Thomas Joscelyn and Stephen Hayes, writing in the Daily Standard, continue to bring to light the connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Joscelyn contributes Part II of his “Pope of Terrorism” piece. He shows how Hassan al-Turabi created a safe haven for al-Qaeda in Sudan, while brokering meetings between that group and Iraqi intelligence officials. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two, and Faruq Hijazi, one of Saddam’s most trusted operatives, were both at the first of these meetings. Thanks to Turabi’s efforts, Iraqi agents and weapons experts came to Sudan to assist that country’s government and al Qaeda in the manufacture of munitions. When the Clinton administration struck against a suspected weapons facility in Sudan, Turabi accelerated his role as an intermediary between Saddam and bin Laden, according to U.S. intelligence reports and accounts in the Arab press.
A second article, this one by Joscelyn and Hayes, traces the CIA’s “evolving assessment” of the relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. Here’s what they say happened:
In 1998, the CIA stated categorically that Sudan had received assistance on chemical weapons from Iraq. The agency repeated the claim in 1999, citing the “close relationship” between Baghdad and Khartoum. In 2000, the language was almost exactly the same. In 2001, however, the CIA reporting seems to allow for the possibility that the Sudanese worked on chemical weapons with others, but that these entities were “principally in Iraq.” By 2002, the agency was hedging, saying only that the Sudanese “probably received technical assistance from Iraq” and noting that “allegations of CW activities in Sudan were not confirmed.” And in 2003, Iraq had disappeared altogether from unclassified CIA assessments.
Why the changes? The authors aren’t sure. But they note that the biggest changes in the CIA’s language came in 2002, as the administration was preparing for war, and 2003 when the war began. Whether this was due to new reports or new politics appears to be an open question.