ME: You’ve written 5 different books on the subject of Saddam Hussein. What motivated you to write them?
SP: Immediately after 9-11, I had an unusual amount of free time, and I was fascinated by the news. I began keeping track of as much as I could from the TV,
web, books, magazines, papers, etc. After a while, I had so much info that I had to start organizing it. When the rhetoric for the invasion of Iraq began to build, I collected information regarding Iraq as well. My friends and I debated the issue online, and it was apparent that none of them had the time to sift through the IMMENSE
amount of political distortion from both sides of the aisle. I tried to clear that up using the information I’d collected, and in the process essentially compiled a book-then another and another.
ME: Are you planning on doing another book? What will its focus be?
SP: I’d like to do a fictional series illustrating the way wars are waged today and in the near future. I see precision-guided warfare (PGW) as the new era in military force, but war is not just battles on a battlefield. It’s one nation imposing its POLITICAL WILL upon another. In the past this was done solely with violent means, but now-with advent of mass communications and a global, real time community, I think a new era of non-violent and semi-violent protest will rise to a level of effectiveness similar to PGW, and greater that traditional, conventional warfare. My series would basically take a scenario and each book in the series would focus on the different type of “warfare” used; a PGW book, a book demonstrating non-violent protest that exploit the mass media potentials, and a book on modern insurgency. I dunno if I’ll ever find the TIME to do it, but I hope so.
ME: Based on your experience, would you say that that the War in Iraq is part of overall the War on Terror? Why or why not?
SP: First off, it’s important to face the fact that without the US-lead war on Iraq from 91-03, there’d have been no rebirth of Al Queda. Al Queda was created as a support network to support the Arab Afghans against the Soviets. When that was complete, there was no more Al Queda. Al Queda was reborn in December 1992 with the strike on the hotel in Yemen. UBL's casus belli was:
1)The presence of US troops in holy land of Saudi Arabia (US forces positioned there to wage an ignored war on Saddam ala the Southern No Fly Zone and no fewer than FOUR full-out air campaigns)
2) US 'oppression' of Muslims in places like Somalia and Iraq (specifically Iraq-the only of UBL's casus belli to be consistent from AQ's rebirth in 92)
3) US lead sanctions against Iraq (i.e. a blockade/traditional casus belli)
People conveniently ignore that from 91-03 there was a HUGE war waged by the US and the west on Iraq. It came in the form of a blockade that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It came in the form of thousands of air battles over the no-fly-zones. It came in the form of massive bombing campaigns averaging every other year. It came in the form of US-sponsored rebellions, coups, assassination attempts, and covert operations which left 400-500,000 Iraqis executed and which were increasingly futile. This war is why UBL reformed Al Queda. To support (indirectly or directly or quasi-directly) the Iraqis, Somalis, and other Muslims against the United States. Al Queda was reborn to be a disconnected (or deniably connected) ally to Iraq and others fighting the US (see also AQ support for Milosovic's Serbia against the US, AQ's support for Somalis and their involvement in the Black Hawk Down incident, and so forth). Without the 91-03 war on Iraq, there'd be no Al Queda.
I believe the 911 attacks were Al Queda attacks, partly aided by Saddam’s Iraq, and grossly inspired by the US war on Iraq (particularly in 98/99). The same can be said about the African Embassy Bombings and the USS Cole attack.
Since the invasion (or just prior to it) the US war in Iraq has served as a hunting expedition. There are many reasons for the war (this deserves repeating: there are MANY REASONS for the war), but whether one is a fisherman, a hunter, or a general the first rule of killing is to use bait, and to pick the best spot (the best fishing hole, the best duck blind, the best tree stand, or the best ground for a battlefield). The war in Iraq has served to drain the Middle East (“The Swamp” as Sec Rumsfeld termed it) of Al Queda operatives, holy warriors, sympathizers, and would be terrorists. It sounds cold, but in practice, it’s not much different than the American strategy of invading France was in World War II; they didn’t invade Germany-they chose the most advantageous battlefield location.
ME: What would you say are the strongest examples of Saddam Hussein’s State Sponsorship of Terrorism that the American public should be made more aware of?
SP: I think there are two.
First has to be the high level meetings where the highest and most powerful members of Saddam’s Intelligence Services were meeting with Al Queda (and going to extreme measures to do so). When high level leaders meet, they do so for strategic reasons, and I think Iraq’s leaders were meeting with Al Queda to try and get Al Queda to attack the US on their behalf (the lesson of Desert Storm HAS to be that fighting the US in a conventional war is suicide). Illustrating this point well is the 1998 request by Iraq to Al Queda to have UBL moved to Iraq for his protection (similar to the offer given and accepted by Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, Carlos the Jackal, Yasin, Abu Musab al Zarqawi and others). On the other hand you have Al Queda leaders traveling at great expense and effort to meet with Iraqi leaders sometimes even IN Baghdad. Interestingly enough, after each of the highest level meetings in Iraq…there was always one of two things: a new declaration of war (fatweh) from UBL or a new attack plot on the US was set in motion.
The second best example of ties between Iraq and Al Queda is probably the embassies. It’s no secret that the Iraqi embassies around the world had long been IIS branches. This is the case with most nations. What makes their situation is unique is that the IIS was caught making frequent calls to Al Queda affiliate/branch groups. In some cases-like in the Philippines-this lead to expulsion of IIS “diplomats,” There are many more examples going all the way back to 1990.
ME: For someone who doesn’t follow the topic of Saddam Hussein’s sponsorship of terrorism and wants to know more on the topic what documents would you consider must- reads? (You may include your own book)?
SP: The original 1998 indictment of Osama Bin Laden is a good place to start. It details Al Queda well. From there, I think the 911 Commission’s final report; the Sen. Intel Com 911 investigation, the Sen. Intel Com investigation into pre-war intel on Iraq, and the slew of recently declassified docs that had been captured in the IIS HQ are all good places to start. From there, I think I could suggest a huge reading list of very well done books as well.
ME: One of your books deals with the possible relationship between Saddam Hussein’s regime and members of al Qaeda (“Saddam’s Ties To Al Queda”). Since its publication have any of the major points been proven? Disproved? Has anything newsworthy been made public since the books publication?
SP: The pre-invasion ties between Zarqawi are the easiest to see, and with each strike he made the case that he was an evil and deadly force was proven more substantial.
ME: There are a number of politicians, unnamed CIA and military sources, journalists and counterterrorism analysts who argue that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s affiliates would not work with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq because of ideological differences. The argument is that Saddam Hussein did not trust Islamic extremists and had often worked against them, while Osama bin Laden had called Saddam Hussein an “infidel” a number of times. What do you make of this argument?
SP: You don't have to 'like' someone or even accept their ideology to work with them. Historically, few noteworthy alliances have a shared ideology, and it’s the exceptions (like the US/UK relationship) that are noted. Hitler's ideology was one of racial purity, yet he had no problem signing treaties with the Japanese who were FAR from Aryan. Roosevelt and Churchill hated Stalin and vice versa, but they fought the same enemy and even aided each other (not a lot of collaborative operations though; no British troops or US Marines at Stalingrad, and no Red Guards at Normandy).
Saddam wanted to use Al Queda, and Al Queda used Saddam. That’s their reasoning-not a shared ideology. “Bin Ladin was also willing to explore possibilities for cooperation with Iraq, even though Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist agenda...”; 911 Comm final report pg 61. “In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative.” 911 Comm Final report pg 66. "We say it loud and clear that we will retaliate for what is happening to the sons of our nation in Iraq. For the crimes committed by the US against our Islamic nation will not pass without punishment."; -Al Queda's #2 man and strategic planner just days before UBL authorized the 911 plot and less than 100hrs before meeting with Iraq's deputy intel chief, Faruq Hijazi. Without the Post-Desert Storm US war on Iraq in 1991, Al Queda would never have been reborn.
They were allies-not close friends, but bad guys with a common enemy who were not only willing to use each other, but did so often. All of my books spend a great deal of their text detailing the relationship between the two, and it cannot be dismissed as so many do for purely political convenience and partisan affirmation.
ME: Another argument put forth, against the possible relationship between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda, is that no evidence of a relationship between the two sides has been found in either Iraq or Afghanistan since the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Taliban. Is this true?
SP: This is patently false. There’s been extensive evidence of their relationship found in Iraq, and some in Afghanistan. This claim of no evidence of ties stems from the Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war Iraq intel as well as the 911 Commission report.
Those reports said that there was “no evidence of a collaborative relationship” and “no evidence that the two worked togther”, but the reason for the lack of evidence wasn’t that none existed (since evidence has been found in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, etc.), but rather because there was no evidence sought between 1998 and 2002. Since then, more than one 911 Commission member has said that the issue of Saddam’s Ties to Al Queda should be re-examined because of the new evidence being made public.
Similarly, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have said the same thing, and the House Intelligence Committee has sought to have documents captured from Saddam’s Intelligence Headquarters made public so that the world can see the evidence of the ties for themselves.
Those documents are very clear in proving that Saddam’s regime and Al Queda had a relationship, a mutually supportive relationship, and a relationship far closer than many are willing to admit. I have no doubt that Saddam distrusted Islamic extremists, and that Bin Laden has no love for Saddam, but even more so I have no doubt that their mutual hatred of the United States and others would allow them to overcome their dislike, and that their own self-serving, individual desires would aid further in overcoming their dislike. UBL might have disliked Saddam, but he HATES the US. Saddam might not trust UBL, but he HATES the US. That there was/is a relationship has been well-proven by post-war finds.
ME: What would you say to skeptics of links who say that the intelligence on Iraq’s possible links to al Qaeda was cherry-picked and taken out of context?
SP: As I said, there was very little intel collected between 1998 and 2002 on the relationship between Saddam’s regime and Al Queda. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the U.N. inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target.” - Senator Pat Roberts 070904 SIC Release of WMD investigation report Press Conference transcript.
ME: Sam, Thank you for your time.
Similarly, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into 911 reveals that the CIA unit tracking Bin Laden numbered between 4 and 40 people before 911. Combining those two; lack of intelligence gathering and assessing reveals the reason why there was no evidence of ties between the two; hardly anything was being gathered. When there’s so little to go on, it’s going to look like cherry-picking.
I think your own piece on this matter is very accurate as well. Since the invasion of Iraq, more evidence has been found, and I agree with the 911 Commission members and Senate Intelligence Committee members who have said that the matter needs re-assessing.