In his previous article, Alistair Barros discussed evidence that, but for the recent Iraq War, Saddam Hussein could easily have reactivated at short notice his forbidden nuclear and chemical-weapons program (News Weekly, October 23, 2004). In this second and concluding article, Barros examines evidence that Iraq collaborated with the al-Qa’ida terrorist network in developing chemical and biological weapons.
In February 1998, US President Clinton warned of the growing threat from what he described as “reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers and organised international criminals.” In December of that year, Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing of suspected Iraqi weapons sites.
It has become increasingly clear that, during the 1990s, high-ranking Iraqi government officials had numerous clandestine meetings with al-Qa’ida operatives.
The current US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas J. Feith, presented a memorandum to the US Senate Intelligence Committee (October 27, 2003), chronicling many of these encounters.
A former Iraqi intelligence officer recalled 1990s contacts with al-Qa’ida in Pakistan.
In 1994 the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) deputy director, Faruq Hijazi, met Osama bin Laden in Sudan. Iraqi Vice-President Tariq Aziz reportedly met bin Laden in Baghdad in January 1998 and bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, in February 1998.
The purpose of these discussions was to prepare for anticipated war, and to establish terrorist training-camps in an-Nasiriyah and Iraqi Kurdistan.
After 1998, Iraq and al-Qa’ida collaborated closely in the development of chemical and biological poisons.
Libyan-born Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi – a senior al-Qa’ida figure and paramilitary trainer figure, who was captured in Pakistan in Nov 2001 – was entrusted with developing these plans, while two al-Qa’ida operatives reportedly travelled to Iraq for chemical and biological weapons training.
The day after President Clinton’s February 1998 speech, the IIS issued a memorandum detailing planned meetings with a bin Laden representative in Baghdad in 1998/9. Knowledge of this strategic alliance was no longer confined to intelligence experts but increasingly became common knowledge among investigative journalists.
Almost two years before George W. Bush was elected US president, America’s Newsweek magazine (January 11, 1999) ran a feature with the headline: “Saddam + Bin Laden?”
In early 2002, the New Yorker magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg came across evidence that a radical Kurdish Islamic extremist group, Ansar al-Islam, was in fact an overlay enterprise, propped up by al-Qa’ida and Saddam’s intelligence directorate, the Mukhabarat.
A detainee in a Kurdish prison in Sulaimaniya – whom Kurdish intelligence officials identified as a captured Iraqi agent – told Goldberg that in 1992 he had served as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy, when Zawahiri was secretly visiting Baghdad.
Prominent among Ansar members were Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qa’ida operative now in custody in the US, and Abdul Rahaman al Shamari, a senior Mukhabarat agent captured by the Kurds.
Significantly, one of Ansar’s three leaders, Abu Wael, is a Mukhabarat agent, according to Goldberg and later confirmed by Shamari.
Saddam deployed Abu Wael to secure recruits for Ansar from bin Laden-linked groups. These foreign recruits were given Iraqi visas and trained in Iraq at terrorist facilities, such as Salman Pak, on the outskirts of Baghdad.
After the recent Iraq War, al-Qa’ida training manuals, lists of al-Qa’ida militants in Europe and North America, Iraqi weaponry and Iraqi recipes for various poisons were found in the bombed ruins of Ansar camps. Al-Qa’ida documents were also found at the terrorist facility, Salman Pak, outside Baghdad.
As foreign insurgents streamed into Iraq after the US-led military invasion, it became clear that the Allied coalition troops faced more than Saddam’s Republican Guards and his elite fighters, the Feyayeen.
Iraqi troops captured by the Allies testified to having fought alongside al-Qa’ida militants, while scores of dead combatants were found with Iraqi visas, issued just months before. A significant portion of these had been mobilised by Ansar al-Islam.
Another Ansar leader is the notorious Abu Musad al-Zarqawi, currently claiming responsibility for suicide bombings and civilian beheadings in Baghdad.
Zarqawi is a Palestinian, born in Jordan, who fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago, and formed a terrorist group, al Tawid, based in Jordan.
From debriefings of senior al-Qa’ida operatives, US intelligence learned that Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan in 2000 where he led a terrorist training-camp, specialising in poisons. From there, he organised al-Qa’ida’s collaboration with Ansar, which he helped form.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his address to the UN Security Council in February 2003, described one of Zarqawi’s trademark specialities, namely Ricin, a deadly poison which induces circulatory failure when ingested even in the smallest doses.
Poisons such as Ricin, expertly manufactured in Iraq, have been discovered in Afghan safe-houses.
As Powell noted in his UN speech, the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad hosted Iraqi scientists from the mid-’90s, protecting them with diplomatic immunity. These scientists provided expertise on manufacturing poisons and gases from home-grown and readily available raw materials.
Ricin and other poisons were discovered in busted al-Qa’ida cells in Europe, after Zarqawi’s trip there in November 2002.
Albanian mercenaries brought Zarqawi to France, where he taught Algerian terrorists how to mix poisons. Ricin was found in their busted French apartment.
CIA Director George Tenet testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2003 that some 116 terrorists captured in France, Spain, Italy and Great Britain had received training from Zarqawi.
Nor was Zarqawi’s link with Iraq confined to Ansar. Colin Powell told the UN Security Council that, after Zarqawi was injured in Afghanistan in May 2002, he escaped to Baghdad where he was given medical attention and shelter in a safe house.
Colin Powell warned of sleeper cells in Baghdad that US intelligence believed Zarqawi had set up in readiness for war. This appears to be more than amply vindicated by Zarqawi’s underground organisations which seamlessly absorbed the flood of incoming militants who were to wage insurrection in postwar Iraq.
Despite the abundant evidence, much of the Western media obtusely refused to interest themselves in reporting these links.
Suspected link with 9/11
President George W. Bush, of course, never claimed that Iraq was linked to 9/11, yet there is at least some new evidence which merits careful examination.
According to the Feith memorandum, a Malaysia-based Iraqi, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, worked at Kuala Lumpur airport as a functionary to escort VIPs through customs – a job he got through the Iraqi embassy. Closer investigations have shown that Shakir was linked with a worldwide network of terrorists, including al-Qa’ida. Military records uncovered after the war revealed that Shakir was a lieutenant-colonel in Saddam’s Fedayeen.
In Kuala Lumpur, in January 2000, Shakir greeted one of the September 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar, and accompanied him to a three-day meeting with other 9/11 planners. In attendance was the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing of October 2000, Tawfiz al Atash.
This meeting certainly suggests the strong possibility of coordinated planning of the 9/11 and USS Cole attacks.
Shakir disappeared shortly after the meeting, but was arrested the following year in Qatar, six days after the 9/11 attacks. He possessed contact information for major al-Qa’ida-linked terrorists.
Upon being released, he journeyed to Baghdad only to be re-arrested in Jordan for CIA interrogation. Under pressure from Jordan, the CIA released Shakir, who has not been seen since.
Another possible indication of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 comes from the Czech Government, which has claimed that the 9/11 bomber, Mohamed Atta, met with an IIS operative, Ahmed al-Ani, who was then acting under the diplomatic cover of the Iraqi embassy. Al-Ani had taken over another IIS operative’s assignment to recruit Islamic militants to blow up Radio Free Europe in Prague.
The Czech’s Government’s suspicions somehow got leaked to al-Ani’s predecessor, who thereupon fled.
Czech intelligence thereafter placed al-Ani under surveillance. An eyewitness account of his meeting with Mohamed Atta in April 2001 tallies with al-Ani’s known movements. What is more, Atta travelled to Prague twice, within a matter of days, during the previous year, before he entered the US to begin preparations for the suicide hijackings.
Taken together, the intelligence findings of US congressional committees, and investigations of individuals such as David Kay, Stephen Hayes and Mansoor Ijaz, point to disturbing evidence confirming Iraq’s one-time possession of WMDs and links with al-Qa’ida.
Incomplete though the evidence is, it is more substantial than the Western media have to date been prepared to acknowledge.
With the advent of the new millennium, a new type of warfare now confronts the West – an unfamiliar asymmetric warfare consisting of non-state belligerents and clandestine state sponsors.
The bloody stalemate we are witnessing in today’s Iraq – with terrorist bombings and the beheadings of innocent people – is a sad testament to the world’s past complacency about the nature of our new adversaries.