President Bush’s critics unyieldingly insist that Iraq and al Qaeda were as allergic to each other as Mormons and alcohol.
”As we all know by now,” columnist Richard Cohen recently sniffed, “there was never a proven link between Saddam, al-Qaida or even the Crips.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s July 9 broadside against the CIA’s pre-Iraq-war performance found no “established formal relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda, as if only a NATO-style treaty between Hussein and bin Laden should have worried civilization.
President Bush has allowed his detractors to paint him into this corner. He has let people forget that America fights a war on global terrorism, not strictly a battle against Osama bin Laden, nor a vendetta against the September 11 conspirators. Saddam Hussein’s menace never revolved solely around his association with al Qaeda, any more than, say, the Justice Department lets Teamsters consort with Bonanno and Colombo wise guys provided they avoid the Gambinos.
Despite its foes’ claims, the Bush administration never tied Saddam Hussein to the September 11 massacre, although there are indications he may have been involved. It is beyond dispute, however, that he at the very least materially assisted global terrorists elsewhere.
Hussein’s $25,000 bounties to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers (who have murdered at least 12 Americans in Israel), his sanctuary for terror master Abu Nidal (killer of 407 innocents, including 10 Americans), the Iraqi diplomatic passport that sprang Achille Lauro hijacker Abu Abbas from Italian custody, and many other proven facts demonstrate that Saddam Hussein supported Islamic extremists. His ouster was a key victory in the War on Terror.
That said, Saddam Hussein helped al Qaeda, too. Did he and bin Laden share a joint checking account and a vacation home? Probably not. But unclassified evidence of their collusion fills the public record.
Having written on this topic 16 times, I expected that Stephen Hayes’s new book, The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America would contain familiar information. It does, yet I counted 68 data that were new to me or previously unreported. Among them:
According to the Clinton Justice Department’s spring 1998 indictment of bin Laden, “Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq.” (Page 114.)
In what the CIA nicknamed “Operation Dogmeat,” two Iraqi students who lived in the Philippines tried to demolish U.S. Information Service headquarters in Manila. Iraqi diplomat Muwufak al Ani met with the bombers five times before the attack. His car even took them near their target on January 19, 1991. Their bomb exploded prematurely, killing Ahmed J. Ahmed, but his accomplice, Abdul Kadham Saad, survived and was whisked to a Manila hospital. Saad, carrying documents bearing two distinct identities, asked staffers to alert the Iraqi embassy, then recited its phone number. (Page 39.)
Around this time, according to former high-level CIA counterterrorist Stanley Bedlington, Hussein paired Iraqi intelligence operatives with members of the Arab Liberation Front to execute attacks. “The Iraqis had given them all passports,” he said, “but they were all in numerical sequence.” These tell-tale passport numbers helped friendly governments nab these terror teams. (Page 41.)
President George Herbert Walker Bush ignored information that Hussein “was offering state payment to terrorists,” then-Senator Al Gore (D., Tennessee) declared on October 15, 1992. Gore also listed more than a dozen examples of Iraq-sponsored terrorism and said “an estimated 1,400 terrorists were operating openly out of Iraq.” (Page 41.)
“In 1992, elements of al Qaeda came to Baghdad and met with Saddam Hussein,” Abu Aman Amaleeki, a 20-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence, said on ABC’s Nightline on September 26, 2002. Speaking from a Kurdish prison, he added: “And among them was Ayman al Zawahiri,” bin Laden’s chief deputy. “I was present when Ayman al Zawahiri visited Baghdad.” (Page 43.)
Former Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) Deputy Director Faruq Hijazi, reports a reliable foreign spy agency, supplied blank Yemeni passports to al Qaeda in 1992. (Page 66.)
Mohammed Salameh, a 1993 World Trade Center attacker, called Baghdad 46 times in the two months before bomb maker Abdul Rahman Yasin flew from Baghdad to New Jersey to join the plot. Salameh’s June 1992 phone bill totaled $1,401, which prompted his disconnection for non-payment. After the blast–which killed six individuals and injured 1,042–Yasin fled to Baghdad, where records and multiple press accounts show he received safe haven and Baathist cash. (Pages 11 and 50.)
Based on a 20-page IIS document discovered in Baghdad, the Defense Intelligence Agency reports that “Alleged conspirators employed by IIS are wanted in connection with the [June 25, 1996] Khobar Towers bombing and the assassination attempt in 1993 of former President Bush.” (Page 180.)
In an October 27, 2003 memo, Defense Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith explained Hussein’s bonus pay for terrorists: “Iraq increased support to Palestinian groups after major terrorist attacks and…the change in Iraqi relations with al Qaeda after the [1998 east African] embassy bombings followed this pattern.” A top Philippine terrorist also said Iraq’s payments to the al Qaeda-tied Abu Sayyaf grew after successful assaults. (Page 120.)
ABC News reported on January 14, 1999, that it “has learned that in December  an Iraqi intelligence chief, named Faruq Hijazi, now Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden.”
Hijazi “went to Afghanistan in December with the knowledge of the Taliban and met with Osama bin Laden,” former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro told National Public Radio’s Mike Shuster on February 18, 1999. “It’s known through a variety of intelligence reports that the U.S. has, but it’s also known through sources in Afghanistan, members of Osama’s entourage let it be known that the meeting had taken place.” (Page 124.)
On January 5, 2000, Malaysian intelligence photographed September 11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar being escorted through Kuala Lumpur’s airport by VIP facilitator Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi recommended to Malaysian Airlines by Baghdad’s embassy there. The pair soon were photographed again at al Qaeda’s three-day planning summit for the October 2000 U.S.S. Cole and 9/11 attacks. Three separate documents recently unearthed in Iraq identify an Ahmed Hikmat Shakir as a lieutenant colonel in Uday Hussein’s elite Saddam Fedayeen. (Page 4)
Memo to communications-addled White House: Release these photos!
Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani is the former Iraqi diplomat suspected of meeting September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta in Prague on April 8, 2001, and possibly June 2, 2000, the day before Atta flew from Prague to Newark, New Jersey. Top secret Pentagon records cite a Czech intelligence report that al Ani “ordered the IIS finance officer to issue Atta funds from IIS financial holdings in the Prague office.” During the summer of 2000, $99,455 was wired from financial institutions in the United Arab Emirates to Atta’s Sun Trust bank account in Florida.(Page 129.)
After evacuating an al Qaeda training camp he ran in Afghanistan as U.S. troops approached, Ansar al-Islam founder Abu Musab al Zarqawi eventually had his leg amputated and replaced with a prosthesis around late May 2002. He was treated in Baghdad’s Olympic Hospital, an elite facility whose director was the late Uday Hussein, son of the deposed tyrant. Zarqawi is implicated in ongoing attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and is believed to have sawed off American businessman Nick Berg’s head. (Page 167.)
U.S troops inspecting an al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Islam camp in Iraq discovered, Hayes reports, “several hundred passports belonging to suspected Ansar and al Qaeda fighters, dozens of them bearing visas issued by the Iraqi regime.” A passport found on one dead terrorist listed his visit’s purpose as “jihad.” (Page 172.)
Are Richard Cohen and the Senate Intelligence Committee blind? Alas, Stephen Hayes’s book is not in Braille. After absorbing his convincing volume, the mutual assistance that connected Iraq and al Qaeda should be visible to anyone–even the Crips.