|REPRESENTATIVE John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, appeared on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, March 19, to evaluate the war in Iraq on its third anniversary. Murtha, a decorated veteran and longtime hawk, has become a leading spokesman for his party on the war. And on the show, he spoke of what "probably worries me the most" about the U.S. effort in Iraq. The war, said Murtha, is a diversion from the global war on terror.
"There was no terrorism in Iraq before we went there," said Murtha. "None. There was no connection with al Qaeda, there was no connection with, with terrorism in Iraq itself." This is now the conventional wisdom on Iraq and terrorism. It is wrong.
A new study from the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, paints quite a different picture. According to captured documents cited in the study and first reported in THE WEEKLY STANDARD in January, the former Iraqi regime was training non-Iraqi Arabs in terrorist techniques.
Beginning in 1994, the Fedayeen Saddam opened its own paramilitary training camps for volunteers, graduating more than 7,200 "good men racing full with courage and enthusiasm" in the first year. Beginning in 1998, these camps began hosting "Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, 'the Gulf,' and Syria." It is not clear from available evidence where all of these non-Iraqi volunteers who were "sacrificing for the cause" went to ply their newfound skills. Before the summer of 2002, most volunteers went home upon the completion of training. But these camps were humming with frenzied activity in the months immediately prior to the war. As late as January 2003, the volunteers participated in a special training event called the "Heroes Attack." This training event was designed in part to prepare regional Fedayeen Saddam commands to "obstruct the enemy from achieving his goal and to support keeping peace and stability in the province."
Some of this training came under the auspices of the Iraqi Intelligence Service's "Division 27," which, according to the study, "supplied the Fedayeen Saddam with silencers, equipment for booby-trapping vehicles, [and] special training on the use of certain explosive timers. The only apparent use for all of this Division 27 equipment was to conduct commando or terrorist operations."
The publication of the Joint Forces Command study, called the "Iraqi Perspectives Project," coincides with the release by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of several hundred documents captured in postwar Iraq. There are many more to come. Some of the documents used to complete the study have been made public as part of the ODNI effort; others have not.
It is early, but the emerging picture suggests that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated Saddam Hussein's interest in terrorism. One U.S. intelligence official, identified only as an "IC analyst" in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on Iraq, summarized the intelligence community's view on Iraq and terrorism with disarming candor: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks. It wasn't until we realized that there was the possibility of going to war that we had to get a handle on that."
A report produced by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, signed by all members of the Intelligence Committee, Democrats and Republicans, offered this withering assessment of the intelligence community's work on Iraq and terrorism:
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not have a focused human intelligence (HUMINT) collection strategy targeting Iraq's links to terrorism until 2002. The CIA had no [redacted] sources on the ground in Iraq reporting specifically on terrorism.
It wasn't just Iraq. "The CIA had no [redacted] credible reporting on the leadership of either the Iraqi regime or al Qaeda, which would have enabled it to better define a cooperative relationship, if any did in fact exist."
One document posted on the Internet by the government last week, after it was excerpted in the most recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, sheds additional light on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. The internal Iraqi Intelligence memo was written at some point after January 1997 and described the efforts by the IIS to strengthen its relationships with four Saudi opposition groups. One of those groups was the "Reform and Advice Committee," run by Osama bin Laden. The New York Times reported that a Pentagon task force that studied the document concluded that it "appeared authentic." Last week, the investigative unit of ABC News summarized the document in a report.
A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.
The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.
The summary was followed by an "Editor's Note" assessing the contents and meaning of the document.
This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Laden himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith by broadcasting the speeches of al Ouda, the radical cleric who was also a bin Laden mentor.
The document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship. Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting–on November 13, 1995–terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.
John Murtha's claim–that there was no connection "with terrorism in Iraq itself"–might come as a surprise to the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines. In early April 2003, they found a ten-acre terrorist training camp ten miles outside of Baghdad. In an interview at the time with an embedded reporter from Stars & Stripes, Captain Aaron Robertson said: "We believe this is a training camp where Iraqis trained forces for the Palestine Liberation Front. This is what we would refer to as a sensitive site. This is clearly a terrorist training camp, the type Iraq claimed did not exist."
Reporter Mark Oliva described the camp in detail:
About a dozen reinforced concrete buildings line the front edge with a large parade field, concrete and steel obstacle course and even a shooting range within its confines. The camp has many modern amenities, including running and heated water, a large kitchen and electricity. Some buildings had ceiling fans and central air conditioning.
Said Captain Robertson: "It's much more sophisticated than those training camps we found in Afghanistan. It has a permanent obstacle course, which rivals anything our Marines have back at Camp Pendleton."
The Marines recovered training manuals in Arabic and English, along with rosters of Palestinians trained there. Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an Iraqi "intelligence-coded" memo that included lists of "Palestinians trained in Iraq." In fact, Saddam Hussein boasted of his support for Palestinian terrorists and provided the families of Palestinian "martyrs" rewards of $25,000. Another captured document details those payments.
Among the documents released last week was a translation of a three-page Iraqi Intelligence memo regarding a wave of attacks to be conducted by the Saddam Fedayeen. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence website states that it cannot verify the authenticity of the posted documents, but the document appears to be similar to one described in the "Iraqi Perspectives Study." The undated document was apparently prepared in response to orders given on May 5, 1999.
According to those orders, the Fedayeen Saddam was "to start planning from now on to perform special operations (assassinations/bombings) for the centers and the traitor symbols in the fields of (London/Iran/self-ruled areas) and for coordination with the Intelligence service to secure deliveries, accommodations, and target guidance." The execution of the plan would take place in several steps. After the IIS selected 50 "fedayeen martyrs," they were to receive training at an IIS school. Those who passed the tests would be assigned targets. "The first ten will work in the European field (London). The second ten will be working in the Iranian field. The third will be working in the self-ruled field."
How many of these attacks were executed, if any? And who, exactly, were the non-Iraqi Arabs trained in Iraq beginning in 1998? Did some of them return to Iraq before the war? Are we fighting them still?
That is a distinct possibility. In an interview last month, David Dunford, a career foreign service officer who served as the chief U.S. government liaison to the post-Saddam Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, described a document his team found in the abandoned ministry building. It was "a list of jihadists, for want of a better word, coming into Iraq from Saudi Arabia before the war," he said, unprompted. "That suggested to me that Saddam was planning the insurgency before the war."
One key element in shaping the conventional wisdom on Iraq and terrorism was the 9/11 Commission Report, which found that Iraq and al Qaeda had no "collaborative operational relationship." But the day that report was released, Commissioner John Lehman offered this prophetic warning in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD: "There may well be–and probably will be–additional intelligence coming in from interrogations and from analysis of captured records and so forth which will fill out the intelligence picture. This is not phrased as, nor meant to be, the definitive word on Iraqi Intelligence activities."
The "Iraqi Perspectives Project" has provided a look at Iraqi support for terrorism through its analysis of captured documents. The interrogation of the military commander of Salman Pak, a terrorist training camp outside of Baghdad, is said to add to this picture. And then there is the provocative "Summary of Evidence" on an Iraqi detainee at Guantanamo. Based in part on an interrogation of the detainee, it was produced by the U.S. government and released last year.
1. From 1987 to 1989, the detainee served as an infantryman in the Iraqi Army and received training on the mortar and rocket propelled grenades.2. A Taliban recruiter in Baghdad convinced the detainee to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban in 1994.
3. The detainee admitted he was a member of the Taliban.
4. The detainee pledged allegiance to the supreme leader of the Taliban to help them take over all of Afghanistan.
5. The Taliban issued the detainee a Kalashnikov rifle in November 2000.
6. The detainee worked in a Taliban ammo and arms storage arsenal in Mazar-E-Sharif organizing weapons and ammunition.
7. The detainee willingly associated with al Qaeda members.
8. The detainee was a member of al Qaeda.
9. An assistant to Usama Bin Ladin paid the detainee on three separate occasions between 1995 and 1997.
10. The detainee stayed at the al Farouq camp in Darwanta, Afghanistan, where he received 1,000 Rupees to continue his travels.
11. From 1997 to 1998, the detainee acted as a trusted agent for Usama Bin Ladin, executing three separate reconnaissance missions for the al Qaeda leader in Oman, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
12. In August 1998, the detainee traveled to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the Pakistan, United States and British embassies with chemical mortars.
13. Detainee was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Khudzar, Pakistan, in July 2002.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.