Let’s Look Back: Operational Links Between Iraq and al-Qaida

The Houston Chronical’s Study, Iraq had no link to al-Qaida, confirms information that we already knew; there was not an operational link between Iraq and al-Qaida. But what about informal links to al-Qiada and direct links to other terrorist organizations? Hot Air’s post Saddam had “no operational ties” to AQ: Pentagon, got me into a research mode this afternoon.

During the days after Sept. 11, 2001 there was quite a ruckus going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Within days, thousands of Afghans began to flee Kabul. Since the Taliban was enthusiastically supporting al-Qaida, and al-Qaida recently attacked the United States, it was time to get out of Dodge.

The Taliban ran too. They headed for the mountains along the Afghan and Pakistan border, and on Oct. 7, U.S. and coalition forces began bombing strategic Taliban sites in country. Terrorist organizations – al-Qaida was not the only group in Afghanistan – also ran.

Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad – we’ll call them JTJ – was lead by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from Jordan. Does the name ring a bell? He split Afghanistan, before the coalition invasion of Iraq, and just after the coalition attacks in Afghanistan started, possibly to get medical care. He needed to find a place to continue his efforts. From Wiki:

Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, it is believed that Zarqawi moved westward into Iraq, where he may have received medical treatment in Baghdad for an injured leg. It is believed that he developed extensive ties in Iraq with Ansar al-Islam (“Partisans of Islam”), a Kurdish Islamist militant group that was based in the extreme northeast of the country. Ansar had alleged ties to Iraqi Intelligence; Saddam Hussein’s motivation would have been to use Ansar as a surrogate force to repress the secular Kurds who wanted a “free Kurdistan”. (In January 2003 Ansar’s founder, Mullah Krekar, has staunchly denied any such contacts with Saddam’s regime.) Zarqawi’s operatives have been responsible for the assassination of the U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002.

Following the 2003 U.S-led invasion of Iraq, JTJ was developed as a militant network composed of foreign fighters and remnants of Ansar al-Islam to resist the coalition occupation forces and their Iraqi allies. In May 2004 JTJ joined forces with another Islamist organization, the Salafiah al-Mujahidiah. Many of foreign fighters were not the group members, but once in Iraq they became dependent on Zarqawi’s local contacts.

In October 2004, Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Landen’s al-Qaeda organization. I guess you could say they formed an alliance with the most marketed terrorist organization they could find. After a short period of time, marketing became important and they ditched the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad brand and went with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

There are other terrorists that Iraq supported for many years. Muhammad Zayda, a.k.a. Abu Abbas from Achille Lauro infamy, was a terrorist that was almost captured in Italy but since he had a Iraqi diplomatic passport he got away. He ended up spending quite a bit of time “retired” in Iraq, supported by Hussein’s government and was captured by coalition forces in 2003. From Wiki:

Abu Abbas left the jurisdiction of Italy and was convicted in absentia. In 1996, he made an apology for the hijacking and murder, and spoke out in favor of peace talks between Palestinians and Israel; the apology was rejected by the U.S. government and Klinghoffer’s family, who insisted he be brought to justice. Abbas was captured in Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. military during its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He died in U.S. custody March 8.

It’s also well documented that the Iraqi government provided $25,000 bonuses to families of deceased Palestinian homicide bombers. I’d describe this as funding terrorists.

“President Saddam Hussein has recently told the head of the Palestinian political office, Faroq al-Kaddoumi, his decision to raise the sum granted to each family of the martyrs of the Palestinian uprising to $25,000 instead of $10,000,” Aziz, announced at a Baghdad meeting of Arab politicians and businessmen on March 11, 2002, Reuters reported the next day.

Iraq also provided safe-haven to Abdul Rahman Yasin, who helped make the bombs used in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Days after the attack, he returned to Iraq. Although supposedly he was held in prison by Hussein’s government, reports vary. Nobody is certain where he is now, but many think he is still in Iraq. He was on the FBIs most wanted terrorists list after Sept. 11.

Additional background can be found in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Saddam and al Qaeda – There’s abundant evidence of connections, from July 2005.

al-Qiada has a history of running to familiar places that provide safe haven. They have most recently split town just before major coalition offensives in Iraq. Where might they be going? From the NY Times, June 23 last year:

The operational commander of troops battling to drive fighters with Al Qaeda from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Qaeda leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week. He compared their flight with the escape of Qaeda leaders from Falluja ahead of an American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.

Track them down, where ever they go. This is a global war on terror.