New York Sun
October 19, 2004 Edition: Editorial and Opinion
Saddam's Terrorist Ties
BY Laurie Mylroie
October 19, 2004
The central issue in the presidential race is, arguably, the legitimacy of the Iraq War. Is this conflict a
necessary part of the war on terrorism? The answer is decidedly yes, although this seems to be a
fight the White House would rather duck, even as documents now trickling out of Baghdad suggest
Saddam Hussein had extensive ties with terrorists, including with Islamic militants.
One source for this claim is the widely discussed, but scarcely read, report of the Iraq Survey Group,
the coalition intelligence team that went into Iraq after the war. As Richard Spertzel, an Iraq Survey
Group member who also had served with the United Nations Iraq weapons inspections team, explained
in the Wall Street Journal, "Documentation indicates that Iraq was training non-Iraqis at Salman Pak in
terrorist techniques, including assassination and suicide bombing. In addition to Iraqis, trainees
included Palestinians, Yemenis, Saudis, Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese."
Soon after September 11, 2001, two Iraqi defectors came forward, explaining that Iraqi intelligence
had trained non-Iraqi Arab militants at its extensive compound at Salman Pak, an area south of
Baghdad. Among the skills taught there was hijacking airplanes. One defector even drew a sketch of
the area, showing a passenger plane parked in the southwest corner of a large compound.
When American marines took over Salman Pak in early April 2003, they indeed found the terrorist
training camp, the airplane, and the foreign terrorists. An American military spokesman affirmed, "The
nature of the work being done by some of those people we captured. ..gives us the impression that
there is terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak." The marines "inferred" that the airplane
"was used to practice hijacking," the Associated Press reported. Saddam's apologists claim the camp
was for counterterrorism training, but that seems highly improbable.
Iraqi documents, dating from January to May 1993, suggest that Baghdad's training of terrorists goes
back over a decade - at least to the period following Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. That
training was interrupted by the 1991 war, but appears to have resumed not long afterwards.
These documents, leaked by a Pentagon official to Scott Wheeler of Cybercast News Service, are
posted on its Web site. Bruce Tefft, a retired CIA counter-terrorism official who worked on Iraq;
MEMRI's Nimrod Raphaeli; Middle East scholar Walid Phares; and this author have all expressed their
confidence in the documents' authenticity. They are on official Iraqi letterhead and are essentially a
40-page correspondence between Iraqi intelligence and Saddam's office.
Responding to a request from Saddam, M-14, the division of Iraqi intelligence responsible for training
and conducting special operations, produced a report dated April 1, 1993. The seven page document
lists 100 "Arab fedayeen," whom it had trained in Iraq during the fall of 1990.Their nationalities include
a wide swath of the Arab world: Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians,
Sudanese, and Eritreans, who are not usually considered Arab.
One important relationship discussed in the documents is Iraq's support for the militant domestic
opponents of the Egyptian government, a key Arab member of the 1990-91 coalition against Iraq.
Three weeks prior to the Persian Gulf War, on December 24, 1990, Iraqi intelligence concluded an
agreement on a plan of sabotage against Cairo with a representative of the Egyptian Islamic Group,
whose leader, Shaykh Omar Abdul Rahman, was subsequently tried and convicted for terrorism in New
York. Those operations ended with the February 28, 1991, cease-fire, according to these papers.
The documents also indicate that Iraqi intelligence, along with Sudan's Islamic government, allied with
Iraq, pressed in early 1993 to resume operational support for Egypt's militants. Saddam rejected this,
ordering that Iraq's backing for them remain limited to financial support for the time being.
Nonetheless, the director of Iraqi intelligence informed the palace that the vice chairman of Sudan's
governing National Islamic Front would be sending a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad - a group headed
by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who subsequently became Osama bin Laden's deputy - to Baghdad on a
Sudanese plane carrying meat. The U.N. Security Council actually gave Sudan an exemption for such
flights, creating a strange, unnecessary breach in the air embargo then imposed on Iraq.
An 11-page document dated January 25, 1993, lists various organizations with which Iraqi intelligence
maintained contacts. It recommends "the use of Arab Islamic elements which were fighting in
Afghanistan and now have no place to go and who are currently in Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt."
Saddam approves the suggestion, with the order to "concentrate on Somalia."
The document also mentions a group called Hezb-e-Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Noting
that Iraqi intelligence established a relationship with this party in 1989, the document states that Iraq
now had a direct relationship with Hekmatyar. This man was, in turn, an important ally of Osama bin
Ladin. In a terrorism case in Chicago, the U.S. Attorney's Office affirmed, "Hekmatyar was aligned with
Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan after al Qaida was formed in 1988, and indeed many of al Qaida's
camps were located in territory controlled by Hekmatyar."
The report of the Iraq Survey Group presents further evidence of Iraq's involvement in hostile
activities. It includes the most comprehensive account of the Iraqi Intelligence Service ever published in
open-source literature, depicting an organization that consisted of "over twenty compartmentalized
directorates." Section M-14 included the "Tiger Group" - "primarily composed of suicide bombers. "It
also supervised the "Challenge Project," a highly secretive enterprise involved with explosives, about
which the Iraq Survey Group could learn little. Another section - M-21 - was formed in 1990 to create
explosive devices for Iraqi intelligence. Its chemistry department developed explosive materials; its
electronics department prepared timers and wiring; and its mechanical department produced igniters
and designed the bombs.
This picture shows the substantial, longstanding involvement of Iraq's intelligence services in terrorist
training and support operations, including collaboration with Islamic militants. Its activities were
infinitely more sophisticated than anything that was taught to the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in
Afghanistan. This underscores just how odd it is that our default explanation for terrorism has now
become Al Qaeda - which did not have a chemistry department, one of countless points that
distinguishes that organization from the intelligence service of a major terrorist state.
The Iraqi documents described here have received little public attention, as the Bush administration
has said virtually nothing about them. Many people find it incomprehensible that significant information
linking Iraq to terrorism would exist, and the White House would say virtually nothing about it. Every
discussion of that link, particularly between Saddam's so-called secular regime and Islamic militants,
produces an enormous caterwauling from a variety of parties vested in the notions that the militants
acted on their own and that Saddam was little threat.
Yet never before has a president sent America's soldiers into combat, while understating the reasons
for that conflict. A full explanation of the reasons for a war is strategically as well as morally essential.
It is critical for maintaining support on the home front. And the soldiers who risk life and limb are
entitled to understand why they are being asked to make such sacrifices, as are their families.
Moreover, the matter of Baghdad's long-standing co-operation with Islamic militants is critical to
understanding the current battles in Iraq. Who, exactly, is the enemy? Do the foreign terrorists there
operate independently of the Baathists? Or do the attacks reflect an ongoing relationship, dating back
to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, in which the Baathists worked with and hid behind Islamic militants? And
what is the role of the Syrian Baath? It is striking that nowhere in these Iraqi documents can one find
the least suggestion that Iraqi intelligence had any qualms about working with the Islamic militants.
President Bush made a necessary and courageous decision for war with Iraq. He inherited from the
Clinton administration a fatally flawed explanation for terrorism: the role of states in such attacks had
been supplanted by shadowy networks, above all Al Qaeda. This view was articulated and maintained
for nearly the entirety of Clinton's eight years in office. As so many people accepted, endorsed, and
promulgated it, it has generated ferocious opposition to the notion that Saddam was involved in
terrorism. Yet unless the White House itself takes a much bolder lead in presenting the ever-clearer
picture of Iraq's ties with terrorists, the arguments regarding this war will remain hopelessly distorted.
Ms.Mylroie is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger and the author of "Bush vs.the Beltway: The
Inside Battle Over War in Iraq" (HarperCollins, 2004).