The Washington Times reports on the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) paper on Saddam Hussein’s connections with terrorist groups, which we’ve already commented on a number of times. The IDA report concludes that “Iraq was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism”:
“Many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States,” said the report. “State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability.”
Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad group, which merged into al Qaeda with Zawahiri as al Qaeda’s number two leader, worked closely with Iraqi intelligence and received Iraqi help in organizing terrorist attacks. So the IDA report, which is based on a review of only a fraction of the Iraqi intelligence documents that are now available, confirms the threat to the U.S. and its allies that was posed by cooperation between Saddam’s regime and Islamic terrorist groups. It’s hard not to agree with Rep. Pete Hoekstra:
Mr. Hoekstra bemoaned the White House’s refusal to highlight the Islamic Jihad-Saddam connection, or, for that matter, recent disclosures that Saddam told his FBI interrogator that he planned to resume production of weapons of mass destruction.
“It just points out from my standpoint how pathetic this administration has been in really talking to the American people about the threat from radical jihadists in general and what was going on in Iraq in particular,” he said.
White House spokesmen did not return calls seeking comment on the IDA report.
SCOTT adds: Tom Joscelyn writes to comment:
Unfortunately, I think this Washington Times account shows how much confusion there still is regarding al Qaeda. There is a subheading in the article that reads “Al Qaeda out” and the article goes on to explain that the IPP study found no “no direct operational link” between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda. That’s true, the report does have one throw away line in the executive summary that says that. But it is also highly misleading and based on a false premise. Then, under another subheading that reads “Egypt jihad in,” the article explains how the IPP study found that Saddam’s regime had an “an alliance with Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ)” dating to the early 1990’s. The second point is true, and it also directly contradicts the first.
Here is where the confusion comes in. The EIJ, as anyone who has studied al Qaeda knows, is as much “al Qaeda” as Osama bin Laden himself ever was. A number of accounts have pointed out that the EIJ merged with al Qaeda in 1998 (or not fully until 2001, depending on who you talk to). The implication being that the EIJ wasn’t really “al Qaeda” until that time. This is nonsense for a lot of reasons.
The EIJ and its leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, who is al Qaeda’s #2, have worked closely with bin Laden since the mid-1980’s. There is ample evidence of this close working relationship from then on. Montasser al-Zayyat, an Islamist attorney in Egypt who represented Zawahiri’s terrorist colleagues in court, has explained this in his book The Road to al-Qaeda. Zayyat writes: “Zawahiri managed to introduce drastic changes to Osama bin Laden’s philiosophy after they first met in Afghanistan in the middle of 1986, mainly because of the friendship that developed between them. Zawahiri convinced bin Laden of his jihadi approach, turning him from a funamentalist preacher whose main concern was relief work, into a jihadi fighter, clashing with despots and American troops in the Arab world. Zawahiri gave bin Laden some of his closes confidants to help him. They [EIJ members] later became the main figures in bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.” Zayyat goes on to recount how the influence went both ways, but clearly Zawahiri was an important influence on bin Laden early on. There is much more, of course. Lawrence Wright documents the close dealings between the EIJ and bin Laden from the late 1980’s on in The Looming Tower. Regardless of when the EIJ “formally” merged with bin Laden, whether you want to claim it was 1998 or 2001 or whenever, the two were working hand-in-glove long before – since the mid to late 1980’s. They cooperated on attacks, in al Qaeda’s founding in the late 1980’s, shared the same financing and training infrastructure, etc. Bin Laden even put the EIJ’s members on his payroll in the late 1980’s.
The point is that it takes a special brand of myopia to claim that a significant relationship between Saddam’s regime and the EIJ does not somehow represent a “direct connection” to al Qaeda. Zawahiri and the EIJ are as much ‘al Qaeda’ as bin Laden ever was.
And now, thanks to the recently released Iraqi Intelligence documents, we know that Saddam had a working relationship with the EIJ going back to at least 1990.
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