The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued Saddam a clean bill of health, as far as international terrorism is concerned. That is, they say he had no relationship with al Qaeda. But Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, begs to differ:
“The alliance between the Baathists and jihadists which sustains Al Qaeda in Iraq is not new, contrary to what you may have been told.” He went on to say, “I know this at first hand. Some of my friends were murdered by jihadists, by Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives who had been sheltered and assisted by Saddam’s regime.”
A Kurdish politician who took his high school exams from inside a Baathist prison, Mr. Salih said he was the target of the alliance between jihadists, Baathists, and Al Qaeda in 2001, when a group known as Ansar al-Islam tried to assassinate him. In 2002, envoys of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two Kurdish parties sharing sovereignty over northern Iraq between the two Iraq wars, presented the CIA with evidence that the organization that tried to kill Mr. Salih had been in part funded and directed by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.
The Senate’s report declassifies a July 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency study of Ansar al-Islam as a possible link between Saddam’s Iraq and Al Qaeda that concludes that, even if it can be proven, as Mr. Salih at the time alleged, that the Baathist regime supported the group, “it will not necessarily implicate the regime in supporting Al Qaeda.” The DIA concludes that Ansar al-Islam “receives assistance” from Al Qaeda but is not a branch of the terrorist organization.
This last point is the kind of sophistry that defenders of Saddam are forced to resort to. There is no doubt that Ansar al Islam was a dangerous terrorist group; among its activities was the production of ricin to be used in terrorist acts in Europe. The left’s conventional defense of Ansar al Islam is that it was located in the northern part of Iraq, and therefore under the presumed dominion of the Kurds. But so what? They were in Iraq, and Saddam not only tolerated but supported them. The Kurds had no ability to drive them out. The idea that Saddam is insulated from al Qaeda because Ansar was only supported by al Qaeda, but was not a “branch” of al Qaeda, is the kind of silliness liberals engage in on this issue. Ansar was a terrorist Islamic group, and Saddam both harbored and supported them.
Likewise with the claim that Saddam had no idea that Zarqawi was inside Iraq for over a year before the Iraq war began, conducting terrorist operations from Iraqi soil. I think that claim is highly unlikely, and that Saddam, at a minimum, tolerated Zarqawi and the other al Qaeda refugees from Afghanistan because of their shared goals. But again, what is the point? Zarqawi organized and carried out, from Iraq, the assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley, in Jordan, in December 2002. So again, there is no question Saddam’s government harbored terrorists who carried out terrorist acts against the United States from Iraqi soil.
Saddam’s support for Ansar, his ongoing efforts to shoot down American aircraft, his twice launching invasions of neighboring states; the atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait; Saddam’s attempt to murder a former President of the United States; his hosting of conferences of Islamic radicals in Baghdad; his payment of bounties to the families of suicide bombers; and his steady pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, over a period of decades, amply warranted his removal from power. As Congress and the Clinton Administration recognized in 1998. The fact that al Qaeda terrorists were conducting operations against Americans from the shelter of Iraq, without any interference from Saddam’s government, was just one more reason why Saddam had to go.
Of all of the strange tactics pursued by the Left in connection with the Iraq war, the attempt to rehabilitate Saddam Hussein is, I think, the strangest.