After the removal of the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq, the United States captured roughly 600,000 Iraqi documents as well as several thousand hours of audio and video footage which was consolidated in a DoD database code named Harmony. Only 15% of this data base has been fully translated from Arabic into English while the rest are briefly summarized by concept awaiting future translation.
Back in 2006, the Pentagon released a few dozen of these documents on the internet to allow independent Arabic speakers to help in the slow translation process. Lebanese engineer Joseph Shahda working under the alias of jveritas over at Free Republic, Sammi al Hadir working with Ray Robison, and a handful of others performed yeoman work translating the released documents and providing the first glimpses into Saddam's terrorist state. Unfortunately, DoD released an Iraqi "primer" on nuclear weapons which could provide useful information to other rougue states developing nuclear weapons and the resulting political blowback caused the military to discontinue the public release of the Iraqi documents.
Thankfully, DoD performed their own analysis of the Harmony database (but apparently not the independent translations) and provided an unclassified report for general release entitled Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents Volume 1. The report's authors admitted that their analysis is limited by the partial translation of the captured documents and the necessity to keep many of these documents classified, but the result is still a damning indictment of Saddam's terror state.
As this summary and a simple reading of the report reveals, media claims that this DoD report confirmed that Saddam had no connections with al Qaeda are quite simply lies. Instead, the captured Iraqi documents analyzed in this report reveal that Saddam's Iraq turned terrorism into a business by building an elaborate bureaucracy to recruit, train, fund and supply Iraqi and foreign Arab Islamic terrorist groups, including multiple groups within the al Qaeda network, for the purpose of projecting Iraqi power around the post Persian Gulf War sanctions regime. In sum, the report found that Saddam and al Qaeda worked in tandem using the same Islamic terrorist groups to achieve the same ends for their own divergent secular and religious purposes. (ES-2, 42-44)
Saddam's terrorist state is far broader than its work with al Qaeda and the Islamic terrorist movement and I urge everyone to read the independently translated documents and the DoD report in their entirety. However, this post will concentrate on discussing what the DoD report and the independently translated documents reveal about Saddam's work with al Qaeda and its allies to dispel the myth that Saddam's secular government would not and did not work with Islamic terrorists.
Direct Evidence Iraq Recruited, Trained, Funded and Supplied Al Qaeda
The captured and declassified Iraqi documents cited in the DoD report expressly identify Iraqi support for the following Islamic terrorist groups within the al Qaeda network:
1) Egyptian Islamic Jihad: Formed in the late 70s, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) is the grand daddy of Islamic terrorist groups, long predating al Qaeda. After EIJ successfully assassinated President Anwar Sadat, Egypt cracked down on the terror group and it reformed in Afghanistan under the command of Aymen Al Zawahiri to join the jihad against the Red Army.
During the mid 80s, EIJ leader Aymen Al Zawahiri befriended wealthy Saudi financier Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and installed his EIJ officers in command of the Arab jihadi organizations formed and funded by bin Laden.
In 1989, after the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was formed from the core of bin Laden's jihadi organizations with the purpose of establishing an international network to coordinate the activities of Islamic terrorist organizations around the world. EIJ was one of the founding member organizations of al Qaeda and it was Zawahiri and his EIJ officers who initially controlled al Qaeda.
A March 1993 Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) memo quoted in the DoD report stated that Iraq previously planned terrorist attacks which the EIJ would conduct against Egypt without any detail as to when this planning took place and to what attacks it referred. (p. 14). An earlier February 1993 Iraqi memorandum reviewed by DoD requested that EIJ delay attacking the Egyptian government, indicating that the planning for these attacks took place before 1993. EIJ became active in Egypt again in 1993, attempting to assassinate the Egyptian interior minister in August and then the prime minister in November. The IIS memos indicate that these are likely the attacks Iraq planned to have EIJ execute.
Given that EIJ effectively commanded and was a member organization of al Qaeda, it does indeed appear that Iraq had direct operational links with al Qaeda as soon as the Persian Gulf War ended.
At the same time Iraq was planning EIJ attacks in Egypt, bin Laden and Zawahiri moved al Qaeda and EIJ to Sudan. In reaction to the 1993 EIJ attacks on the government, Egypt again cracked down on EIJ and damaged it severely. As a result, Zawahiri and his weakened EIJ lost control over al Qaeda. Using his control over the group's financial resources, bin Laden leveraged himself into operational command over al Qaeda and Zawahiri became bin Laden's second in command.
Perhaps recognizing the shift in power over al Qaeda from Zawahiri to bin Laden, a DoD released Iraqi memorandum reports that Saddam sent a representative to Sudan in 1995, who held initial talks with bin Laden about conducting "joint operations" against foreign forces (read American forces) in Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi and bin Laden concluded the meeting with an agreement to conduct further talks. However, the Iraqi memorandum reports that Sudan expelled bin Laden in 1996.
Joseph Shahda translated another DoD released memo which reported that EIJ leader and al Qaeda second in command, Aymen Al Zawahiri, visited Iraq from Afghanistan at some point between 1995 and 1998. The Iraqi report stated that the "leader...Aymen," who wrote the book "Bitter Envy," was the person who visited Iraq. In a fine bit of detective work, Mr. Shada observed that the "Aymen" who wrote the book "Bitter Envy" was none other than bin Laden deputy Aymen Al Zawahiri. It is unknown if al Qaeda was attempting to reestablish contact with Iraq with this trip after being forced to flee Sudan in 1996.
UPDATE: Gateway Pundit also reports:
"The Kurdish daily Kurdistani Nwe has published a 2002 letter from the Iraqi presidency that it says proves that there was cooperation between the regime of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.
The letter, which appeared on the paper's front page, was published by the intelligence apparatus of the Iraqi presidency and discussed an intention to meet with Ayman Al-Zawahiri in order to examine a plan drawn up by the Iraqi presidency to carry out a "revenge operation" in Saudi Arabia."
2) Afghani Islamic Party: Often, Saddam beat al Qaeda to the punch and sponsored an Islamic terrorist group before it joined the al Qaeda network. Starting in 1989, the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) started sponsoring Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Afghani Islamic Party and continued to do so through at least the time of the 1993 IIS memo quoted by the DoD report. (p. 15). Later in the early 1990s while being sponsored by Iraq, Hekmatyar started working with bin Laden and al Qaeda established its training camps in the Khost area of Afghanistan controlled by the Afghani Islamic Party.
3) Ansar al Islam: In December 1998, Iraqi Intelligence Service memos cited in the DoD report stated that the IIS established contacts and financial support for a new "radical Kurdish-based Islamic terrorist group planning attacks against Kurdish parties and foreigners in Kurdistan. (p. 22-23). Very likely, the IIS memos are referring to the Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), which seized control of several villages near Halabja in September 2001 and established a local administration governed according to Sharia law. In December 2001, the JAI joined a splinter group of the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan to form Ansar al Islam.
Based on as of yet unreleased intelligence which did not include the captured Iraqi documents, the 9/11 Commission reported that al Qaeda was also supporting these Islamic terror groups from the late 1990s and coordinated the creation of al Ansar Islam. (p. 61)
As Ansar increased its activities, Saddam increased his support. On April 21, 2002, the Telegraph.co.uk reported:
"Members of Saddam's Republican Guard have been seen in two villages run by militants from Ansar al-Islam inside Iraqi Kurdistan, an area which is otherwise controlled by anti-Saddam factions. They were sighted by Western military advisers on a reconnaissance mission. 'Five large trucks coming from Jalawla [in Baghdad-controlled Iraq] unloaded arms and weapons in the Halabjah area,' said one witness. 'They were taken to hides and caves in the mountains.' The haul is said to have included machine-guns, anti-personnel mines and C4 plastic explosive. Links between Ansar al-Islam and Saddam were also alleged recently by Qassem Hussein Mohamed, who claims that he worked for Baghdad's Mukhabarat intelligence [IIS] for 20 years. Saddam had clandestinely supported Ansar al-Islam for several years, he said. '[Ansar] and al-Qa'eda groups were trained by graduates of the Mukhabarat's School 999 - military intelligence.'"
A 1991 Iraqi Intelligence Service document reviewed by the DoD report confirms the Telegraph's story that the IIS School 999 was training "foreign volunteers" in "commando" operations. (p. 36-37).
In Chapter 13 of her book "Masters of Chaos," Linda Robinson describes the joint Special Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga operation code named "Viking Hammer" against the Ansar base in southern Kurdistan in the opening days of the Iraq War. Robinson based her book on extensive interviews with the SF troopers on the ground and offers a fascinating take which I have not seen duplicated anywhere else. The intelligence given to the SF prior to Viking Hammer reported that Ansar was formed by a semi autonomous al Qaeda operative named Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a vicious Jordanian terrorist who would later lead al Qaeda in Iraq. Ansar was expected to field at least 700 fighters made up primarily of Kurds with some foreign Arabs mixed in.
After a running series of fights, the Coaltion force took the Ansar base. The SF found far more foreign Arab al Qaeda than expected bearing passports from a wide variety of Middle Eastern countries including Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco and Iran and travel papers indicating that many had fled our liberation of Afghanistan via Pakistan and Iran. Ansar was operating a basic chemical warfare lab complete with chemical protective suits, manuals in arabic and atropine nerve gas antidote.
The prisoners informed the Peshmerga that the Iraqi liaison to Ansar was named Abu Wael. Abu Wael is shadowy figure who has popped up occasionally in the international press as Iraq's liaison with al Qaeda. The Robinson book appears to confirm that reporting.
UPDATE: Charles Faddis, the CIA team leader for Northern Iraq in 2002 and source for the book Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq, confirmed the account in the Robinson book on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. Of note, Faddis does not believe that al Qaeda was in Iraq prior to 2002, but he is careful to couch this assertion with the disclaimer "that I am aware of."
4) Army of Muhammad: Captured Iraqi Intelligence Service documents analyzed by the DoD report also reveal that Saddam had no problem with working with well established al Qaeda terrorist groups to advance their own agenda. (p. 34-35). In the late 90s, the IIS established a relationship with the Army of Muhammad in Bahrain. This was a marriage of convenience. The Army of Muhammad was looking for financing and did not care if it came from the nominally secular Iraq and Iraq was looking for a weapon against Gulf State governments and did not care if it came from an Islamic terrorist group. The IIS memorandum reported that "the group is under the wings of bin Laden [and] their objectives are the same as bin Laden"
Direct Evidence Iraq Recruited, Trained, Funded and Supplied Other Islamic Terrorist Groups At War With The United States And Its Allies
Captured Iraqi archives reveal that Saddam was training "Arab nationals" (non-Iraqi Arabs) in Iraqi terrorist training camps for more than a decade prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. (p. 15-16). An IIS memorandum listed 100 Iraqi trained Arab national terrorists which Saddam used in operations against the Coalition during the Persian Gulf War.
As the United States assembled a coalition of countries to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation during the Persian Gulf War, the IIS agreed to train, finance and supply the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG) (al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya) for the purposes of attacking Coalition governments. (p. 16 n. 36). One 1993 IIS memorandum noted that Iraq ordered that attacked on Coalition governments were to stop after the Persian Gulf War ceasefire. (p.16) However, further memorandum noted that, in 1993, Iraq was planning with EIG to attack Egypt (p. 18). At the same time, EIG's leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, organized and executed the 1993 attack on the WTC in New York. At minimum, Iraq was training and financing the EIG when it attacked the WTC. The report notes the attack on the WTC but does not state if the captured documents show that the Iraqis had any part in planning that operation.
In September 2001, an IIS agent in Kuwait reported on his progress in working with four local Islamic terrorist organizations in an attempt to overthrow the Kuwaiti royal family. (p. 20-21)
Indirect Evidence Iraq Recruited, Trained, Funded and Supplied Al Qaeda
In 1993, Iraq met with undisclosed "Arab factions" to organize attacks on US troops and personnel bringing humanitarian aid into Somalia. At the very same time, bin Laden and al Qaeda were setting up camps in Somalia to train terrorists to attack US personnel there. (p. 18-19). The report merely notes that Iraq and al Qeada were working towards the same goal of attacking the United States in Somalia, but does not connect the dots and suggest that the Arab factions being assisted by Iraq were in fact al Qaeda. Given that al Qaeda was the only terrorist group of which we are aware planning to attack our troops in Somalia, connecting the dots is pretty simple.
Iraqi documents reveal that the Iraqi military intelligence and Saddam's personal terrorist militia, the Feyedeen Saddam, recruited, trained and supplied Iraqis and "Arab nationals" to serve as suicide bombers. (p. 7-11). Saddam recruited Arab Nationals by offering them "scholarships" to undergo suicide bomber training during "summer vacations." (p. 9-10). Recruits then wrote "volunteer statements" signed in blood. In order to supply their suicide bomber recruits, Iraq spent the 1990s developing car bombs and suicide vests. (p. ES-2). The only foreign terrorist groups using car bombs and explosive vests for suicide attacks at the time were the Palestinians, Egyptian Islamic Jihad/al Qaeda and only al Qaeda waged a suicide bombing campaign in Iraq during the later Iraq War. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that the "Arab nationals" Iraq trained and supplied as suicide bombers were Palestinian or EIJ/al Qaeda.
The DoD report supplements and confirms earlier reporting based on DoD released Iraqi documents and other sources on the ground that Saddam operated a massive terrorist state which recruited, trained, funded and supplied several Iraqi and foreign Islamic terrorist organizations, including the Egyptian Islamic Group when it attacked the World Trade Center in 1993 and at least four known al Qaeda groups. Moreover, captured Iraqi Intelligence Service documents indicate that Iraq helped plan terrorist operations by the al Qaeda terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad against the Egyptian government - the operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda which the 9/11 Commission did not have the intelligence data to find.