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November 19, 2003
Challenge, Chapter 3: Independent Confirmation from the IIS

Taking a further look into Stephen Hayes' report on the Feith memo, we can see that Osama and Saddam spent the years between their initial rapprochement and the 1998 embassy bombings building the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS). In 1998, as tension was building between Saddam and UNSCOM, Iraq's upper echelons were escalating contacts with the terrorist group:

IN ADDITION TO THE CONTACTS CLUSTERED in the mid-1990s, intelligence reports detail a flurry of activities in early 1998 and again in December 1998. A "former senior Iraqi intelligence officer" reported that "the Iraqi intelligence service station in Pakistan was Baghdad's point of contact with al Qaeda. He also said bin Laden visited Baghdad in Jan. 1998 and met with Tariq Aziz."

11. According to sensitive reporting, Saddam personally sent Faruq Hijazi, IIS deputy director and later Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, to meet with bin Laden at least twice, first in Sudan and later in Afghanistan in 1999. . . .

14. According to a sensitive reporting [from] a "regular and reliable source," [Ayman al] Zawahiri, a senior al Qaeda operative, visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi Vice President on 3 February 1998. The goal of the visit was to arrange for coordination between Iraq and bin Laden and establish camps in an-Nasiriyah and Iraqi Kurdistan under the leadership of Abdul Aziz.

Again, we see that the data provided in the memo contains evalution of the reliability of the sources involved. Not only that, but there are some recognizable, high-level names in this data: Tariq Aziz, one of the central authority figures in Ba'athist Iraq; Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of bin Laden's top lieutenants prior to 9/11; and Faruq Hijazi, an Iraqi ambassador and #2 at the IIS. These aren't just some low-level operatives hanging out in a bar in Prague.

Not only was Iraq meeting with and providing support to al-Qaeda, Saddam's henchmen were negotiating the provision of base camps in an-Nasiriyah and Kurdistan. Kurdistan, if one recalls, is where Ansaar al-Islam wound up being based, and an-Nasiriyah is in the area where terrorist training camps for Palestinians were found. Remember that postwar insistence that Saddam had no control over Kurdistan since the Gulf War truce imposed "no-fly" zones in the north and south and therefore had no responsibility for the existence of the Ansaar al-Islam base there? In 1998 they had enough control in Kurdistan to be working towards building a base there; in fact, Ansaar al-Islam is almost certainly an al-Qaeda affiliate, so bin Laden was apparently successful in his mission.

But even if you don't find the Feith memo reliable, there's independent confirmation -- from the IIS itself:

President Bill Clinton went to the Pentagon on February 18, 1998, and prepared the nation for war. He warned of "an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized international criminals" and said "there is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein."

The day after this speech, according to documents unearthed in April 2003 in the Iraqi Intelligence headquarters by journalists Mitch Potter and Inigo Gilmore, Hussein's intelligence service wrote a memo detailing coming meetings with a bin Laden representative traveling to Baghdad. Each reference to bin Laden had been covered by liquid paper that, when revealed, exposed a plan to increase cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda. According to that memo, the IIS agreed to pay for "all the travel and hotel costs inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden." The document set as the goal for the meeting a discussion of "the future of our relationship with him, bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him." The al Qaeda representative, the document went on to suggest, might provide "a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden."

Four days later, on February 23, 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa deploring the UN policy in Iraq and urging his followers to "kill Americans":

"The ruling to kill all Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."

From this sequence of events, and the public revelation of the contents of the IIS documents discovered by the journalists, this is strong evidence of Iraqi/al-Qaeda cooperation, at the least. Osama may have been motivated enough on his own to issue that fatwa. But the captured IIS documents, despite its attempted redactions, certainly show that the Iraqis were trying hard to get Osama and his deadly network on board and working to kill Americans.

Now, ask yourself this: if you are the American President, the day after 9/11, and these intelligence reports demonstrate this strong linkage between Saddam and the man who just slaughtered 3,000 civilians in the single worst foreign attack on America in history, do you consider the removal of Saddam as a "distraction" from the war on terror, or a major component of its success?

More tomorrow. Spread the word. (Previous posts in this series can be found here and here.)

UPDATES: SmarterCop posted about the memo on Monday, noting that quite a bit of this information was available to the Clinton Administration. While I think that Clinton couldn't have done much more than he did against al-Qaeda without a 9/11-scale event (even with that, look how many people oppose any action at all), he makes a brilliant point about the rhetoric from Clinton's people now, notably Al Gore's contention that a Saddam/al-Qaeda connection was a lie:

It's odd that former Vice President and runner-up Al Gore would contradict these intelligence findings.

...And much of the reporting comes from Clinton-era intelligence. Not that you would know this from Al Gore's recent public statements. Indeed, the former vice president claims to be privy to new "evidence" that the administration lied. In an August speech at New York University, Gore claimed: "The evidence now shows clearly that Saddam did not want to work with Osama bin Laden at all, much less give him weapons of mass destruction." Really?

It may be sooner, it may be later, but I have a suspicion we're going to find the Democrats are going to try to spin helicopter-speed to get out of this credibility rut.

Make sure to check it out. (via Peaktalk's Carnival of the Vanities)

Demosophia gives a more detailed look at bin Laden's fatwa against America in 1998, and makes a number of good points, as well as linking back to several bloggers who are continuing their efforts to get this story out. (It's another excellent blog, too.)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 19, 2003 12:15 AM

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