The Saddam-Osama Connection: The Terrorist Testimony
My piece on the numerous detainees/defectors now in custody who have said al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime cooperated, at least in some capacity, is now up at FrontPage magazine.
My piece on the numerous detainees/defectors now in custody who have said al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime cooperated, at least in some capacity, is now up at FrontPage magazine.
Kadhim is a "member of the regional leadership of the dissolved Baath Party" and was wanted for "financing terrorist operations in Diyala province".
Incidentally, the Diyala province is also where Abu Musab al Zarqawi spent his final days before being killed by U.S. air strikes.
Radio Polonia is reporting reporting that Polish Intelligence agents have captured an Iraqi terrorist wanted for a number of terrorist attacks, including the fatal attack on a Polish public televsion war correspondant and his assistant.
The background of that wanted terrorist, Salas Khabbas, is what is most interesting.
Polish reports suggest that Khabbas, who has "a long record of killings and kidnappings" and is "a former member of the Baath party and closely linked with al-Qaeda, specialized in attacking convoys and kidnapping."
Khabbas may reveal his exact role in the former regime to his captors as well as how and when he became "closely linked" with al-Qaeda. In the meantime, his name has been added to the ever-growing list of former regime officials caught fighting as al Qaeda agents in Iraq.
Of the many post-invasion analysis of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Duelfer report may be the most complete in addressing the nature and functions of the different arms of the former regime.
Section M14, run by Muhammad Khudayr Sabah Al Dulaymi, is described in the Duelfer report as "responsible for training and conducting special operations missions. It trained Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Sudanese operatives in counterterrorism, explosives, marksmanship, and foreign operations at its facilities at Salman Pak. Additionally, M14 oversaw the 'Challenge Project,' a highly secretive project regarding explosives."
Section M14's duties included government sanctioned assassination inside and outside Iraq, with a special "Tiger Group" made up of state sanctioned suicide bombers.
Section M21, the "The Al Ghafiqi Project," "existed to make explosive devices for the IIS to be used in assassination and demolition operations." The explosive training including work in IED's as well as the creation of explosives (including PE4, C4, RDX and TNT) that could be concealed in books, briefcases, belts, vests, thermoses, car seats, floor mats, and facial tissue boxes for assassination purposes.
Signifcant amounts of paperwork on IIS activity and function was among the thousands of documents destroyed in the opening days of the invasion but previous reports of IIS involvement in terrorist activity domestically and abroad are well supported by the findings of the Duelfer Report.
The Iraqi Perspectives Project is an excellent resource for trying to understand some of the former regime's intentions and capabilities prior to invasion.
The JFCOM report, meant to be an initial review of the war, draws upon interviews with former senior members of the Iraqi regime and (FMSO) documents recovered post-invasion.The authors of the project detail the function of Fedayeen Saddam, an Iraqi militia fiercly loyal to Saddam Hussein, as another extension of the former regime's arm of both in domestic and international terrorism.
The Fedayeen Saddam also took part in the regime's terrorism operations, which they conducted inside Iraq, and at least planned for attacks in major Western cities. In a document dated May 1999, Uday Hussein ordered preparations for "special operations, assassinations, and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas (Kurdistan).
The report reveals the former regime's plans for a wave of state-sponsored terrorism that was well underway (at the time of invasion). Codenamed "Blessed July", the attacks were to take place outside of Iraq.
Documents analyzed by the authors indicated that the group had already successfully completed a number of anti-Shia and anti-Kurd missions. For instance, a recovered letter to Uday Hussein, from a Fedayeen Saddam widow, was a request for pension benefits after her husband carried out a successful suicide operation against Kurdish targets in Northern Iraq.
Fedayeen Saddam was also the recipient of some of the regime's most sophisticated commando/terrorist operation equipment. Silencers, equipment for booby-trapping vehicles,explosive timers and special molds for explosives were provided by the IIS's "Division 27." Specially armed helicopters, UAV's and specially modified fishing boats capable of firing rockets and torpedoes in international water were among the capabilities promised and/or given to Fedayeen Saddam via the Military Industrial Commission.
As early as 1994 Fedayeen Saddam was training "volunteers" from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, the Gulf and Syria. The location and final destination of these "volunteers" is not known to the authors (at the time of publication), yet should be of great concern to regional governments due to the terror skills acquired by these "volunteers."
The report further details the motives and means of the former regime, using violence and terror, to maintain their domination of the country.
TIME magazine recently posted an interview with native Iraqi Abu Mohammed reflecting on a number of things related to Saddam Hussein's death including the effect that Hussein and his Baath regime had on the country of Iraq and Hussein's followers joining up with Abu Musab al Zarqawi after Hussein had been captured. (A confession also made in TIME magazine earlier this year by Hussein's former right-hand man Izzat al Douri.)
Even the remnants of his (Hussein's) old regime, which had morphed into the Sunni insurgency, seemed to lose their fervor for Saddam (after his capture). Some Ba'athist groups kept up the charade that they were fighting to restore the dictator to his palace, but others quickly stopped referring to him at all and instead recast themselves as "the nationalist resistance" or as "mujahedin," or holy warriors. Many threw in their lot with the new ogre on the scene, Al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The secular Baath party, long been said to be completely incompatible with extremist groups such as al Qaeda, has repeatedly been pinpointed as al Qaeda's main ally in post-invasion Iraq, even to the point of following al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi after Saddam Hussein had been captured.
It's worth asking when and how these networks and relationships began, though it's a question rarely asked in mainstream media circles.
Hamza went on to confirm his knowledge of the former Baathists extensive hand in the post-invasion violence and terror.
One afternoon last October, I watched the televised Saddam trial in the company of Abu Hamza, a field commander of Jaish al-Islami. Iraq's largest insurgent group, Jaish al-Islami is made up mainly of Ba'athists and soldiers from Saddam's army. Abu Hamza had been an officer in Saddam's elite Republican Guard; in previous meetings, he had spoken reverentially about the dictator, describing him as a man who exuded power and gravitas.
Jaish al-Islami, aka the Islamic Army of Iraq, is linked to al Qaeda in Iraq in the world of anti-coalition forces operating inside Iraq and as the "largest insurgent group" has obviously done quite a bit to prevent Iraq's elected government from stabilizing the country.
A former Defense and Finance Minister of post-invasion Iraq, Ali A. Allawi has completed and just released a book titled "The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace" that talks about the inner workings of many things that took place in post-invasion Iraqi government.
Amir Taheri's review of the book for Asharq al Alawsat reveals that Allawi's points to some of the roots of today's violence in Iraq going back over a decade to when Saddam Hussein used violent groups for his own domestic purposes.
One of the most interesting revelations in this book is Allawi's account of the emergence of Arab Sunni radicalism in Iraq. He (Allawi) shows that the first Jihadi groups were patronized by Saddam to counter-balance Shi'ite influence from Iran. Saddam may not have entered into a formal alliance with Al Qaeda. However, as Allawi shows, he was in league with Al Qaeda-style Jihadis, such as Jund al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ansar al-Islam (Victors of Islam), for a decade before he was toppled.
Kurdish officials have also testified that Ansar al Islam was also employed by Hussein's regime to counter their leadership.
For a regime long said to be sharply opposed to radical Islamic groups the secular Baath Party that formerly ruled Iraq has seen a conspicuously large number of its members caught in close collaboration with al Qaeda and other Islamic groups in post-invasion Iraq.
On March 23, the Tactical Report, an online Middle East intelligence service, reported that a former Saddam Hussein officer was appointed as an al Qaeda leader to set up attacks on Iraqi oil sites.
In addition to these "new converts" a number of older stories on the same topic were passed along to www.regimeofterror.com.
One story, from the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat translated by a reader at Powerlineblog notes that one of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top men, Omar Hadid, was a former personal body guard of Saddam Hussein and had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan before fighting against coalition forces in Fallujah and elsewhere. Hadid, according to an al Qaeda biography after his death, also had a relative who was an official for Iraq's Intelligence Services and worked with Hadid on postwar operations. It should also be noted that, according to Knight-Ridder news services, Hadid's background included outright conflicts with Saddam Hussein's regime though he testified to the country's move away from secular restraints after the first Gulf War.
As previously detailed in a piece at The American Thinker by Ray Robison, the fighting in Fallujah a number of years back also saw the teaming up of many members of Saddam Hussein's former Republican Guard and foreign and domestic jihadist fighters.
Reportedly there were "scores of men" like Abu Mustafa (who) was one former military officer who told TIME that he spent his time in jail (post-invasion) "studying Salafi Islam and receiving lessons in jihad from bearded Iraqis and detainees who came from places like Syria and Saudi Arabia" before joining the jihadist fighters in Iraq.
Abu Ali was “Among those who have thrown their support behind the jihad is insurgent leader Abu Ali. A ballistic-missile specialist in Saddam's Fedayeen militia, he fought U.S. troops during the invasion and has served as a resistance commander ever since, organizing rocket attacks on the green zone, the headquarters of the U.S. administration in Baghdad. When interviewed by TIME last fall, he spoke of a vain hope that Saddam would return and re-establish a Baathist regime.” How Ali pictured a "secular" leader tolerating the type of violent Islamic extremism that Ali and others had helped spread in Iraq is quite a paradox.
One of the many anti coalition groups fighting in Iraq, called "Battalions of Islamic Holy War",
whose leaders also met with TIME magazine, was "founded by frontline officers from Saddam's intelligence services and the Republican Guard who once shunned terrorist attacks that killed innocent Iraqis" later represented a "significant Iraqi wing of al-Zarqawi's network." The Senate Intelligence Committee's report in 2004 revealed some intelligence that predicted these sorts of relationships.
These additions add to an already sizeable list of ex-Baathists/Saddam loyalists who sided with Islamic/jihadist fighters and al Qaeda in Iraq. While it is certainly possible that many of these religious conversions and new relationships were initiated post-invasion, drawn together by the common enemy of U.S. led forces in Iraq, it is unlikely that the countless (likely hundreds) remnants of Hussein's secular regime did not have at least some kind of a foundation for a relationship with these groups prior to March 2003. The type of trust and confidence necessary to give assets including money, weapons, arms, safehouses and training and reciprocal placement of Baathists into al Qaeda leadership positions only leads an outside observer to conclude that the two sides shared common grievances, common goals and common beliefs.
It has been 4 years since Operation Iraqi Freedom began and many of these relations that have been discovered post-invasion give cause for re-thinking prewar assumptions that secular Baathists wouldn't cooperate with Islamic militant/terrorist groups, just as some in the government had predicted as being possible prior to invasion, contrasting the conventional wisdom of then and now.
Examining Saddam Hussein's last words
(دراسة صدام حسين الكلمات الاخيرة
In the months and weeks before his death Saddam Hussein (Uruknet photo on left) produced a number of communications to the world beyond his cell through speeches, letters and interviews. Some of these communications have been made public and reveal additional insights into the former Iraqi leader's personal beliefs and motives, particularly Hussein's views on jihad and the use of terrorism.
In his July 7, 2006 letter to the American people, Hussein (via Uruknet) referred to the insurgency in Iraq as "heroic Mujahideen, in glorious, virtuous, militant, jihadist Iraq. So God bless the heroic people of Iraq and God bless the jihad and Mujahideen."Hussein signed the letter:
God is great…Glory to God, to our nation, our people and the Mujahideen…Long live Iraq…Long live Palestine…Long live our glorious nation and our peace l oving people. God is greater. Saddam Hussein
President of Iraq and Commander in Chief of Iraq’s Mujahideen Armed Forces
The invocations of Islam and calls for a jihad against his foes were not new for Hussein. The calls for a "jihad" against the U.S. and its allies began at least as early as 1990 during the run up to the first Gulf War when Hussein declared a holy war against the U.S. and Israel, 1993 through his right hand man at Iraq's "Popular Islamic Conference" in Baghdad, in 1998 after U.S. air strikes on Iraq , in 2000 while speaking about the USS Cole bombing and in the months before the March 2003 invasion the calls were repeated. After coalition forces entered Iraq he again invoked the call for jihad at least twice before he was captured.
In a March 2006 interview held on Al-Fayhaa TV (found by "The Bullwinkle Blog" and translated by MEMRI) Hussein claimed responsibility for unspecified terrorist attacks.
I know that people who listen to me might think that Saddam Hussein has become apathetic in prison and stopped supporting terrorism. No. I’m not ashamed to tell you that Iraq, without Saddam Hussein, isn’t worth two bits. Therefore, it will make me happy if Iraq turns into dust.
Though this may have been tough talk from a man facing his own mortality or simply talk of using violence against those from both inside and outside his former ruling Baath Party who had crossed him during his time in prison it contrasts sharply with Hussein's previous denials of links to terrorism and similar comments made by Hussein's former mouthpiece Tariq Aziz.
Further critical analysis of Hussein's speeches (other speeches found here), analysis of the upcoming "tell all" book from Hussein's former lawyer, deciphering of public and private letters, interviews (as well as the eventual declassification of interrogation logs) will undoubtedly provide a means for deeper understanding of Hussein's stated desires and impressions regarding the West, Islam/Islamists, jihad and terrorism. These reports, combined with the previous findings of the Duelfer Report, the Iraqi Perspectives Project and CIA/DIA/FBI reports (which have been partially released through the Senate Intelligence Committee's look at the subject), are necessary for a full and comprehensive view into the world according to Saddam Hussein and thus any definitive pronouncements on Hussein's real motives should be withheld until such an effort can be made.
In April of 2007 the media wing for al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State in Iraq, Al Furqan, released a video documentary about their Kurdistan Units in Northern Iraq. The video (click images to view) includes training and documents an attack on a Kurdish militia vehicle and is titled "Al Awda Ila Al Jibal" or "The Return To The Mountains."
According to the jihadist websites (World News Network) and forums who posted copies of the video the footage was shot somewhere between 2002 and early 2003, when al Qaeda was moving fighters to Iraq under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Because of the totalitarian nature of Saddam Hussein's regime it is difficult to imagine that camps of this nature, involving hundreds of terrorists with more than just small arms weapons, would be allowed to conduct their training on Iraqi soil if they posed a threat to the former regime. Instead, multiple attacks against local Kurdish officials seemed to be the directive of the group and in al Qaeda video terrorists were recorded attacking the Kurdish militia, a bitter enemy of Saddam regime.
These captures and kills demonstrate the ideological divide between “secular” Baathists and Islamic extremists was not so distant
Many analysts of the insurgency in Iraq are currently debating its makeup and strength, among other things. Regardless of what percentage is currently claiming allegiance to what ideology or group, the past few years of reporting have slowly revealed that at least one deadly aspect of the insurgency in Iraq has been the cooperation of some members of Saddam Hussein's regime (though not all) and Islamic militants, particularly al Qaeda in Iraq.
Below is a list, compiled from a number of media reports over the past few years, of the names and backgrounds of some of those found to have supported or worked for the former Baath Party of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and also al Qaeda. Parts of this list were cited by World Net Daily in a story about postwar links between members of Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda elements in Iraq.
Muhammed Hila Hammad Ubaydi – Ubaydi, aka Abu Ayman, was the former aide to the Chief of Staff of Intelligence during the Saddam Hussein regime for 30 years. Ubaydi later led the Secret Islamic Army in the Northern Babil Province and was said to have had strong ties to the former terror leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. He was captured April 6, 2006 in Southern Baghdad. MNF - Iraq
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri – Al-Douri (pictured right) is the former vice chairman of Saddam's Baathist Revolutionary Command Council who swore fealty to Zarqawi and reportedly provided funding for al Qaeda and significant element of the Baathist/al Qaeda converts and collaborators. GlobalSecurity.org
Abdel Faith Isa – Isa is a former Iraqi Army officer who was later identified as an al Qaeda emir. He was captured May 6, 2004. Focus-Fen news, Bill Roggio, 5-09-06
Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi - Al-Baghdadi is "believed to be a former officer in Saddam's army, or its elite Republican Guard, who (has) worked closely with al-Zarqawi since the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator in April 2003." Al-Baghdadi was among the candidates nominated as potential Abu Musab al Zarqawi's leadership position in al Qaeda in Iraq. Associated Press
Ahmad Hasan Kaka al-’Ubaydi – Al- Ubaydi was a former Iraqi Intelligence Service officer, and believed to have later become associated with al Qaeda affiliate Ansar Al Islam. CENTCOM
Abu Aseel – Aseel is a “former high ranking Saddam official” who was working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi since 2002. Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, 6-13, 06
Abu Asim – Asim was a Special Republican Guard officer under Saddam Hussein and is said to have been active within the insurgency since the fall of the former regime, including association with Abu Musab al Zarqawi. MNF - Iraq
Abu Maysira al-Iraqi – Al-Iraqi was reportedly a “Minister of Information” for al Qaeda in Iraq and formerly an expert in Information Technology for Saddam Hussein’s Army. “He was an expert in Information Technology in Saddam's army and was entrusted with the additional task of waging the jihad through the Internet” for Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.” B. Raman
Abdul-Hadi al-Iraqi - Hadi al-Iraqi (pictured left) is now being held in Guantanamo Bay and was called “a top leader with al-Qaida in Iraq and the Mujahedeen Shura Council and originally comes from Nineveh province. He was a Major in Saddam Hussein's army but left to travel to Iraq to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1990s” and was later identified as a “liason between Bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan, and the al Qaeda network formerly headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.” Al-Iraqi has also been cited as one of Osama bin Laden’s top al Qaeda commanders. NEWSWEEK
Unnamed Former Air Force Officer – A man who was killed in a coalition raid in Iraq “was later identified as a retired officer in the Iraqi Air Force serving under the Saddam Hussein regime. The male who initiated the gunfire is a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist for whom the troops were searching, as well as the retired officer’s son. The former officer was killed on April 14, 2006. MNF - Iraq
Abed Dawood Suleiman and son Raed Abed Dawood – Suleiman was a former Iraqi general believed to have become “Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's ‘military adviser.’” Raed was a former Army captain in the Iraqi army and was caught April 15, 2005. News24
Mohammed Khalaf Shkarah al-Hamadani – Al-Hamadani, aka Abu Talha, was a key facilitator and financier for al Qaeda in Iraq. He was reportedly the head of an Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s terror cell. Al-Hamadani was previously a member of Saddam Hussein’s once ruling Baath Party and a warrant officer in the former Iraqi army. Al-Hamadani was captured June 5, 2005. Associated Press
"Al-Hajji" Thamer Mubarak – Mubarak was a former Iraqi military officer turned key aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Mubarak was reportedly involved in the August 2003 al Qaeda attack on UN headquarters in Iraq. Evan Kohlman, Globalterroralert.com
Hasayn Ali Muzabir – Muzabir, a former Iraqi Intelligence (Mukhabarat) officer for Saddam Hussein’s regime, was later identified as al Qaeda's emir of Samarra. Muzabir was killed in Balad, Iraq on June 2, 2006. Department of Defense
Muhammad Hamza Zubaydi - Zubaydi (pictured right) was a "Baath Party official in charge of security in central Iraq and had helped put down an uprising by Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq in 1991." Zubaydi was later found to be an associate of Zarqawi's al Qaeda branch in Iraq. Washington Post
Abdul Hamid Mustafa al-Douri – Al-Douri was a relative of Saddam Hussein’s former aide Izzat al-Douri. As an aide to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and head of the Salaheddin province al Qaeda branch and carbombing network, he was captured in a joint Iraqi police and army operation in a village in northern Tikrit. CNN
Haitham al-Badri - "Before joining al-Qaeda in Iraq, Badri was a warrant officer in the Special Republican Guard under Saddam Hussein. After the invasion, he joined the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna, where he trained recruits and carried out attacks.” Washington Post
Salas Khabbas – Khabbas is "a former member of the Baath party and (was) closely linked with al-Qaeda.” Khabbas “specialized in attacking convoys and kidnapping." He was captured July 12, 2006 by Polish Intelligence agents. Polskie Radio
Abu Zubair – Zubair was trained in Iraq and was reportedly sent by Saddam Hussein’s government to lead “Supporters of Islam” into northern Iraq to assassinate leading Kurds and to assist in building chemical warfare facilities. Human Rights Watch citing UK government report
Rafid Fatah – Fatah, "also known as Abu Omer al-Kurdi, was also trained by Saddam and worked with (Abu) Zubair against the Kurds. It is not known when he left Iraq, but he too became a leading member of al-Qa'eda . His whereabouts are not known." UK Telegraph
Mohammed Hanoun Hamoud al-Mozani – Al-Mozani is a former Iraqi intelligence officer who was captured by police after bombings in Baghdad and Karbala. It was later revealed that he was paid by al-Qa'eda to carry out attacks on civilians. UK Telegraph
Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi – Al-Saeedi is a former member of Saddam Hussein's Intelligence Services who rose to #2 in al-Qaeda’s Iraq wing. Al-Saeedi reportedly “told interrogators that al-Qaeda in Iraq exchanges logistical support and information with supporters of Saddam Hussein.” Washington Post
Muharib Abdullah Latif al-Juburi – Al-Juburi was a Military Intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and later rose to a leading position for al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Juburi also served as the “Information Minister” for the Islamic State of Iraq. All Headline News
Abu Mustafa – Mustafa was a Saddam Hussein era military officer (article cited by Ray Robison) who told TIME magazine that he spent his time in jail (post-invasion) "studying Salafi Islam and receiving lessons in jihad from bearded Iraqis and detainees who came from places like Syria and Saudi Arabia" before joining the jihadist fighters in Iraq. TIME
Abu Ali - (article cited by Ray Robison) Ali was “among those who have thrown their support behind the jihad...A ballistic-missile specialist in Saddam's Fedayeen militia, he fought U.S. troops during the invasion and has served as a resistance commander ever since, organizing rocket attacks on the green zone, the headquarters of the U.S. administration in Baghdad. When interviewed by TIME last fall, he spoke of a vain hope that Saddam would return and re-establish a Baathist regime.” TIME
Omar Hadid – Hadid, according to Middle East news outlets cited by Powerlineblog.com, was a former personal body guard of Saddam Hussein and had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan before fighting against coalition forces in Fallujah and elsewhere. Hadid, according to an al Qaeda biography after his death, also had a relative who was an official for Iraq's Intelligence Services and worked with Hadid on postwar operations. Evan Kohlman, Globalterroralert.com
A former Saddam Hussein officer was appointed as an al Qaeda leader to set up attacks on Iraqi oil sites in early 2007. Tactical Report
A group of former Iraqi Republican Guard officers has reportedly been “giving ground-to-ground missiles, including Scud-B and Hossein missiles” and collaborating with al Qaeda to launch attacks on key targets in Iraq. Tactical Report
Adullah Rahman al-Shamary - Al-Shamary “was an officer in its (Iraq’s) feared Mukhabarat General, an intelligence service run by Saddam’s son, Qusay.” Al-Shamary told Richard Miniter, from a prison cell, that Qusay Hussein “oversaw the Mukhabarat’s relationship with Jund al-Islam, an al Qaeda wing operating in Northern Iraq before the 2003 American invasion” and he was involved in the Jund al-Islam-Mukhabarat relationship. Richard Miniter
Yasser al-Sabawi – Al-Sabawi is Saddam Hussein’s nephew and was reportedly linked to a Saddam Fedayeen cell arrested for being involved in the al Qaeda/al Zarqawi beheading of Nicholas Berg. The video of the beheading was posted on al Qaeda linked website and Berg may have been kidnapped by the al-Sabawi’s cell and then sold to Zarqawi’s group. Associated Press, MSNBC
A former Colonel in Saddam Hussein’s army was said to have later become the leader of al Qaeda’s branch in the Diyala province of Iraq. Melik Kaylan
Haydar al-Shammari – (may be the same person as Adullah Rahman al-Shamary)Al- Shammari is a former Iraqi Intelligence Officer who claimed that his Commander, Abu Wa’il, ordered him to aid al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan to enter Iraq through Jordan and Syria. Al-Shammari then assisted their mission in joining up with Ansar al Islam. Christopher Brown citing Al Sharq Al Awsat
Abu Iman al-Baghdadi – Al-Baghdadi (pictured left) told BBC news that Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence services were assisting al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al Islam with arms to counter the PUK and al-Baghdadi was checking on Abu Wa’il status in assisting the group. BBC
85 fighters were killed, though many escaped, when a joint Baath/al Qaeda camp was confronted by Iraqi forces in March 2005. General Adnan Thabet said the camp was “frequented by members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's branch of Al Qaeda, was built after the US offensive to retake the rebel enclave of Fallujah in November. "They were Zarqawi followers and Baathists from the old military because they knew how to fight. They fought like old soldiers." ABC
The Islamic Army in Iraq – The Islamic Army in Iraq is an insurgent group that includes former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, Muslim Brotherhood members and worked with al Qaeda in the past until a recent spilt in which an IAI spokesperson told al Jazeera that “the Islamic Army in Iraq had decided to disunite from al-Qaeda in Iraq...In the beginning we were dealing with Tawhid and Jihad organisation, which turned into al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Wikipedia
Mohammad's Army – Mohammed’s Army, also known as Jaish-e-Mohammed, is a group that includes pro-Saddam members of the former regime’s Intelligence, Security and Police services. Responsibility for the 2003 attack on the UN building in Iraq was claimed both by members of al Qaeda in Iraq (including Zarqawi) and Mohammed’s Army. The material for the bomb was from the former regime's stock, which members of the former regime would have had superior access to though observers said insurgents could have gained access to it on their own. Abu Omar al-Kurdi, an al Qaeda/Zarqawi associate later admitted responsibility for making the bomb after his capture. Wikipedia, Globalsecurity.org
Baathist - al Qaeda collaboration extends beyond borders of Iraq
A recent Treasury Department designation and an October arrest in Italy appear to indicate that Baathist and al Qaeda members in both Europe and the Middle East have discussed and attempted various forms of suicide attacks on coalition forces which include the use of aircraft in suicide attacks.
As first pointed out at the Counter Terrorism Blog, on December 6 the U.S. Treasury Department announced the designation of 7 individuals for their support of the insurgency in Iraq and/or their support of former regime officials. The designations named Fawzi Mutlaq Al-Rawi (al Rawi pictured at right via Terrorist Scorecard) in the release and cited his leadership of the Iraqi branch of the Syrian Baath Party, material support for al Qaeda, supporting Muhammad Yunis Ahmad's network in Iraq, meeting with the former commander of Saddam Hussein's Army of Muhammad and attending a meeting in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, with other senior AQI representatives "where they discussed financing, unifying AQI forces, (and) conducting airborne improvised explosive device attacks."
Al-Rawi's contacts include both members of the former Iraqi regime and leading members of al Qaeda in Iraq, providing further example that not only will followers of Baathism and al Qaeda cooperate but have done so at top levels of each organization.
In October, another member of a plot involving Baath Party remnants, al Qaeda members and air craft was quietly squelched. According to Adnkronos International, Italian police arrested Saber Fadhi Hussien "a former member of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's disbanded Baath Party" and allegedly "the head of an al-Qaeda cell" when he was in route to Syria for "planning attacks using suicide bombers, anti-tank weapons and ultra-light helicopters, according to investigators. They said Hussien was intending to travel to Syria and meet a contact for al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Hussien is said to have been in contact with aides of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, prior to his death and had been supplying money for al Qaeda attacks in Iraq "for some time." Italian police "also turned up the names of Hussien's contacts in Iraq, which they said would be relayed to Iraqi police and US authorities." Whether or not that information contributed to the arrest of al-Rawi or the designations by the Treasury Department has not yet been announced and the Treasury Department could not provide further details on this topic when reached for comment due to the sensitivity of the subject.
In a related note, former Iraqi Vice President and "deputy chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council" (who has also reportedly spent time operating from Syria) was recently almost caught near Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit. Despite eluding capture, and contrary to stories of turning against al Qaeda, al Douri's recovered possessions revealed details on al Qaeda , including a detailed plan of a March attack on Mosul's Badush prison that freed over 100 al Qaeda members.As was mentioned by IWPR's Hiwa Osman over two years ago in the Washington Post Baathist - al Qaeda cooperation was not only one of the players in the Iraq insurgency but
The backbone of the insurgency appears to be an alliance between the die-hard Baathists and the network of terrorists mostly under the command of Abu Musab Zarqawi.Whether or not the collaboration is being led by Zarqawi's successor or someone else, Osman's description of Syria as a base of this cooperation appears to have been noticed by U.S., Iraqi and Italians officials, as evidence by the recent reports. The continued extent of that cooperation and its extent can likely be determined by the arrest of the individuals listed as wanted individuals by Iraq, those listed by the Treasury Department who continue to reside in Syria and those discussed in al Douri's recovered documents though that information will likely remain kept from public eyes until it is fully utilized.
The past few days have seen a whirlwind of news stories and blog posts relating to a new D.O.D. sponsored study on Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism. The report, authored by Kevin M. Woods of the Institute for Defense Analysis, is now available online (link, Volumes I -V here) and has been the subject of debate over its content, release and meaning.
The storm began (as noted in Stephen Hayes must read piece) with a McClatchy news piece titled "Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam, al Qaida." The leak-based story essentially summarizes a 94 page report down to a single, unrepresentative phrase. For the record it should be noted that once the report was made available to the public it was revealed that its author's actually say on page ES-3 that their report is not exhaustive (contrary to the early news report) stating that the list of Hussein era documents are "not an exhaustive list" beause some were in the possession of other U.S. government agencies.This story was followed by headlines of a similar bent. Steve Schippert's sample of some of the more prominent headlines provides readers with what the story's narrative looked like a few days ago:
ABC: Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda
New York Times: Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie
CNN: Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda not linked, Pentagon says
Washington Post: Study Discounts Hussein, Al-Qaeda Link
AFP: No link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda: Pentagon study
And within hours the (mainstream media) die had been cast. Saddam was not linked to al Qaeda went the theme.
The initial news reports of the study's findings were so far off base that one of the researchers involved in the report said (via Stephen Hayes) "The document is being misrepresented. I recommend we put [it] out and on a website immediately."
The full report was then posted online, and made available by ABC News, does indeed include a sentence that no "smoking gun" linking Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was discovered during their research but goes on to give compelling evidence that mustn't meet the authors criteria in the "smoking gun" test. A closer reading of the study (see here, here, here, here, here and here) shows that Saddam Hussein's Iraq cooperated with, financed and supported a number of Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda proxies (at least five according to Thomas Joscelyn) and had a larger capacity for state apparatus terrorism (car bomb training, IED training, jihadist suicide bomber recruitment, etc.) than previously believed by many.
Of the many noteworthy findings in the report is the assertion made in the conclusion that Hussein had retained not only the capacity to launch anti-West terrorist attacks but the will to use those terrorist capabilities, including directly against the United States, which was also a matter of previous debate. The report's conclusion, while noting that a perfect grasp of Hussein's mindset at the exact time of U.S. invasion remained elusive, states that "evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces."
Instead of newspaper and television headlines such as "Hussein had the capability and intention of striking U.S. with terror attacks" the public is presented with disappointingly shallow stories that even days after the full version of the report is out still promoting the narrow "no links" narrative. The coming days and weeks should be a time when members of the media can and should put aside their previously conceived notions on this serious and important topic and read and then seriously report on this study. The time for that is long overdue.
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.
In a recent interview with this site, former CIA Operations Officer, and co-author of "Operation Hotel California," Charles "Sam" Faddis, talked about leading the CIA's first team into northern Iraq in 2002 and what he found. Faddis, now the president of Orion Strategic Services and working on another book about the future of the CIA, says that while interviewing dozens of al Qaeda/Ansar al Islam detainees he saw no signs of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Faddis also talked about battling Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen, why Saddam Hussein might not have attacked an al Qaeda/Ansar al Islam outpost in Iraq and more.
ROT: Before discussing some of the specifics of your assignment in Iraq can you please explain what your official position was at the time of the invasion and what your background was to that. CF: I was Chief of Base Salahalldin at the time conventional forces invaded. I was running all CIA operations in that portion of Northern Iraq controlled by the KDP. I had been in that capacity since the Fall of 2002. Prior to that, for several months, I was responsible for all CIA personnel in Northern Iraq. Once we began to plus up, in the Fall of 2002, and the scope of operations began to grow, we divided the North into two zones. I took KDP territory. My former deputy took PUK territory (ROT: PUK officials talked more of Saddam-al Qaeda links than did KDP).Analysis
ROT: In an interview with Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein you said that you saw intelligence reports that al Qaeda was in Iraq prior to the U.S. led invasion but Saddam Hussein's regime was working against them and working to infiltrate them. Can you talk about what kind intel there was on this? Testimony from members of Saddam's regime who defected or were in custody? Members of al Qaeda/Ansar al Islam who were in custody? Intercepted phone calls or documents? Something else?
CF: There were al Qaeda personnel inside what was technically Iraqi territory. They were located in the area along the Iranian border controlled by a radical Islamic group called Ansar al Islam. This area was not under the functional control of Saddam nor was it under friendly Kurdish control. It was, in effect, an independent mini Islamic state. My team acquired information on this presence and on Iraqi collection regarding it directly. We captured many of the Ansar and al Qaeda personnel and questioned them. I personally did many of these interrogations. We also ran a large number of clandestine sources who reportedl directly to us. Our conclusions regarding the situation on the ground were not based on one or two reports. They were based on literally hundreds of reports that we produced ourselves.
ROT: Where were the majority of the your intel reports on Saddam's regime coming from? It has been reported in the 9-11 Commission and elsewhere that the intelligence community had a lot of difficulty penetrating the former regime when it came to looking at WMD's and whether or not they cooperated with terrorists. Can you comment on this?
CF: We ran a large number of assets. We debriefed defectors. We had Kurdish teams operating across the Green Line. We pulled in a lot of information. That said, I would never be so naive as to think that means we knew everything that was going on.
ROT: A lot of disinformation and misinformation has come into play about intelligence relating to Iraq/terrorism over the past 7+ years. Is it possible that some of that information was let out to muddy the waters and overshadow the little reported stories of cooperation between the former regime and terrorists that has been found in al Qaeda and Baath documents? Is it possible that there is still information about what happened in the shadowy al Qaeda and Baath official meetings that hasn't been released?
CF: I suppose anything is possible. My personal opinion is that trying to prove a lashup between Saddam and al Qaeda is a waste of time and an example of a tendency to try to oversimplify a dangerous, complex and chaotic world. Saddam was a monster. I volunteered to help overthrow him for a reason. The world is a better place without him. Osama is a dangerous fanatic, and the world will be safer when he is dead. None of that means that those two individuals must be in league or that they worked in concert. It just means there are a lot of dangerous people out there, and that it is sometimes a difficult task to understand their motivations and goals.
ROT: When you were working with intelligence on northern Iraq prior to the invasion did the name Abu Wa'el ever surface? What was known of him?
CF: If I recall correctly he was an Ansar leader. Not sure what I can tell you about him. It has been a number of years, and, obviously, I no longer have access to any of the reporting we produced on him.
ROT: What did you make of some of the press accounts mentioning foreign jihadist suicide bombers (perhaps hundreds) awaiting coalition forces in Baghdad early in the invasion?
CF: I am not sure I am aware of hundreds of jihadist suicide bombers awaiting coalition forces. My understanding of what ensued in Iraq post occupation was that we, through gross incompetence, allowed a very dangerous vacume in security to appear. In effect, we created an opening for al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, and they were not slow to exploit it.
I have never seen anything which suggests that these people were sitting there pre invasion waiting for us. Everything I have ever seen says they flooded in once we let the place go up in flames.
ROT: Did you get any intelligence reports about the thousands of Islamic militants who reportedly (according to the Insitute for Defense Analysis study) passed through regime-run training camps for the decade leading up to the invasion? If so, what did you make of those reports?
CF: I don't know anything about such reports. Also, just to be clear, neither I nor anyone else I know is trying to make a case that Saddam never had any contact with any terrorists or that he never assisted them. That would be silly.
ROT: Is it possible that al Qaeda, Zarqawi and others could have really operated in Saddam Hussein's Iraq if the former regime did not want them there? Specifically, is it possible that they were in Baghdad, going back to 2002, which many of their members and internal documents point to them being?
CF: I think we are back to the same point again. I can't vouch for every report the CIA ever had on this topic. But, I don't know of any operational cooperation between Saddam and AQ. What I saw with my own eyes inside Iraq was that Saddam and his intelligence apparatus regarded Ansar and their AQ allies as very dangerous. There was no indication of any support or liaison. There was plenty of evidence that Saddam was spying on Ansar and AQ in order to keep tabs on what they were doing and prevent them from being a threat to his regime.
ROT: Regarding the spying by Saddam Hussein's regime on Ansar al Islam and AQ, it would seem that if the two groups were really enemies the regime could have easily stomped a few hundred of them out if they wanted to. It would have been cost-free politically at a time when Iraq could have really used some international goodwill and yet there were no accounts of open conflict between the two? (as opposed the fighting that was taking place between the Kurdish government and Ansar al Islam/al Qaeda) Couldn't the regime have been spying on Ansar al Islam to make sure they were attacking their mutual enemy, the Kurdish government? (ROT note: Press accounts at the time even mentioned some members of Ansar al Islam in the north praying for Saddam Hussein's survival)
CF: Ultimately, I cannot prove a negative. Meaning that I am never going to be able to say that it was absolutely impossible for Saddam to have had any links with Ansar and al Qaeda. That said, everything I ever saw and that my team collected told me there were no such links ongoing. Certainly, what I can say definitively is there was no material aid flowing. Ansar was getting arms and munitions from lots of places, but none of them from Saddam. Ansar's little enclave was really in an area along the Iranian border where Saddam could not get to it. Essenially hemmed in along the border by PUK. Plus, given the no fly zone and sensitivity about any move he would make into Kurdish areas, I think it would have been opening the door to a lot of unpredictable international response to have moved north in any direction. Finally, I suspect Ansar (al Islam) just did not make the cut for a threat so immediate that he felt compelled to act. They were basically surrounded by the PUK and they occupied a fairly small area of what is, frankly, pretty lousy territory. He did not like them. He wanted to keep his eye on them. They were not an immediate threat in the sense that if he did not kill them all today he was doomed.
ROT: What motivation would al Qaeda and Ansar al Islam detainees have had to tell the truth about their goals and relations? Were all of those detainees captured in northern Iraq or were some from Mosul and other Sunni areas in Iraq where Baathists were soon captured working alongside some Ansar al Islam and al Qaeda agents?
CF: We interrogated dozens of Ansar and AQ guys summer of 2002. I conducted a number of those interviews myself, including some of the most high profile ones. Why did they talk? Because we broke them down. As to exactly how we did that, I think the less said about that the better. We have already spilled enough detail about our methodology to the world. These detainees were captured in many different places. Most of the AQ guys were caught as they tried to make it to Ansar territory following their flight from Afghanistan. I never met any Ansar or AQ guys who ever said anything positive about Saddam. In Spring 2003 SF and our guys in PUK territory overran Ansar and captured a large number of them. I would not be the guy to talk to for the gospel on what all those guys said, but I never heard any info that suggested they told us anything we did not already know.
What I always told my team in 2002 was that the day we found hard evidence of a link between Saddam and AQ, I would gladly send that message to Washington. I considered both Saddam and Osama enemies of the United States. That said, as a pro, I also stressed that we were not going to cut any corners or shade anything. We were going to do it by the numbers, check all our sources and call it as we saw not as someone wanted us to. We never found that smoking gun. In fact, everything I saw, as I have noted, told me that Saddam considered Ansar and AQ to be adversaries whom he needed to watch very carefully.
ROT: Back to the reports on the foreign suicide bombers in Baghdad. These types of reports were privately confirmed to me by a writer for NEWSWEEK who was in Baghdad during this time and indicated that he saw evidence of a pipeline of suicide bombers coming via Syria months before the invasion. Did these accounts not make it to your area of responsibility?
CF: I am well aware of the existence of a "pipeline" across Syria for foreign fighters coming into Iraq to fight the coalition. I do not have any information regarding the existence of this "pipeline" in advance of the invasion or of any organized effort by Saddam, in cooperation, with Islamic extremists to bring in suicide bombers. That does not mean it did not exist, it means simply I have no information on that topic. My team engaged heavily against the Fedayeen after the invasion began. I recall no information suggesting that any of the folks with whom we engaged were foreigners or Islamic radicals.
ROT: Is it your opinion that the close cooperation that has gone on since days after the invasion between some of the Baathist holdovers and al Qaeda was put together all after U.S. forces arrived?
CF: Again, I suppose on some level anything is possible. What I understand to have happened is as follows. We invaded Iraq with a relatively small force. All of our planning for post-invasion control of that nation, to the extent it existed, was predicated on the basis of our having the cooperation of the bulk of the Iraqi Army and security forces. That is part of the reason that my team spent so much time working on coopting the Iraqi military. Then, for reasons which remain mysterious to me to this day, a decision was made at some level, I would assume by the President, to change course, formally disband the Iraqi Army and other security forces, and take on the task of policing a large, populous nation composed of a myriad of different ethnic and religious groups, by ourselves. These groups had never peacefully coexisted except when forced to do so, and all Saddam's reign of terror had done was to suppress the differences and hatreds and to so brutalize the society as to largely destroy any sense of the rule of law or civil society. What ensued was a lot like what you would see in a pressure cooker if you took the lid off at full heat. The water boiled, and it boiled furiously. We were besieged by a host of different elements. Sometimes these elements cooperated. Sometimes they acted independently but based on a common opposition to our presence. Al Qaida is nothing but opportunistic. They can smell blood. They came running as well. What amazes me to this day, is that the men and women of our military and intelligence services, despite the horrific strategic errors made by their leaders, found a way to walk through that firestorm and, ultimately, to survive it.
On a broader level, my suggestion would be that we spend less time trying to prove President Bush, for whom I voted twice, and Vice-President Cheney right and more drawing the correct conclusions and figuring out a way to win the war which is still going on against Islamic terror. Bill Clinton demonstrated what happens when you pretend like there is no war and don't fight back. Bush demonstrated what happens when you combine great power with ignorance and arrogance. Somewhere in between is a middle ground, where we fight intelligently and emerge victorious.
ROT: How can readers get a copy of your book and what should they expect from it?
CF: Which book? Operation Hotel California is available from most online book sellers. My new book, on the future of the CIA, comes out this fall.
It remains important to note that Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda both valued compartmentalization (many in al Qaeda were opposed to the Septemeber 11 attacks, strategies or even totally unaware of major al Qaeda plots until they happened, while many Iraqi leaders believed the country had WMD's in 2003 while many did not). Regarding the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq internal al Qaeda documents, reported on by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden had disagreements over working with "apostates" while the remnants of the Iraqi Baath party have split into at least 2 wings with starkly differing opinions over cooperating with Islamists. According to an analyst of the Iraq insurgency at the Jamestown Foundation, one wing is said to be led by Mohammed Younis al Ahmed al Muwali with secular goals and the other being led by Izzat Ibrahim al Douri who is said to be more open to working with a less inclusive group of Islamists.
To further understand the incredibly complex, and often contradictory, stories of what cooperation, exchanges and conflicts between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda more people like Charles Faddis, who have had much more exposure to al Qaeda and Baath intentions than the public has had access to, will need to come forward in the coming years and tell their story of what those detainees have said and put all the information into the public discussion.
Meek says that, according to the documents, Saddam denied links to al Qaeda just as he did prior to the invasion and the Baath party recently denied again on their website.
In one of the documented interviews Hussein referred to America as his enemy and in another interview discussed Iraq's relationship with, and level of support for anti-Israel groups linked with Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas, who he referred to as "guests."
Meek indicated that more released documents relating to the interview may be posted soon on the New York Daily News website.
Update: In Meek's latest post on another FBI document relaying the George Piro interview of Saddam Hussein, Hussein said that he would have been willing to use WMD's against the U.S. if he had them.
"By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the U.S.”
FBI photo of Saddam Hussein being fingerprinted after being captured.
(Moderator note: comments for www.regimeofterror.com are now activated at the end of each post)
During a series of email and telephone exchanges Matthew Degn relayed to www.regimeofterror.com his vast array of experiences working with intelligence issues relating to the current and former situation in Iraq. Among his responsibilities during his years in Iraq Degn worked as a civilian interrogator attached to the U.S. Army in Iraq before working as a Senior Policy/Intelligence Adviser to Deputy General Kamal and other top intelligence officials with the Iraq's Ministry of Interior. Degn, currently working on a book about his experiences in Iraq (personal website here), continues to argue against those that feel there was no link between terrorism and Saddam Hussein's regime based on his involvement with hundreds of interrogations in Iraq and his involvement with many of the Iraqi Intelligence officials with the Ministry of Interior. Degn says that much of the public perception about Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorism are incorrect.Degn is currently the Director of the Intelligence Studies Program and a professor at American Military University currently a professor at American Military University whose testimony about events in Iraq has been cited by NPR, ABC News, the Washington Post and elsewhere. According to his American Military University bio Degn (pronounced Dayne) also:
"has extensive experience in the Middle East, serving most recently as a senior intelligence/policy advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior in Baghdad." He also "he was the senior civilian advisor in the creation of the Iraqi Counter-terrorism Agency, mentored Iraqi senior government intelligence officials at the Deputy Minister level, and witnessed the inner workings of the Iraqi government at the highest levels." "Professor Degn has also been involved in the screening and interrogation process within Iraq. He served at Abu Ghraib prison and was among the last Americans in the prison facility before its closing. He witnessed the harmful effects the infamous prison scandal had on U.S. foreign policy and the interrogation process. While in different prison facilities he has interviewed members of Al Qaida, Jaysh-al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army), Badr Corps, Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi insurgents, and members of other terrorist entities from Iraq and the surrounding region. Moreover, he has experience as a senior counter-terrorism analyst in Washington D.C. and in the military. Professor Degn is the author of numerous essays and other writings with subjects ranging from foreign policy and violent militias to terrorist methodologies, private security companies in war, and the use of intelligence within the Middle East."
In addition to the hundreds of detainees listed in his American Military University bio Degn participated in the interrogations of members of the Abu Nidal organization and Ba'ath party officials at Camp Cropper, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
Former regime's links to al Qaeda
When asked about recent media reports citing Saddam Hussein's denial to the FBI about links to al Qaeda Degn viewed these reports as part of an ongoing attempt to rewrite history saying these reports stand in stark contrast to what he saw and heard firsthand in Iraq. In fact, Degn said that to many of the detainees links between Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorist groups including al Qaeda was not even a point of contention but freely acknowledged. Many of the high value detainees took it as a given that their captors were aware of Iraq - al Qaeda links. Some even bragged about those links.
I interviewed plenty of Saddam’s associates, as well as numerous members of Al Qaeda while at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in 06 and spoke with many who were quite familiar with the inner workings of the Saddam regime while at the Ministry of Interior (MOI). Did they cooperate or have animosity towards each other? Well, this is a tough question to answer- as it seemed that different individuals had a variety of feelings about the subject. Some detainees alleged that members of AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) were in support of Saddam and began attaching the CF (coalition forces) for money, religious reasons, thrills, etc. On the other hand, there were those I spoke with who were opposed to Saddam and happy to see him removed. Still, the reasons for attacking the CF were much the same.
One thing many fail to understand is that Al Qaeda is not a unified group throughout the Middle East, or even regionally. Many small groups take the title of “Al Qaeda” to bolster their notoriety, to feel they are part of the larger effort against the US forces, or for other reasons.As for how supporters of Saddam felt about AQI- again it would depend on the individual. Many I spoke with claimed they were against the group- probably because that is what they figured I wanted to hear. Some claimed Saddam was against the group because members of AQ were a bit too religious or threatening to his rule. While, other detainees claimed he used various groups as intermediaries to arrange arms and money transfers to the group in order to attack a common enemy- Iran, as well as US interests in the region. Still, there were other hard core detainees, part of Saddam’s core, or members of other groups such as former ANO members (Abu Nidal Organization) as a few alleged, that claimed they would associate with Saddam-ites as well as AQI from time to time as the need would arise.
When pressed for specifics Degn said that Hussein's regime, like many other Middle Eastern groups, used the "Hawala" system to secretly move money to al Qaeda and made it nearly impossible to "prove" in a legal system that the transfers took place. The "Hawala" system uses multiple layers of middle men couriers to transfer money and leaves no paper trail, making tracing such transactions virtually impossible.
Degn said that Iraqi assistance given to al Qaeda also included safehaven. Degn said al Qaeda used that safehaven for at least two training camps in Western Iraq and the Anbar province. Degn argued that Saddam Hussein's government was certainly aware that the provision of safehaven was being used for these camps. (Related: Captured Iraqi terrorist says al Qaeda had camps in Saddam's Iraq)
Degn said he had heard reports that indicated that al Qaeda affiliates had multiple, possibly competing, cells in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's Iraq. One cell was affiliated with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had not yet "officially" sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Another al Qaeda cell, linked to Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was reportedly simultaneously operating in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This detail appears to match up with that of former CIA Director George Tenet's and Major General William Caldwell on the topic. He cited this as an example of the ability of al Qaeda's cells to operate independently, a theme he heard more than once during his interactions. Degn said that from what he saw it was true that many al Qaeda operatives got directives and money from al Qaeda's core closest to Osama bin Laden but many were capable of making independent decisions and relationships.
Degn said that while Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda did have mixed feelings for one another, at best, Hussein praised nearly all of al Qaeda's attacks as well as anti-Western attacks committed by other terror groups. Degn argued that if he didn't have some kind of hand in these attacks that he certainly wanted to as he definitely considered the U.S. an enemy (as well as Iran) and thus supported a number of Sunni groups.
Degn says that at least some of the U.S. intelligence community likely knew of the support for regional anti-Western Sunni groups all along.
Former regime's links to other terrorist groups
Degn said he also saw overwhelming firsthand evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and numerous other regional terrorist/militant groups.
As noted in the Institute for Defense Analysis report, Degn argued that Hussein's regime cooperated with regional terrorist groups who opposed Western interests all the way up to the invasion and became increasingly active in the region just prior to the 2003 U.S. led invasion.
When pressed for specific examples of attacks Degn replied that detainees and sources in Iraq's current government knew that Hussein's Iraq sponsored repeated attacks on Westerners and U.S. forces in Kuwait. One particular attack was on a U.S. naval ship and another killed 3 U.S. marines, who were Degn's friends, during their service in Kuwait.
Degn said that he saw links between both the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) and al Qaeda and the Abu Nidal Organization and the former Iraq regime during detainee interrogations and interviews. Degn said that ANO, according to intelligence reports also had training camps and facilities inside Iraq known to the former regime.
Degn said that Hussein's regime used primarily anti-Western Sunni groups. While many of these groups operated independently, many of them were also loosely affiliated with al Qaeda and at least one Shi'ite group (Hezbollah) was mentioned as a group Hussein's regime may have sponsored for attacks on Western targets in Israel and elsewhere.
Those who feel that the complete story of Saddam Hussein and terrorism has yet to be told will agree with Degn when he asserts that others with firsthand experiences with the topic should speak up. Degn also champions the idea of civilian counterparts working alongside the military to offer a different point or perspective to decision makers in Iraq and elsewhere. He was among those involved with this number of interrogations who has opted to speak now and let others know of his experiences.
Degn's testimony should not viewed as entirely contradictory to that of former CIA officer Charles Faddis (interview here) but supplementary. Faddis's interview came from a different time period and likely involved different detainees (Ansar al Islam affiliates from northern Iraq) and both sets of detainees agreed that the groups held some animosity towards one another.
With the understanding that both Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda had internal disagreements about cooperation and both would use compartmentalization to protect widespread knowledge of sensitive issues, that would comprimise their operations, it is understandable why conflicting reports on Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda continue to persist.
Another reason for conflicting reports that Degn pointed out is both the chain of command in the U.S. government's many agencies and compartmentalization of information ("need to know"). Degn said he saw firsthand how these two factors led to vital wartime information being "watered down" before it mades its way to official reports and investigations.
Degn's recollection of detainee testimony and many discussions within the Iraqi MOI roughly matches the document based work of Kevin Woods in his report The Iraqi Perspectives Project -- Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents on regional terrorism, though Degn thinks the links to al Qaeda were more substantial. Degn's findings, primarily through detainee testimony and assocations within the Iraqi MOI, supports the take on the topic that writers such as Richard Miniter, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher Hitchens, Ray Robison, Jeffrey Goldberg, Ken Timmerman, Christopher Holton, Eli Lake, Rowan Scarborough, Stephen Hayes/Thomas Joscelyn, the Wall Street Journal, Ryan Mauro, Scott Malensek, Scott Peterson, Deroy Murdock and many others whose writing has given heart to those that feel that important evidence on Saddam Hussein and terrorism was largely being ignored and/or overlooked.
As members of the many agencies that were likely involved in the interrogations of Saddam Hussein and others come forward, and additional agencies (following the FBI's lead) continue declassifying and releasing more documents relating to Iraq and terrorism a more comprehensive look at this incredibly complex topic will become available. Those unsatisfied with the current public understanding and perception hope that these revelations come sooner rather than later.
Mark Eichenlaub's piece for Pajamas Media on the CIA's analysis of the Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda question is now up here. Paul Pillar and Bruce Tefft, two veterans of the CIA, were kind enough to provide their takes on the CIA's analysis of this topic.
Aseel Kami, recently reported for Reuters that some officials in the current Iraqi government are making a push for the return of millions of Saddam Hussein-era Iraq documents (previously the subject of Congressional inquiries and public controversy) that were seized by the U.S. government and other non-government entities following the former regime's fall in 2003.Kami wrote:
The files include intelligence papers on Iraqis kept by Saddam Hussein's feared secret police, information on weapons arsenals, detailed plans of massacres of the regime's enemies and even tapes of songs praising Saddam, officials said.Some of these files have been made public while others were made available to the authors of The Iraqi Perspectives Project, Duelfer Report and other investigations into Saddam Hussein's activities.
Others just went missing in the chaos and looting in the early months of the U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam.
"Dictatorships document everything, from the simplest details to the biggest events in their citizens' lives," said Saad Eskander, director of the national library and archives. He added that he thought some were still with the CIA.
One of the non-government entities in possession of the former Iraqi regime's documents is the Hoover Foundation. Officials with knowledge of the Hoover Foundation's cache indicated that the millions of documents they obtained from the Iraq Memory Foundation are a fraction of the approximately 100 million the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies have. Those officials further said that documents are still being organized for a possible move to digital format before a planned move to the internet for historians and researchers to analyze though they urged caution with the release of documents that name former regime officials and their allies as well as their victims.
When asked about reported CIA possession of such documents current and former CIA officials directed requests for information to the Department of Defense and another former intelligence official, who was familiar with the story, told this site that originals were all supposed to be in Iraq or Qatar and that if the Iraqis wanted to expedite process they should contact their in-country DIA representative and prepare a large data store.
When reached for comment on this story Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Almarah Belk said that while her knowledge of the topic was limited she was able to confirm that the process of archiving and digitizing materials was a joint effort by the DOD and intelligence community and was moving forward though some documents may need further exploitation and many were still classified. Belk said that Secretary Robert Gates favored plan was to return all of Iraq's material to their country of origin though she was unaware of a definite timeline for that return. While it was premature to talk about a timeline for return at this point Belk said that in the coming days and weeks there will be a better public understanding on the use of the documents and that the plan was to complete the copying of the data before eventually making copies available to selected scholars and historians in an appropriate manner.
With the former regime's documents so physically and digitally vast, and dispersed to multiple locations, there may remain an undetermined amount of time before the current Iraqi government's efforts are satisfied. Those interested in further and additional analysis of Saddam Hussein's regime and files should continue monitoring DOD efforts to transfer and/or release relevant documents and monitor future analysis by Iraqi and U.S. scholars.
Mark Eichenlaub's recent piece on Iraqi government allegations of Ba'athist - al Qaeda cooperation is now up at Pajamas Media. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Syrian government to Iraq's request for Muhammad Yunis Al-Ahmad and Sattam Farhan. The Iraqi government wants the reported former Saddam Hussein loyalists Al-Ahmad and Farhan for supporting terrorist attacks in Iraq. After the Pajamas Media piece was submitted (asking the Iraqi government to provide evidence of the Ba'ath - al Qaeda link) al Qaeda claimed credit for recent Iraq attacks while a cell of reported Saddam Hussein loyalists was detained.
Mark was also on the August 26, 2009 edition of Frank Gaffney's new radio show Secure Freedom Radio to discuss Iraqi allegations of Ba'ath - al Qaeda cooperation on recent and prior attacks.
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