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No Saddam link to al-Qaeda?

Some of those opposed to the military ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime, such as libertarian isolationists like Jim Henley, for instance, have repeatedly maintained that there was little or no regular and operational contact between the unlamented dictator and operatives of al-Qaeda and other radical islamist forces. The lack of a clear link remains a central plank of opposition to George W. Bush’s doctrine of going after regimes which sponsor terror. At most, such critics contend that the Iraq links were no more than low-level and no justification for military action. Of course, much of the evidence for a link prior to 9/11 was circumstantial at best.

Well, if it were the case that no link existed, why did the statement purporting to be from al-Qaeda after the Madrid atrocities make such a big deal of Spain’s involvement in the Iraq liberation, when, according to the naysayers, Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda? In fact, the Islamo-fascists seem more convinced of a common cause with the fate of Saddam and his regime than antiwar types seem to do. Curious.

Of course, it may be that the islamists are opportunists, perceiving that anything that can sow discord between European nations and between Europe and the US is a good thing. It may also be the case that the islamists believe that any incursion by western, secular forces into a region they deem off-limits is a dishonour to them, and hence justification for retaliation. They obviously do not extend their islamic embrace to Shiite muslims, whom they have massacred in the hundreds.

Even so, the very fact that the Iraq and Afghan operations were mentioned as ‘justifications’ for the Madrid massacres ought to give pause to those who claim that those countries’ regimes had had no direct connection to islamist forces. Ousting the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were two major blows against fundamentalist terror. The terrorists know this better than anyone, which is why the message coming out of Spanish politics today is so troubling.

27 comments to No Saddam link to al-Qaeda?

  • Although I did and do support the armed overthrow of the Ba’athist tyrant in Iraq, I was always sceptical about any Al Qaeda link to the Iraqi Ba’athists. If it does turn out to be true, that is certainly interesting, but as my reasons for wanting to see the Ba’athists put to the sword were unrelated to wanting to see the same for Al Qaeda, the issue strikes me as being of academic interest only. It is rarely wrong to shoot at tyrants and the ‘when and where’ is really just an issue of practicality and risk/reward factors, rather than underlying principles

  • Scott Cattanach

    Of course, it may be that the islamists are opportunists, perceiving that anything that can sow discord between European nations and between Europe and the US is a good thing. It may also be the case that the islamists believe that any incursion by western, secular forces into a region they deem off-limits is a dishonour to them, and hence justification for retaliation.

    Yep, with the addition that while the terrorists evidently had no love for (or relationship with) Saddam, our invasion gave them an opportunity to pretend to side w/ any Iraqi who doesn’t like foreign occupation, thus helping their PR and recruiting. Thank you, W.

    Even so, the very fact that the Iraq and Afghan operations were mentioned as ‘justifications’ for the Madrid massacres ought to give pause to those who claim that those countries’ regimes had had no direct connection to islamist forces.

    Only if you’re willing to take the word of a terrorist.

  • There were several good strategic reasons for going after Saddam, regardless of pre-existing Al Qaeda ties.

    Among them were the removal of an unstable regional power with a demonstrated tendency to miscalculate. The Iraq-Iran war and the invasion of Kuwait were two of the most expensive (to others) miscalculations. Given that the sanctions regime was doomed to near-term repeal by the UN, and its increasing leakiness, the likelihood of this unstable character controlling lethal WMD’s was too high.

    Another reason was to demonstrate American resolve by putting our troops visibly in harm’s way against what the enemy assumed was the strongest regional military power.

    Creating a democratic friend or ally in that particular spot was also crucial. It means we have Iran and Syria surrounded.

    Ending Iraqi aid to Palestinian terrorists was not just a humanitarian action for Israel, but also damaged one of the main causes for terror: the Palestinian intifadah.

    Showing that we would overthrow the regime of our choosing, even without UN approval, was valuable, even if it did inflame many European Useful Idiots.

    and there are more, but my breakfast is ready.

  • Scott Cattanach

    the likelihood of this unstable character controlling lethal WMD’s was too high.
    Another reason was to demonstrate American resolve by putting our troops visibly in harm’s way against what the enemy assumed was the strongest regional military power.
    Creating a democratic friend or ally in that particular spot was also crucial. It means we have Iran and Syria surrounded.
    Ending Iraqi aid to Palestinian terrorists was not just a humanitarian action for Israel, but also damaged one of the main causes for terror: the Palestinian intifadah.
    Showing that we would overthrow the regime of our choosing, even without UN approval, was valuable, even if it did inflame many European Useful Idiots.

    Leaving aside the questions of “what f–king Iraqi WMD??” and “what peaceful, democratic Iraq??” aside, Iraq didn’t send the message you want to send to other tyrants.

    Imagine if Libya had given us the diplomatic finger. Would we invade and occupy them? Rove has a “No Wars in ’04″ policy (i.e. Bush wouldn’t be able to get the domestic support for another war). Our troops are spread somewhat thin trying to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq (beating the Libyan army, such that it is, and occupying Libya are two entirely different things), and its unlikely we would have had even the allies we had for Iraq if we tried that again. Would Blair have signed on for another “this Arab tyrant has WMD and ties to terrorists” war?

    Iraq made us less able to go after anyone else, and thus less likely, and the rest of the world knows it.

  • “what f–king Iraqi WMD??”

    Please pay attention. The discovery of AQ Khan’s nuclear arms business revealed that we live in an age where all you need to obtain a few nukes is have a lot of cash and a few good connections. Russia, France and Germany were all calling for the dismantling of the sanctions regime, so it was pretty likely that Saddam would have obtained nucelar weaponry by the end of the decade.

    “what peaceful, democratic Iraq??”

    The one that is slowly coming to be. Note the total lack of an Iraqi civil war, despite the best efforts of foreign terrorists to instigate one. Note the interim constitution which has just been signed. Note the widespread support for democracy and civil rights among Iraqis. Note the steady decline in attacks against occupationary forces since November. Nobody said it would be easy, but all things considered the process is going along as well as could be reasonably expected.

    “Imagine if Libya had given us the diplomatic finger.”

    But it didn’t. Straaaange, since the US is supposedly all tied down in Iraq. If it would be so impossible for the US to attack anyone else, why did Qadaffi choose to restart negotiations right after the Iraq invasion? Why did he finally capitulate right after Saddam’s capture? I mean after all, doesn’t the world know that Iraq has the US tied down in a quagmire? Hmmmmmmmm…

  • As to the subject at hand: I really doubt that there was ever a significent AQ-Saddam link, and like Perry it doesn’t really matter to me. This is probably just them using Iraq as an excuse to discourage other nations from helping the US in general.

    The sad thing is that the Spaniards fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. Sigh.

  • S. Weasel

    Only if you’re willing to take the word of a terrorist.

    Well, this is awkward. If we can’t bomb them, and we can’t take their word for it when they tell us what it is they want, how on earth are we going to appease them?

  • Sandy P.

    Richard Miniter wrote and article at Tech Central Station on 9/25/03. I suggest people check it out, the title is, “The Iraq-Al Qaeda Connections.”

    …Those who try to whitewash Saddam’s record don’t dispute this evidence; they just ignore it. So let’s review the evidence, all of it on the public record for months or years:

    * Abdul Rahman Yasin was the only member of the al Qaeda cell that detonated the 1993 World Trade Center bomb to remain at large in the Clinton years. He fled to Iraq. U.S. forces recently discovered a cache of documents in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, that show that Iraq gave Mr. Yasin both a house and monthly salary.

    * Bin Laden met at least eight times with officers of Iraq’s Special Security Organization, a secret police agency run by Saddam’s son Qusay, and met with officials from Saddam’s mukhabarat, its external intelligence service, according to intelligence made public by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was speaking before the United Nations Security Council on February 6, 2003.

    * Sudanese intelligence officials told me that their agents had observed meetings between Iraqi intelligence agents and bin Laden starting in 1994, when bin Laden lived in Khartoum.

    * Bin Laden met the director of the Iraqi mukhabarat in 1996 in Khartoum, according to Mr. Powell….

  • Patri Friedman

    Regardless of the other issues of the war, and what other evidence there may or may not be about Iraq / al-Qaeda links, the claim you are making is exceedingly flimsy.

    You are saying that al-Qaeda bombing Madrid because of Spain’s alliance with the US in invading Iraq implies a pre-existing direct Saddam / al-Qaeda link.

    It does nothing of the sort. First, al-Qaeda already hates the US. Therefore they hate countries that ally with the US – whatever the cause. Second, al-Qaeda hates the US involvement in the Middle East. They don’t need to like any particular country in order to be pissed that the US invades them. They pissed at any troops we have anywhere in the area. Third, whatever al-Qaeda may think about the government of Iraq, the US invasion killed lots of Iraqi civilians, some of whom have political beliefs closer to al-Qaeda’s than Saddam.

    Regardless of how al-Qaeda felt about Saddam’s government, of course they are going to hate the US for invading a middle eastern country. Duh!

    I also don’t understand why you conflate Iraq and Afghanistan. My impression was that unlike Iraq, there were clear links from al-Qaeda and Osama to Afghanistan. (This is unsurprising since the Taliban was a fundamentalist religious dictatorship, whereas Iraq was a secular, not very religious dictatorship). I hadn’t realized those links were in dispute. This is why many in the antiwar movement here in the US were only against the invasion of Iraq, not the invasion of Afghanistan.

  • “Third, whatever al-Qaeda may think about the government of Iraq, the US invasion killed lots of Iraqi civilians, some of whom have political beliefs closer to al-Qaeda’s than Saddam.”

    Which is still less than Saddam’s government would have killed in a year. Please, get real. Al Qaeda does not give a crap about Iraqis dying, except perhaps when it’s convenient for them.

  • Just because Al-Qaeda claims the invasion of Iraq as a motive for ‘punishment’ after the invasion does not imply there was a connection before the invasion.

    Until a few months after 9/11, Al-Qaeda never showed much interest in Palestine either. Now it claims it does. Are we to deduct Arafat and Ben Laden are connected ?

    It’s yet another factoid that will reinforce both sides of the debate in their opinion. Those who believed will take it as a confirmation that there is a link. Those who didn’t as proof that there was no connection, until we created it by invading.

  • (Off Topic)
    Hey, your site doesn’t work in Mozilla. What gives?

  • Scott Cattanach

    But it didn’t. Straaaange, since the US is supposedly all tied down in Iraq. If it would be so impossible for the US to attack anyone else, why did Qadaffi choose to restart negotiations right after the Iraq invasion? Why did he finally capitulate right after Saddam’s capture? I mean after all, doesn’t the world know that Iraq has the US tied down in a quagmire? Hmmmmmmmm…

    The Iraq War did not Force Gadaffi’s Hand
    Embarrassed by the failure to find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush is trying to find another WMD-related justification for his pre-emptive war on Iraq. Bush administration spokesmen have been quick to portray Libya’s December decision to abandon WMD programmes as the direct result of the US invasion of Iraq or, as Mr. Bush himself put it in his State of the Union address: “Nine months of intense negotiations succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not.” In diplomacy, noted the president, “words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America” (applause).

    The implication is clear. Get rid of one dictator because of his supposed WMD programmes and others will be so afraid that they will voluntarily abandon their weapons programmes. Therefore, even if no WMDs were found in Iraq, we still made the world a safer place. The perfect comeback.

    In Muammer Gadaffi’s case, this proposition is questionable. In fact, Libyan representatives offered to surrender WMD programmes more than four years ago, at the outset of secret negotiations with US officials. In May 1999, their offer was officially conveyed to the US government at the peak of the “12 years of diplomacy with Iraq” that Mr. Bush now disparages. Back then, Libya was facing a deepening economic crisis produced by disastrous economic policies and mismanagement of its oil revenues. United Nations and US sanctions that prevented Libya importing oilfield technology made it impossible for Mr. Gadaffi to expand oil production. The only way out was to seek rapprochement with Washington….

  • Scott Cattanach

    “what f–king Iraqi WMD??”
    Please pay attention. The discovery of AQ Khan’s nuclear arms business revealed that we live in an age where all you need to obtain a few nukes is have a lot of cash and a few good connections.

    In other words, this is all ‘might’ and ‘maybe’, with no specific evidence neccessary.

    “what peaceful, democratic Iraq??”
    The one that is slowly coming to be.

    You can use a peaceful, democratic Iraq as justification for your war after it happens, not before. Its not a given that this will succeed.

  • Irritant: we are investigating the problem

  • Ladies, gents, couple points here.

    WMD – per the 1992 ceasefire treaty (never mind 19 subsequent UN resolutions) Iraq bore the burden of standing down its WMD program, and proving that it had done so. Over the course of 10 years, the Iraqis systematically jerked off the inspectors, including all sorts of wierd lab-emptying moving van action, usually between the time notice was given for an inspection, and the occurrence of the inspection. The revenue streams to weapons labs continued; the foreign purchase of precursors continued. In the absence of Iraqi action to demonstrate compliance, it was fair to presume Iraq hadn’t complied. Wrong, yes; but fair under the circumstances.

    As for the general principle… well, I’m starting to think it’s the job of any reasonably free nation that can afford to do so, to whack every dictator, petty tyrant and evil-assed strongman it gets the chance to. The technology for mass destruction has now trickled down so far, that any jackass with a big credit card and a friend at the Pakistani or French embassy can get a nuke. This is partly for altruistic reasons, that a lover of liberty should be friends with all others who love liberty; and partly for reasons of self preservation, in that it’s clear that failed states, especially failed Islamic dictatorships, are the real root cause of terrorism.

    As for Spain – that may have been *the* critical defeat in the war on terrorism. It taught Al Qaida that a supposedly staunch ally will pack it in after two hundred casualties. Sheee-it. Al Qaida will tolerate 200 hundred casualties just to try and kill a couple American troops… and here we have a supposedly on-the-up-and-up western nation that freaks out and turns tail after a horrid but relatively minor attack.

    You are next, Britain; or maybe Italy or Poland. Think now about how you are going to react.

  • SAndy P.

    And here I thought Mo didn’t want to be pulled out of a spideyhole.

    Was Mo lying? Or didn’t he say what was reported he said?

    And maybe Mo should have demanded COD to Mugabe.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > Well, if it were the case that no link existed, why did
    > the statement purporting to be from al-Qaeda after
    > the Madrid atrocities make such a big deal of Spain’s
    > involvement in the Iraq liberation, when, according to
    > the naysayers, Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda?

    Because there is a link now (=infidel crusaders invading another Arab country) and the Bushies are the one who made it!

    By your logic, we might just as well create any link we want simply by attacking things. For example, if we had nuked Mecca on grounds it might be eventually be used for producing weapons of mass destruction, it’s a safe bet Al Qaeda would have mentioned it in their post-Madrid promo video.

    MARCU$

  • Johnathan

    Marcus, I am not saying there was a definite link, only that the statement runs counter the blanket denials of such a link from various opponents of toppling Saddam.

    More broadly, it clearly matters to the terrorists that the coalition has sought to overthrow Saddam. It should also be pointed out, BTW, that these terrorists do not give a damn about the Iraqi people, including other demoninations of Islam, such as the Shiites.

  • Simon Jester

    “there is a link now (=infidel crusaders invading another Arab country)”

    Al Q’aeda is (supposedly) an Islamist organisation, not a racist one. Saddam Hussein’s regime was nationalist-socialist, not Islamic; if there was no other connection between it and Al Q’aeda, the invasion of Iraq should have been of minimal import to them.

  • Dave

    Al Q’aeda is (supposedly) an Islamist organisation, not a racist one. Saddam Hussein’s regime was nationalist-socialist, not Islamic; if there was no other connection between it and Al Q’aeda, the invasion of Iraq should have been of minimal import to them..

    That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Iraq is a perfect stick to hit the west with post Saudi.

    Al-Q got their way over Saudi, now they’ve got a new target. So far they’re doing a deft job of manipulating the west, post 9-11.

    We’ve gone from a unified agreement to handle terrorism, to a fragmented European policy, an increase in terrorism and a huge percentage of the USAs military tied up in a peacekeeping operation which could last a decade.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > I am not saying there was a definite link,
    > only that the statement runs counter the blanket
    > denials of such a link from various opponents of
    > toppling Saddam.

    I don’t know where you got that weird idea from. Most anti-war types did claim Saddam Hussein & the Baath party (as evil and dangerous to their fellow countrymen as they were) did not represent a “grave danger” to the West because they were not collaborating with Al Qaeda (e.g. transferring weapons of mass destruction). What we did warn about was the risk of needlessly upsetting Arab/Muslim sensibilities by invading yet another nation populated by people of Islamic faith. Our argument was that one should only do this as a last resort since it invariably would increase anti-Western hostility and hence the likelihood of another terrorist strike.

    Frankly, I think the anti-war position was vindicated on 3/11. The current U.S. Administration has always been too obsessed with rogue states; they foolishly believe the bad guys will go away if a number of regimes are removed by military means. The problem with that strategy is we are fighting a huge number of individuals who are members of a loose set of international organizations. As the Madrid attack (or the Oklahoma City massacre) showed, extensive government support from a Saddam Hussein or Muammar Ghaddafi isn’t required anyway.

    > More broadly, it clearly matters to the terrorists that
    > the coalition has sought to overthrow Saddam.

    Oh, judged by Al Qaeda’s pre-war statements, they were no great fans of Saddam. What makes their suicide bombers tick (pun intended) is the presence of “crusaders” in Iraq.

    > It should also be pointed out, BTW, that these
    > terrorists do not give a damn about the Iraqi people,

    Probably a correct statement. Terrorists tend to be loyal to ideals and their fellow terrorist cell members. But they will nonetheless be “motivated” by actions such as the Iraq invasion.

    MARCU$

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Marcus, you talk about “needlessly upsetting Arab/Islamic sensibilities” with regard to the case against toppling Saddam by military force. It is the old “we must not hit Saddam in case it upsets the extremists even more” sort of argument, which depending on your viewpoint, is either commendable caution or defeatism.

    The problem is that had we left Saddam in power, it could have been interpreted as weakness, hence inviting further atrocities. A sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” conundrum. Personally, my gut instinct is that these extremists are going to find “excuses” for mayhem anyway, so we should do the right thing.

    In any event, as I said in my original post, the Marsh Arabs and the Shiite moslem populations of southern Iraq were mightly pleased at Saddam’s overthrow. And let us not fall into the trap, made endlessly by western commentators, of assuming there is a homogenous Arab “street”. Truth is, many millions of moslems were heartily glad to see the back of Saddam and no doubt would be heartily glad to see the back of OBL and his fellow mass murderers.

  • I think anyone that believes there were no links between Al Queda and Saddam to be hugely naive. There was a sodding great terrorist camp North of Baghdad that was overrun by Kurds and US Specials forces during the war. From what I gather Al Beeb didn’t seem to think this important enough to report it, but certain US outlets reported it. There were documents found linking the base to Al Queda, such as instruction manuals.

    As with the Oklahoma bombing, I think that there is still a lot to find out about links between Saddam, his security forces and Al Queda.

    Remember;

    “The enemy of my enemy is freind to me.”

  • Zevilyn

    As predicted by many on this blog immediately after the Madrid outrage, the BBC and Indy and others seem to think Bush planted the Madrid bombs, and that Al Qaeda’s victory in the Spnaish elections (they are the biggest winners).

    I don’t see how Aznar’s govt spun this, as just about every terrorist expert I saw on BBC, ITV News, and Sky, all leaned towards it being ETA. After all, AQ usually use suicide bombers.

    Like Susan I suspected Al Qaeda early on, but the failing here seems to be Spain’s intelligence services, and indeed Europol, which has messed up big time.

    Europe’s intelligence failures seem to have been overlooked by the media, which prefers to heap blame on America.

    France is a target for AQ because of it’s banning of headscarves, so the notion that the Iraq war makes any real difference is nonsense.

    AQ want a global Islamic state, covering the Earth like Hitelr’s Third Reich. The biggest obstacles to that are America, and Europe. Sooner or later, they will target us. We either fight them, or they win.

    If you believe that “solving” the Israel/Palestine conflict will stop AQ, you are sorely mistaken.
    As a US interogator of AQ suspects said on Talksport radio Sunday night, “They want your country”.

  • Jeff

    Perspective is lost when we focus on A-Q as the only terrorist group that matters when talking about the connection between the former Iraqi regime and terrorism. Terrorism is a cancer (cliche or not) that needs blood vessels to grow, as it grows into the blood vessels themselves and through the body. The proven connections between A-Q and Jemaa-al-Islam in Indonesia, Abu Sayyaf in the Phillipines, etc etc etc ought to point out that while A-Q is a big part of that cancer, it has spread. The anti-war argument that there was no link between Saddam and terror, or even specifically to A-Q is certainly not vindicated. Every homicide bomber in Israel who had his/her family compensated by Saddam was an act of financing terror. As shown above, there are many other facts proving the terror links. As for appeasing them as Spain is choosing to do, I hope they realize that ETA (and the rest of the cancerous ones) is watching…and learning…