Friday, March 14, 2008

Great Article

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cherry-picking Intelligence: Saddam's Iraq and Terrorism [Steve Schippert]

Permit me, please, to ask a very basic and fundamental question that must be answered:

Are we, the United States, fighting a War on Terror, or are we just fighting a War on Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership?

Answering this question would go a long way toward unspinning and unpacking what most Americans probably see as a dizzying contrast in reporting. Case in point: Consider the headlines that followed the disclosure of the latest Iraq Perspectives Project analyzing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents and other intelligence captured in Iraq.
ABC: Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda
CNN: Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda not linked, Pentagon says
New York Times: Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie
Washington Post: Study Discounts Hussein, Al-Qaeda Link
AFP: No link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda: Pentagon study
McClatchy: Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida
The headlines and the narrative dictated by the bodies of the stories hover over a single sentence in the Executive Summary, which reads:

"This study found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda."

The journalists cherry-picked a single sentence out of a 94-page report and have written multitudes of stories on it. One can question whether some of the writers even read the report beyond that line, which appears in the second paragraph.

Now skip the news reports above and read for yourself the first few paragraphs of the new Iraq Perspectives Report's Executive Summary for proper context. You will find it interesting that the very first sentence in the report is wholly ignored. Then ask yourself the question once again: Are we fighting a War on Terror or just a War on Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership?

The Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) review of captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism. Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States. At times these organizations worked together, trading access for capability. In the period after the 1991 Gulf War, the regime of Saddam Hussein supported a complex and increasingly disparate mix of pan-Arab revolutionary causes and emerging pan-Islamic radical movements. The relationship between Iraq and forces of pan-Arab socialism was well known and was in fact one of the defining qualities of the Ba'ath movement.

But the relationships between Iraq and the groups advocating radical pan-Islamic doctrines are much more complex. This study found no "smoking gun" (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. Saddam's interest in, and support for, non-state actors was spread across a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. Some in the regime recognized the potential high internal and external costs of maintaining relationships with radical Islamic groups, yet they concluded that in some cases, the benefits of association outweighed the risks. A review of available Iraqi documents indicated the following:

  • The Iraqi regime was involved in regional and international terrorist operations prior to OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq.

  • On occasion, the Iraqi intelligence services directly targeted the regime's perceived enemies, including non-Iraqis. Non-Iraqi casualties often resulted from Iraqi sponsorship of non-governmental terrorist groups.

  • Saddam's regime often cooperated directly, albeit cautiously, with terrorist groups when they believed such groups could help advance Iraq's long-term goals. The regime carefully recorded its connections to Palestinian terror organizations in numerous government memos. One such example documents Iraqi financial support to families of suicide bombers in Gaza and the West Bank.

  • State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training, and resourcing of terrorists. Examples include the regime's development, construction, certification, and training for car bombs and suicide vests in 1999 and 2000.

If the news agencies' reporters (and others touting the "no link" narrative) care to read the document, it is riddled with details of documented (in official Iraqi communications) cooperation, support and other links to international terrorist groups, including Saddam's Fedayeen Saddam, which ran training camps to deploy a cell of its top 10 graduating trained terrorists to London.

In discussion with Tom Joscelyn last night, I remarked about the "no 'smoking gun'" line: "I'm not so sure there is a greater smoldering muzzle than the lovefest between the IIS and Zawahiri's IJ in the early nineties delineated in this report." Today, as Andy pointed out earlier, Tom has a short perspective on the report and the accompanying misleading media coverage over at The Weekly Standard's blog.

The Iraqi Intelligence documents discussed in the report link Saddam’s regime to: the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (the “EIJ” is al Qaeda number-two Ayman al Zawahiri's group), the Islamic Group or “IG” (once headed by a key al Qaeda ideologue, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman), the Army of Mohammed (al Qaeda's affiliate in Bahrain), the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (a forerunner to Ansar al-Islam, al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq), and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (a long-time ally of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan), among other terrorist groups. Documents cited by the report, but not discussed at length in the publicly available version (they may be in a redacted portion of the report), also detail Saddam’s ties to a sixth al Qaeda affiliate: the Abu Sayyaf group, an al Qaeda affiliate in the Philippines.

Both the EIJ and the IG were early and important core allies for Osama bin Laden as he forged the al Qaeda terror network, which comprises a number of affiliates around the world.
It requires some creative narration to conclude definitively that Hussein's Iraq had "no link" to al-Qaeda considering the above, regardless of what the finite (though massive) set of documents avails.

As Steve Hayes rightly questions:

And there is this line from page 42: "Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives."

Really? Saddam Hussein "supported" a group that merged with al Qaeda in the late 1990s, run by al Qaeda's #2, and the New York Times thinks this is not a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? How does that work?

Exactly. How does that work?

Think of the paragraphs from Tom and Steve above this way:

You are a Briton returning to England a few years after the American Revolution. You are queried about your time and linkages there. Your response is, "Your Majesty, I have had communications, cooperation and ties with the colonies of Virginia, Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maryland. But I have absolutely no links to America."

That's what "no link to al-Qaeda" requires. That's what one must believe regarding Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al-Qaeda. A rather illogical stretch to be so definitive, no?

Furthermore, why is it that Hussein's state sponsorship of international terrorism is dismissed as irrelevant because it does not overtly or directly thus far carry the stamp of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Again, is it a War on Terror or just a War on AQSL?

It's as if we could all pack up and come home and relax if we could just kill those two individuals.

You know better than that.

03/14 02:18 PM

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