Probing The Connections

Steven Hayes has been tireless pursuing the connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and he’s uncovered even more evidence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda. Hayes located a file in part of a FOIA request on Gitmo detainees that paints an alarming connection:

  1. From 1987 to 1989, the detainee served as an infantryman in the Iraqi Army and received training on the mortar and rocket propelled grenades.
  2. A Taliban recruiter in Baghdad convinced the detainee to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban in 1994.
  3. The detainee admitted he was a member of the Taliban.
  4. The detainee pledged allegiance to the supreme leader of the Taliban to help them take over all of Afghanistan.
  5. The Taliban issued the detainee a Kalishnikov rifle in November 2000.
  6. The detainee worked in a Taliban ammo and arms storage arsenal in Mazar-Es-Sharif organizing weapons and ammunition.
  7. The detainee willingly associated with al Qaida members.
  8. The detainee was a member of al Qaida.
  9. An assistant to Usama Bin Ladin paid the detainee on three separate occasions between 1995 and 1997.
  10. The detainee stayed at the al Farouq camp in Darwanta, Afghanistan, where he received 1,000 Rupees to continue his travels.
  11. From 1997 to 1998, the detainee acted as a trusted agent for Usama Bin Ladin, executing three separate reconnaissance missions for the al Qaeda leader in Oman, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  12. In August 1998, the detainee traveled to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the Pakistan, United States and British embassies with chemical mortars.
  13. Detainee was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Khudzar, Pakistan, in July 2002.

Now, the fact that an Iraqi was a member of al-Qaeda doesn’t prove that there’s an official Iraq/al-Qaeda connection. However, the 9/11 Commission indicated that they could find no evidence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet Hayes has uncovered what certainly seems to be an operational tie between a member of al-Qaeda and a planned attack. The questions raised by this information are profound: why was an agent of al-Qaeda traveling with an agent of Iraqi intelligence? Where would those chemical mortars have come from? How much deeper does this story go?

Hayes find many other examples of potential connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda:

We know from these IIS documents that beginning in 1992 the former Iraqi regime regarded bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence asset. We know from IIS documents that the former Iraqi regime provided safe haven and financial support to an Iraqi who has admitted to mixing the chemicals for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. We know from IIS documents that Saddam Hussein agreed to Osama bin Laden’s request to broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda on Iraqi state-run television. We know from IIS documents that a “trusted confidante” of bin Laden stayed for more than two weeks at a posh Baghdad hotel as the guest of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

We have been told by Hudayfa Azzam, the son of bin Laden’s longtime mentor Abdullah Azzam, that Saddam Hussein welcomed young al Qaeda members “with open arms” before the war, that they “entered Iraq in large numbers, setting up an organization to confront the occupation,” and that the regime “strictly and directly” controlled their activities. We have been told by Jordan’s King Abdullah that his government knew Abu Musab al Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war and requested that the former Iraqi regime deport him. We have been told by Time magazine that confidential documents from Zarqawi’s group, recovered in recent raids, indicate other jihadists had joined him in Baghdad before the Hussein regime fell. We have been told by one of those jihadists that he was with Zarqawi in Baghdad before the war. We have been told by Ayad Allawi, former Iraqi prime minister and a longtime CIA source, that other Iraqi Intelligence documents indicate bin Laden’s top deputy was in Iraq for a jihadist conference in September 1999.

The idea that there was absolutely no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is, quite simply, a lie. There’s simply too much credible and authenticated evidence that suggests otherwise. It is clear that at the very least, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq with the full knowledge of Iraqi Intelligence and was planning attacks, including the assassination of USAID diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan and an attempted chemical attack on the Jordanian Intelligence Services headquarters. The Jordanians demanded that Baghdad extradite al-Zarqawi for trial, and the Iraqi regime refused. That alone is enough to prove that Hussein was willingly sheltering a known terrorist.

Yet it is also clear that Iraq and al-Qaeda did have some kind of relationship. Bin Laden didn’t care for Hussein, but that doesn’t mean that he would use him as a means to an end – that end being the destruction of the Saudi government and the West. Iraqi intelligence would also want to keep close tabs on bin Laden as well to makes sure that he didn’t get any ideas about attacking Hussein. It probably wasn’t the most collegial of relationships, but both sides had reasons of self interest in working with each other on their common goals.

What is equally shocking is the absolute silence on the issue that comes from the mainstream media. This evidence is potentially explosive, but because it doesn’t fit the media’s preordained conclusions about the war, it’s ignored. The AP’s own story tries to argue that there’s no evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda worked together, except in noting that the documents show that a member of al-Qaeda traveled to Pakistan to plan an attack with a member of the Iraqi Intelligence Service — which is to say that there’s no evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda worked together except the evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda were indeed working together. It’s enough to wonder what the hell the AP was thinking. Wouldn’t the fact that an agent of al-Qaeda was involved with Iraqi Intelligence be something worth investigating further? Apparently not if you’re a member of the mainstream media.

These pieces of evidence deserve a full examination and follow-up. Some of them may prove to be dead ends. However, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest a much broader relationship than believed – and certainly enough to dispell the idea that there’s no reasonable basis to believe that such a relationship existed. Iraq probably didn’t have a direct connection with the 9/11 attacks, although it is quite possible they knew of them beforehand – an Iraqi agent was present at the 2000 meeting in Kuala Lumpur in which the 9/11 and USS Cole attacks were first hatched. Both the Malaysian and Jordanian governments believe that Iraqi agent Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was present at this meeting and personally escorted one of the 9/11 hijackers there. (Another Iraqi, Hikmat Ahmed Shakir was a member of the Saddam Fedeyeen, but is not the same individual as the one fingered in the Kuala Lumpur case.)

Again, there is a trail of evidence that directly links a known Iraqi agent to a 9/11 hijacker. Hayes has uncovered names, places, and dates. Shakir was arrested, and had names of al-Qaeda agents on his person, as well as several members of Iraqi Intelligence. The Jordanians believed that he was a member of Iraqi Intelligence, as did the Qatari government. Shakir himself escaped to Baghdad and has not been seen since. Why is Hayes the only journalist following this story? There’s clearly more than enough substance here to justify further investigation, yet the mainstream media has utterly ignored it.

The problem here is twofold: first of all the CIA was utterly unable to follow through on connections between the Iraqi regime and terrorism. As the Senate report on the intelligence failures on Iraq states:

Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime’s possible links to al Qaeda. . . . The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not have a focused human intelligence (HUMINT) collection strategy targeting Iraq’s links to terrorism until 2002. The CIA had no [redacted] sources on the ground in Iraq reporting specifically on terrorism.

This is inexcusable, and demonstrates how weakened our intelligence services were. Saddam Hussein was known to have possessed chemical weapons at one point. The risks inherent in having those weapons fall into the hands of terrorists was far too large to ignore – yet it seems that it was ignored until after the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax attacks. The CIA demonstrated shockingly little foresight or interest in investigating these claims, especially after the Clinton Administration bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant specifically because they believed that Iraq and al-Qaeda were using it to jointly develop chemical weapons.

The second part of this problem is the utter disinterest of the media in following this story. The media has their metanarrative already – they believe that Bush lied, that the war was a sham, etc. Anything that doesn’t fit in that worldview is ignored. The evidence may say elsewise, the media is entirely unwilling to abandon their narrative. The deeply partisan mainstream media has no interest in a story that helps the Bush Administration’s case for war, especially one that has the potential to prove one of the most critical links in that case.

Until such time as the media wakes up to this story, enterprising journalists like Steven Hayes are the only ones following this crucial story. The connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda are much broader and deeper than previously believed, and the evidence continues to mount — all entirely beneath the radar of the mainstream media.

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