Al Qaeda Disconnect

Article excerpt

"The connection"--neoconservative shorthand for the purported link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda--is crumbling. Two days after Vice President Cheney asserted that Saddam "had long-established ties with Al Qaeda" and one day after George W. Bush echoed his second-in-command, the independent bipartisan 9/11 commission said that no such bond existed. In a staff statement the commission notes, "There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda...occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan [in 1996], but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship." According to the commission, bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" in the early 1990s ("despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime"), a senior Iraqi intelligence officer met bin Laden in 1994 and bin Laden asked Iraq for space where he could establish training camps and for assistance in obtaining weapons. But, the commission concludes, "Iraq apparently never responded." Regarding possible Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 plot, the commission states, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

With one paragraph, the commission decimates a primary rationale of Bush's war on Iraq. Before the invasion, Bush argued that Saddam was an immediate threat and war was necessary because (a) Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and (b) Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda and at any moment could slip bin Laden WMDs to use against the United States. As Bush proclaimed in November 2002, Saddam was "a threat because he is dealing with Al Qaeda." But he produced no proof then, and, according to the commission, he has none now.

There were contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq, but it appears that a relationship never blossomed. The 9/11 report, however, does indicate that there were several nations essential to Al Qaeda's growth and development. Sudan supported it extensively in the early 1990s. Bin Laden's operatives obtained training in explosives, intelligence and security from Iran. Pakistan "facilitated" the "Taliban's ability to provide Bin Ladin a haven." The governments of Pakistan and Iran apparently permitted recruits to transit their nations to bin Laden's training camps (perhaps 20,000 jihadis overall flocked to these facilities). …