We spoke with Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard earlier this week; he told us that he was about to publish a bombshell: documents and photographs discovered in Iraq show that in the years leading up to the war, Saddam’s regime trained thousands of international terrorists at several camps in Iraq. Here is Steve’s story:
THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.
The secret training took place primarily at three camps–in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak–and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria’s GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis.
The discovery of the information on jihadist training camps in Iraq would seem to have two major consequences: It exposes the flawed assumptions of the experts and U.S. intelligence officials who told us for years that a secularist like Saddam Hussein would never work with Islamic radicals, any more than such jihadists would work with an infidel like the Iraqi dictator. It also reminds us that valuable information remains buried in the mountain of documents recovered in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past four years.
Only a tiny fraction–between two and three percent–of the 2,000,000 “exploitable items” recovered in Iraq have been translated. Only in the last few weeks has the Bush administration finally made a commitment to devoting the necessary resources to reviewing and translating the Iraqi documents. Until now, the administration has been reluctant to allow access even to the handful of unclassified documents that have been translated. Thankfully, that posture is changing.
While we have barely scratched the surface of Iraq’s intelligence records, it is already obvious that Saddam was a major supporter and enabler of Islamic terrorism:
“As much as we overestimated WMD, it appears we underestimated [Saddam Hussein’s] support for transregional terrorists,” says one intelligence official.
Apparently there are boxes full of photographs of jihadists training in Saddam’s camps. I’m looking forward to seeing them.