Saddam and Bin Laden
Did Saddam Hussein cooperate with al-Qaeda to attack America? The Institute for Defense Analyses survey of Saddam Hussein's relationship to terrorist organizations, based on 600,000 captured documents, categorically concludes they can't find the connection -- there's "no smoking gun (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda" -- but thoroughly documents the Iraqi dictator's systematic use of terrorism to attack Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraqi dissidents all over the world and, when it suited him, American interests.
The lasting value of the IDA report will be as a portrait of a certain type of Middle Eastern state, for whom terrorism is a normal instrument of policy. Although the report is about Iraq, it could just as easily describe the basic structure of statecraft in Iran, Syria, Egypt, "Palestine" and Saudi Arabia.
Saddam's terror aparatus ran along two tracks. There were the "in-house" killers, composed of intelligence operatives, frequently supported by their diplomatic missions overseas and there were the contractors; some small outfits and others full-service providers in the way that major consulting firms are.
Captured documents show how murder was routinely staged out of Iraqi installations. So standardized was the killing process that Iraqi intelligence actually had quality control inspectors who would certify carbombs, for example, as "read for duty".
Readers will be surprised to learn that Saddam's in-house terror apparatus had developed the IED, EFPs and even the suicide bomber as early as a decade before 2003. There were competitions among the different Ba'ath districts, for example, to see who could recruit the most suicide bombers. Young men who were on Saddam's scholarships for example, were expected to participate in martyrdom training, thoughtfully scheduled for summer vacation.
Saddam's strategic use of terror was creative and flexible. It was used for both offensive and defensive purposes. To achieve this, Hussein maintained liaisons with all the major, many of the minor and sometimes some of the insignificant players in the terrorist world. They ran the gamut from Hamas to the wretched Mahmud Ghalib, who apparently ran a one-man cell in the Philippines attempting to keep tabs on American, Saudi and Israeli activities. He maintained a network of emissaries, agreements and arrangements among terrorist powers large and small eerily analogous to the diplomatic missions and treaties of the overt world.
The goal of Saddam's terror policy was primarily to enhance his regional power. He dreamed of a pan-Arab superstate with himself, naturally, at the head. He mobilized his in-house and contract army of killers to eliminate dissidents, destabilize rival potentates and often, as a substitute for conventional military power. Although the third rate Iraqi conventional forces were only good for discomfiting equally mediocre armies like those of Iran, terrorism gave him global reach.
But since terrorism was a typical tool in the region, as much in use by other countries as himself, a large measure of Saddam's efforts were devoted to using his terrorists to infiltrate other power's terrorists or to keep tabs on powerful independents. The IDA notes that nearly all the terror outfits in the region, including al-Qaeda, were essentially bidding for the same demographic pool of rootless, violent young men.
As one of the bigger players in the region, Hussein often functioned as a terror venture capitalist. He had the equivalent of business development consultants on the lookout for promising startups.
Saddam's intelligence services were always watchful for emerging movements. In December 1998, the IIS developed a new resource in the form of a small, radical Kurdish-based Islamic movement. In a series of memoranda, the IIS reported being impressed with the new terrorist organization's "readiness to target foreign organizations.. .Iranian border posts, and Kurdish parties ..."
New talent would be encouraged, and when suitable, offered a lucrative contract or promised support. Although Hamas is now associated with Iran, in the early 1990s it was a major supplier of services to Saddam; and Iraq's intelligence chiefs reported Hamas' fulsome declarations of loyalty to President Hussein. In the end, practical considerations were less important than ideology. Despite the fact that Saddam was characterized as being a secular socialist who was antipathetic to al-Qaeda, in fact Hussein dealt and built relationships with very same groups which al-Qaeda dealt with. The Islamic Scholars Group of Pakistan, Islamic Jihad, the Jam'iyat Ulama Pakistan were all listed by Saddam's intelligence agencies as groups with which they had warm relationships and cooperation.
In fact, Saddam's intelligence people attempted to recruit a group called the Army of Muhammad (another startup) to assassinate members of the ruling house of Kuwait and determined they were really a front organization for al-Qaeda taking orders from their controllers in Yemen. As the IDA study emphasizes repeatedly, Saddam's men could no more avoid al-Qaeda than commercial representatives of rival companies bidding for the same clients could avoid using the same hotels. They were all in the same business and traveled in the same circles.
Saddam viewed these groups through the eyes of a pan-Arab revolutionary, while the leaders of the growing Islamist movements viewed them as potential affiliates for their Jihad. In other words, two movements, one pan-Arab and the other pan-Islamic, were seeking and developing supporters from the same demographic pool.
Which makes the lack of a strong al-Qaeda connection the more intriguing for its apparent absence. If Saddam Hussein could maintain liason with the relatively insignificant terror groups in the Philippines or the Islamic Scholars Group of Pakistan; if he could keep in close touch with Hamas, why did he not have a similarly well-developed relationship with al-Qaeda? Whatever Saddam's attitude to Bin Laden may have been, the Iraqi dictator would have realized that al-Qaeda was a major player in the business. He would have wanted at the minimum, to keep tabs on al-Qaeda in case it posed a threat to him. And despite Saddam's "secularism", which never got in the way of his relationships with other Islamic groups, there was a prima facie basis for limited cooperation with al-Qaeda. Before the US campaign in Afghanistan, Iran looked apprehensively on al-Qaeda's activity with the Taliban. Saddam, who had constantly been at odds with Teheran, and who used many of his terror assets to kill Shi'ite sheltering inside Iran, could not have been oblivious to the potential utility of al-Qaeda against Teheran. And, having several times attempted to kill Saudi Royals (as is documented in the IDA report), Saddam would naturally have appreicated al-Qaeda's contacts in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
My own view (and it is just based on a hunch) is that the final chapter in the Saddam/al-Qaeda saga has yet to be written. The IDA's characterization of the relationship between Saddam and Bin Laden's "terror cartels" as being similar to the Cali and Medellin drug empires rings false. The IDA report analogy is that "both [drug] cartels competed for a share of the illegal drug market. However, neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective-expanding and facilitating their illicit trade" the implication being that both Saddam and Bin Laden behaved the same way. But al-Qaeda and Saddam's lines in the terror business were sufficiently differentiated for this comparison to fail. Al-Qaeda's business model emphasized Islamism and direct attack on America while Saddam's focused on building up a network of states in the Middle East. Both endeavors were complementary. Al Qaeda could fire the imagination of the entire Islamic world, but only Saddam's regional strategy could secure the petroleum resource from the West. Taken individually, neither Saddam nor Bin Laden's vision could carry the day. Taken together ... well that was another matter.
It may well prove to be the case that Saddam Hussein had no direct involvement in the September 11 attacks. And yet it may emerge that both Hussein and Bin Laden were partners in a strategic sense, each complementing the other.
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