qaeda training camp located at Khurmal, which was jointly run by both Ansar al-Islam and Komala Islamiyyah that was alleged to have provided chemical weapons training to a number of largely Algerian al-Qaeda operatives under the command of Abu Musab Zarqawi who later showed up in a variety of terrorist plots that were thankfully thwarted by the authorities. I had assumed that Khurmal was converted into an al-Qaeda training camp to make up for the organization's loss of Afghanistan as a base in 2001, but it is altogether possible that al-Zawahiri had ordered the camp established in 1998 and that it was only later converted into a chemical weapons facility. Saddam's Open Door Immigration Policy bq. "An Oct. 2002 . . . report said al Qaeda and Iraq reached a secret agreement whereby Iraq would provide safe haven to al Qaeda members and provide them with money and weapons. The agreement reportedly prompted a large number of al Qaeda members to head to Iraq. The report also said that al Qaeda members involved in a fraudulent passport network for al Qaeda had been directed to procure 90 Iraqi and Syrian passports for al Qaeda personnel." This could easily be considered a casus belli in of itself. While there is no concrete open source confirmation of all of this, Collin Powell did allude to it during his presentation to the United Nations. According to The Independent (subscription required), much of this information came from a deputy of Abu Musab Zarqawi who was said to have been the mastermind behind the assassination of a US diplomat in Jordan in October 2002. I assume this none other than Moammar Ahmad Yussef, who fits the description of the Zarqawi deputy described in this article hook, line, and sinker. If one assumes that the individual now in US custody who served as the source of this report is indeed Yussef, he would certainly be in a position to know such information as one of Zarqawi's deputies. bq. "References to procurement of false passports from Iraq and offers of safe haven previously have surfaced in CIA source reporting considered reliable. Intelligence reports to date have maintained that Iraqi support for al Qaeda usually involved providing training, obtaining passports, and offers of refuge. This report adds to that list by including weapons and money. This assistance would make sense in the aftermath of 9-11." Actually, it doesn't make all that much sense in the aftermath of 9/11 given President Bush's aggressive formulation that we were no longer going to distinguish between terrorists and those who harbor them (unless, of course, they have spent the last three to four decades using their oil money to buy influence in Washington - but I digress...), especially if that nation had been currently the recipient of a low-level US military campaign (patroling the no-fly zones) over the last decade or so. Unless, of course, that at least some of the previous intelligence (and indeed the statement contained in the 1998 indictment) from the 1990s was considered genuine by US intelligence, in which case it would make a great deal of sense for bin Laden to try to enlist as many of his state allies as possible to serve as both safe havens for his network following the loss of Afghanistan as well as a force multiplier for the organization in any future conflict with the United States or other members of the anti-terrorist coalition. Nor is this type of activity inconsistent with other al-Qaeda actions during this same time period, given the network's interactions with other probable (in my opinion, definitive) state sponsors during this same window of time. Regarding the existence of al-Qaeda sleeper cells in Iraq prior to the war, on March 9, 2003 the New York Times revealed a leaked CIA assessment stating that al-Qaeda cells were active in Baghdad, Mosul, and Erbil (the lattermost of which was not under Baathist control at the time of the war) and were preparing to attack American forces. In addition, during the war there were numerous reports of accounts from Iraqi POWs that al-Qaeda was fighting with the Iraqi military near Basra that were later verified according to the paper that first broke the story to begin with. bq. "According to sensitive reporting, a contact with good access who does not have an established reporting record: An Iraqi intelligence service officer said that as of mid-March the IIS was providing weapons to al Qaeda members located in northern Iraq, including rocket propelled grenade (RPG)-18 launchers. According to IIS information, northern Iraq-based al Qaeda members believed that the U.S. intended to strike al Qaeda targets during an anticipated assault against Ansar al-Islam positions." The PUK has long alleged a connection between Saddam Hussein and Ansar al-Islam, with various reports citing anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000 having changed hands between the two. On the other hand, the PUK balked at the idea that Komala Islamiyyah, one of its suzerainties that co-administered the al-Qaeda chemical weapons lab to Khurmal, had anything to do with the international terrorist network, leading some to believe that these accusations were politically motivated. I have no way to judge the accuracy of the various claims made by PUK officials, except to note that according to Time Magazine, US intelligence does indeed believe that Abu Wael, a member of Ansar al-Islam's ruling council, was a member of the Iraqi Mukhabarat, the question simply lies in whether or not the rest of the organization or its ultimate driver Osama bin Laden were aware of this fact. Saddam and the "The Islamic Army" bq. "A CIA report from a contact with good access, some of whose reporting has been corroborated, said that certain elements in the "Islamic Army" of bin Laden were against the secular regime of Saddam. Overriding the internal factional strife that was developing, bin Laden came to an "understanding" with Saddam that the Islamic Army would no longer support anti-Saddam activities. According to sensitive reporting released in U.S. court documents during the African Embassy trial, in 1993 bin Laden reached an "understanding" with Saddam under which he (bin Laden) forbade al Qaeda operations to be mounted against the Iraqi leader." According to Rohan Gunaratna's Inside al-Qaeda, the Islamic Army was one of the names used for the terrorist organization very early on in its existence before it was decided that the group would be known as al-Qaeda al-Sulbah ("The Solid Base," after the name of a book by bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam), so this inter-organizational dispute would seem to date back to shortly after the Gulf War. One might want remember that bin Laden initially offered King Fahd the services of his organization in ending the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait as an alternative to the Western intervention that eventually became the Gulf War. Among the documents being referred to here is the November 4, 1998 indictment of bin Laden and his late military commander Mohammed Atef over the 1998 embassy bombings which, as Instapundit and others have noted, contains the following statement:
"According to the indictment, bin Laden and al Qaeda forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in Sudan and with representatives of the Government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah with the goal of working together against their common enemies in the West, particularly the United States. "In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the Government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq," the indictment said."
What can be discerned from all of this? The first is that claims of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda are by no means limited to the run-up to war with Iraq. Indeed, all of this occurred during the Clinton administration. Monday: The Sudan Years

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Tracked: November 21, 2003 6:30 PM
Excerpt: Dan Darling has posted part II of his in-depth analysis of the leaked memo: Winds of Change.NET: Testing The Standard,...

2 Comments

great job Dan.

Dan should really come back and update this.

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