It is by now a familiar statement from anti-war folk that Saddam had no real links to Islamic terror groups of any consequence. The idea, dear boy, is totally incredible. The man, who after all was a “secular ruler” (conjuring up the image of the old bastard reading Voltaire of an evening). had a positive revulsion of Islamic religious extremism. To suggest a link is to fall prey to the fantasies of the great neoconservative/Zionist/whatever conspiracy now trying to rule the world. Right?
Well, no, actually. The Wall Street Journal has an article today setting out what it believes is rather a big lump of evidence pointing to terror links before and after 9/11:
One striking bit of new evidence is that the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam’s son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime’s dirty work. Our government sources, who have seen translations of the documents, say Shakir is listed with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
This matters because if Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11. Shakir was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda “summit” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9/11 attacks were planned. The U.S. has never been sure whether he was there on behalf of the Iraqi regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamicist who hooked up with al Qaeda on his own.
Okay, I know what the responses will be. It’s the Wall Street Journal! You can’t believe these guys! etc, etc.
But stepping aside from this specific article, consider this following general scenario: you have a military dictator who loves taking his nation to the brink even at great cost; his military forces are seriously damaged from two devastating wars and a sanctions regime; he craves revenge and enjoys humiliating his foes. To whom does he turn to help hurt his great enemy, the United States?
Exactly. Why is it so crazy, so bonkers, to think that terror links probably did exist, and that, if it were possible, it was vital for the intelligence services of the Western powers to check those possibilities?
You may say, why does this really matter now? Well, to be frank, the argument that we need to “reshape the Middle East” always struck me as dangerously ambitious, and the costs of such a venture struck me as potentially prohibitive. That is one part of the isolationist position I have some sympathy for, a fact which might surprise some. (“Johnathan Pearce has gone wobbly!”) For me, though, what counted was the potentially deadly nexus of terror groups, mass weapons, and rogue states able and willing to offer harbour and support to such terror groups. My conscience is troubled at the thought that we might have attacked a nation of no serious threat to us. Well, if the latest stories turn out to be even half-true, then the evidence of Saddam’s malignity just got a lot, lot harder.