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March 16, 2006
Iraq Papers: Al-Qaeda In Iraq In 2002 In Recruitment Drive

John Negroponte has finally begun releasing the captured Iraqi Intelligence Service papers that the US has held since Baghdad fell almost three years ago, after pressure from the White House and Congress. In one of the first releases by the intelligence chief, the papers reveal that not only did al-Qaeda exist in Iraq before the invasion but that they had an active and successful recruitment program to bring new Iraqi fighters to Afghanistan:

The Bush administration Wednesday night released the first declassified documents collected by U.S. intelligence during the Iraq war, showing among other things that Saddam Hussein's regime was monitoring reports that Iraqis and Saudis were heading to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight U.S. troops.

The documents, the first of thousands expected to be declassified over the next several months, were released via a Pentagon Web site at the direction of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Many were in Arabic _ with no English translation _ including one the administration said showed that Iraqi intelligence officials suspected al-Qaida members were inside Iraq in 2002.

The Pentagon Web site described that document this way: "2002 Iraqi Intelligence Correspondence concerning the presence of al-Qaida Members in Iraq. Correspondence between IRS members on a suspicion, later confirmed, of the presence of an Al-Qaeda terrorist group. Moreover, it includes photos and names."

So we have established, at a minimum, that AQ had established itself in Iraq long before our March 2003 invasion. Moreoever, we have established that they had actively recruited fighters to attack Americans in Afghanistan. Both of those conditions would have warranted our invasion of Iraq as a continuance of the war on terror. After all, we had pledged to go after AQ wherever they had established themselves, and equally as important, we would have to cut off the flow of new fighters into the Afghanistan theater.

What this doesn't suggest -- and we can bet we will see this spin -- is that Saddam Hussein was complicit in either effort. If the Mukhabarat had to go investigate AQ's penetration and recruiting in Iraq, it suggests that the Iraqi intelligence structure was unaware of the situation. It really doesn't much matter. As AJ Strata notes, with AQ active in his country and the US driving the UN Security Council towards actually enforcing its own resolutions in a massive use of force in the winter of 2002, Saddam would have been looking for means of transferring his WMD stock out of his hands and also arranging for the guerilla warfare he adopted after April 2003.

What Saddam doesn't do -- and which would have gained him a great deal of clout at the UNSC -- is turn the AQ cells over to a third party. It would be impossible to imagine the US invading Iraq after Saddam had surrended the AQ terrorists. Politically, the invasion would have been seen as an attack on a state willing to help eliminate al-Qaeda and a sign that the long sanctions regime and our threatened use of force had worked to "reform" Saddam. Yet Saddam did not choose this rather obvious strategy. Why? Because he wanted AQ to be a proxy in his fight against the US.

Interestingly, for those who consistently deny that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq and working for AQ before the invasion, the document itself has numerous pictures of the bloody terrorists. These were collected by Iraqi intelligence in connection with their investigation of AQ in 2002. That is a strong indication that Zarqawi had indeed operated in Iraq and that the Iraqis considered him a significant component of AQ.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 16, 2006 5:32 AM

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