Monday, July 18, 2005

The Australian: The ties that bound Iraq to bin Laden [July 18, 2005]

The Australian: The ties that bound Iraq to bin Laden [July 18, 2005]:

"The Senate Select Intelligence Committee's bipartisan report was released last year. Most of the attention at the time focused on the report's assessment of flaws in intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

The lengthy section on 'Iraq's Links to Terrorism' received considerably less attention. What emerges is a picture of an intelligence community with a woefully inadequate collection capability on the Iraqi target - and a lack of interest: 'The CIA did not have a focused human intelligence collection strategy targeting Iraq's links to terrorism until 2002. The CIA had no sources on the ground in Iraq reporting specifically on terrorism.'

It was not just reporting on Iraq that was inadequate. 'The CIA had no credible reporting on the leadership of either the Iraqi regime or al- Qa'ida, which would have enabled it to better define a co-operative relationship, if any did in fact exist.'

By some accounts, more than 1400 terrorists made their way to Baghdad in the final months of 1990 as Saddam prepared to face the coalition assembled by the US to oust him from Kuwait. He dispatched others to attack US interests around the world.

Iraq's use of terrorism was so widespread, in fact, that it became an issue in the 1992 presidential campaign, when Al Gore accused the first Bush administration of a 'blatant disregard for brutal terrorism' practised by Saddam and ignoring Iraq's 'extensive terrorism activities'.

Many Islamic radicals voiced opposition to Saddam after he invaded Kuwait. Sudan's Hasan al-Turabi was not one of them. Turabi's willingness to back Saddam gave the Iraqi dictator the Islamist street credibility he would exploit for years to come. In the debate over the former Iraqi regime's relationship with al-Qa'ida, it is often said that Saddam's secular Baathist regime could never have worked with bin Laden's radical Islamist organisation.

It is a curious argument since Turabi, one of Saddam's staunchest allies, also happened to be one of the most influential Islamists of the past two decades. One of the principal architects of Sudan's Islamist revolution in 1989, Turabi was also the longtime mentor, friend, and host of bin Laden during his stay in Sudan from 1992 until 1996.

Immediately after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, bin Laden approached the Saudi regime and offered to lead Muslim forces in driving Saddam out of Kuwait. Many who downplay the relationship between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qa'ida point to this as an example of the hostility between Saddam and bin Laden.

While bin Laden's first instinct may have been to oppose the secular tyrant, his soon-to-be host in Sudan did not share such sentiments. According to an interview at the time with Turabi's cousin, Mudawi Turabi, the Sudanese leader met Saddam twice before the Gulf War and 'had appeared to be designing his own Islamic empire even then'.

An internal Iraqi intelligence memo dated March 28, 1992, lists individuals Saddam's regime considered assets of the ISS. Osama bin Laden is listed on page 14. The Iraqis describe him as a Saudi businessman who 'is in good relationship with our section in Syria'.

The Iraqis were also cultivating a relationship with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the current top deputy to bin Laden. According to Qassem Hussein Mohammed, a 20-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence, Zawahiri visited Baghdad in 1992 for a meeting with Saddam.

In 1993, at Turabi's urging, bin Laden came to an 'understanding' with Saddam that the al-Qa'ida leader and his followers would not engage in any anti-Hussein activities."

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