Over the past many months a number of interviews, documents, admissions and other revelations have come to light that continue to undermine the notion that al Qaeda and al Qaeda linked groups were not able to operate inside Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein. These findings match up with older reports on the hotly contested that may now deserve re-examination.
A study by The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point of al Qaeda documents deemed the "Sinjar Records" indicates that al Qaeda was, in fact, able to operate inside the country during the rule of the former regime. The center also has previously posted internal al Qaeda documents in which al Qaeda members revealed to one another that "some of them went to Saddam" likely in referrence to al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan to Iraq.
These documents match the testimony of what a former overseer of Iraqi prisons, Don Bordenkircher, claims he was told by numerous prisoners. In an interview with Ryan Mauro, Bordenkircher says that he was told that al Qaeda was not limited to areas beyond Saddam Hussein's control but was present in Mosul and Kirkuk and received assistance from one of Saddam Hussein's sons.
In an interview with FrontPage magazine, Osama al Magid, a former police officer in Saddam Hussein's Iraq from 1992-2003, said that al Qaeda was present and protected in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
FP: How about Al Qaeda in Iraq?In an interview last year conducted by Michael Totten a Sunni Iraqi stated that al Qaeda wasn't out in the open in Saddam Hussein's Iraq but was there in some capacity.
Al-Magid: Al Qaeda and other people who believed the same as Al Qaeda had been in Iraq for many years. When I say “believed” I mean people who hated America and wanted to destroy the U.S. Saddam had this in common with Al Qaeda and this is why he provided them protection.
“We can't compare that to the situation we have now with all these different types of organizations running around all over the country. Before there was nothing like an Al Qaeda organization here. I mean, they were here, but they were secretive, they were not in the field, they were not recognized yet. But now we feel that they are serious, that something big is going on.”Also on this topic Thomas Joscelyn points out that a fairly recent Senate Intelligence Committe report on prewar Bush adminstration statements on the topic backed up allegations that al Qaeda was in Saddam's Iraq and not limited to Kurdistan. Joscelyn found that the report included the following statements:
Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other al Qaeda-related terrorist members were substantiated by the intelligence assessments. Intelligence assessments noted Zarqawi's presence in Iraq and his ability to travel and operate within the country. The intelligence community generally believed that Iraqi intelligence must have known about, and therefore at least tolerated, Zarqawi's presence in the country.
Joseph Shahda translated and explained a 2008 al Qaeda document, reportedly written by Saif al Adel, who denied links between the group and Saddam Hussein's regime but said the group did have a presence in the Sunni areas of Iraq building cells prior to invasion.
Jeff Stein's interview with former CIA operative Charles Faddis revealed that al Qaeda did have a presence in Iraq prior to invasion though Faddis argues that there was no link to Saddam Hussein's government (more on Farris's thoughts on the topic will be shared in a yet to be published interview with this website).A story posted on al Sumaria's website (link is now down) stated that followers of Saddam Hussein welcomed al Qaeda into Iraq during the invasion and worked together to cause chaos in the country.
It is to be noted that in the wake of the US invasion to Iraq, Sunni Arabs, followers of former President Saddam Hussein welcomed Al Qaeda and allowed for the flow of foreign fighters across the borders to fuel insurgency in Anbar province and establish quasi military structures in Falluja mainly. Al Qaeda and Saddam supporters have imposed their power in these regions and went through fierce battles with the Marines. However, as Al Qaeda’s arbitrary violence has mounted against civilians, Arab tribes formed awakening councils funded by the US aimed against Al Qaeda.
In another Senate report looking into the reported mistreatment of detainees Senior Guantanamo Bay interrogator David Becker told the committee interviewing him that "only 'a couple of nebulous links''' were uncovered between al Qaida and Iraq (An interview with someone in charge of interviewing detainees in Iraq by this website is also in the works.)In a post on his Global Terror Alert website in January 2006 Evan Kohlman analzyed al Qaeda in Iraq's "Distinguished Martyrs" series which included a document discussing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other al Qaeda members and saying that they did not fight alongside members of Saddam Hussein's regime at the start of the Iraq war though the document does not give the reasons for this decision.
Abu Umar al-Masri - A 37-year old senior Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) leader trained in Yemen and Afghanistan who later joined a group of other elite EIJ operatives in Albania preparing for jihad in nearby Kosovo. When other members of the infamous "Albanian Returnees" group were seized in a joint mission by Albanian security services and the CIA for targeting the U.S. embassy in Tirana, Abu Umar fled Albania for Italy, where he was imprisoned for several years as a suspected terrorist. After a harrowing trip through Germany, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria, Abu Umar eventually ended up in Iraq just prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein and joined Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Evan Kohlman also posted another document which old CT Blog post cited Abu Ismail al-Muhajir saying:
"As I have explained before, the brothers in Iraq decided to stay out of the war and not to fight alongside Saddam until the war was over and Saddam’s regime was eliminated. They had many reasons for making this decision... Nonetheless, the situation took a turn for the worse after the regime’s collapse... we decided to stay and hide [in Iraq].
The Institute for Defense Analysis investigation of Saddam Hussein era documents showed regime support for EIJ and EIJ has been documented as having had a presence in Saddam's Baghdad.Nikolas K. Gvosdev , a professor at the Naval War College and editor at The National Interest, relayed a guest post from Alexis Debat in a June 2006 at The Washington Realist stating that :
According to Jordanian intelligence sources, these individuals were highly instrumental in setting up Zarqawi's network in Iraq in 2002. Abu Ayyub al Masri, for example, was reported by the US military to have set up Zarqawi's first cell in Baghdad in mid-2002. This Egyptian group, led by al Masri, is reported to have played a critical role in Al Qaeda in Iraq, which cell structure and modus operandi are almost identical to those of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the 1980s.Abu al Masri was also said to have close ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, who reportedly had links to Iraq going back many years. In 2004 TIME magazine reported on al Qaeda documents showing Zarqawi and some of his associates were in Baghdad during Saddam's rule:
He spent the months leading up to the war moving through Iran and northern Iraq, where he attached himself to the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. A confidential al-Tawhid document obtained by TIME describes a fighter killed in Fallujah last April as having joined al-Zarqawi in Baghdad "just before the fall of the previous regime"—a claim that backs up the Bush Administration's disputed assertions that al-Zarqawi passed through the Iraqi capital while Saddam Hussein was in power. Al-Zarqawi has built his network in Iraq by exploiting the furies unleashed by the fall of Saddam.
The notion that an Iraq-al Qaeda link was based solely, or even primarily, on one or a few mistreated al Qaeda detainees is not a very serious one when al Qaeda documents, Baath documents, detainee admissions and other revelations, both old and new, show that al Qaeda was in areas of Iraq under Saddam Hussein's control and the full extent or reason for this presence has yet to be thoroughly explained to the general public.