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– Mugsy

This was a busy week for the Giant Rubber Room we call Washington. The Supreme Court decided that the day of the first Papal visit in 27 years… which happened to fall on the Pope’s 81st birthday… was the perfect day to reinstate the Death Penalty that the church so opposes. Couldn’t wait another 24 hours to starting killing people again, guys? Oil hit a record $117 a barrel and three airlines declared bankruptcy because of it. The Media-Meat Grinder decided that in a time of war, with record high gasoline & oil prices pushing the economy towards recession, employment hitting record lows, home foreclosures rising at an alarming rate and financial companies asking for multi-billion dollar bailouts, the pin-heads at ABC News decided that the most pressing question on peoples minds was “why doesn’t Barack Obama wear a flag pin?” Sigh.

So shifting focus for a moment, a Conservative visitor to one of BI30’s YouTube videos (“Senate investigation finds no Iraq/al Qaeda link EITHER“) reported the findings of a Pentagon contracted November, 2007 report (summary) by the “Institute for Defense Analysis” citing documented ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. At first glance, the report looks quite damning:

  • “600,000 recovered documents” and “several thousand hours of audio & video” following the 2003 invasion of Iraq reveal Saddam armed and trained terrorist groups to target enemies of Iraq.
  • State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training, and resourcing of terrorists. (I was already aware of this item.)
  • Saddam kept “Weapon caches in overseas embassies”.
  • Recovered documents show Saddam held a high-level meetings on August 5th and September 2nd of 2001 regarding “recruiting suicide bombers”, including members of al-Qaeda, that would “write volunteer statements, preferably in blood.”
  • In 1999, Saddam’s Fedayeen trained suicide bombers to launch bombings and assassinations inside London as part of a plot code-named “Blessed July”.

Wow. Damning stuff. And if I didn’t read one more word or were provided any more detail, I might be inclined to believe that maybe, just maybe, the Bush Administration had some justification in invading Iraq. A Google search produced MANY links referencing the IDA Report in defense of the Bush Administrations’ decision to go to war, but none examining the report and coming to the opposite conclusion. “Maybe there’s something to it?“, I mussed.

Of course, most obvious is that if this report really had uncovered information all but exonerating the Bush Administrations’ justifications for invading Iraq, why haven’t we heard the Bush Administration crowing about it, pointing to it at every opportunity in defense of their decision to invade Iraq?

Questions in hand, I promised our YouTube friend that I would read the report before coming to any conclusions. The full report is said to be several hundred pages, but the Executive Summary linked to above is a more concise 94 (closer to about 60 once you cull the blank pages, index and endnotes). So I started reading and taking notes.

The very first claim I was most interested in was the “links between Saddam and al Qaeda“, a most dubious claim, principal among the Bush Administrations justifications for preemptively invading Iraq, because it has also been well documented that the two groups were bitter enemies and not allies. So I searched the PDF for the word “Qaeda”. The first result states:

This study found no “smoking gun” (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda.

It does go on to suggest:

Some in the regime recognized the potential high internal and external costs of maintaining relationships with radical Islamic groups, yet they concluded that in some cases, the benefits of association outweighed the risks.

The impetus for this extremely limited collaboration: the imminent invasion of Iraq by mutual enemy, the United States. Ironically, George Bush’s invasion of Iraq may have provoked the very collaboration the Bush Administration said invading would prevent.

While reading the IDA report, it is important to keep in mind exactly *whom* the targets of Saddam’s terrorist activities were: primarily expatriated Kurd’s and Iran. The report also cites no examples whatsoever of Iraq procuring nor using chemical or biological weapons in any form. Iraq’s weapon of choice: bombs. Conventional incendiary devices.

All examples citing Saddam’s animosity towards the United State are “retaliatory”, following threats by the U.S.. The first recorded expression of this in the IDA report is just prior to the 1991 Gulf War (pg 45), where the U.S. threatened to respond should Iraq invade Kuwait. The majority of “pan-Arab” terrorist activities conducted by Iraq were against other Arabs and those whom threated the reign of Saddam as ruler of Iraq. There are no examples of Saddam threatening “unprovoked” attacks against the United States, clearly indicating that the object of all his terrorist activities were simply to remain in power.

It is reasonably clear from the report that Saddam was not interested in drawing the wrath of the United States down upon him. His sole concern was holding on to power, which meant going after groups that threated his Presidency. On those few occasions when… as a result of U.S. threats… aiding an opposition group against their common enemy was desirable, he was still *extremely* cautious, documenting in detail (pg ES-2) just what type of aid and how much was actually given, to avoid having that group then use that aid against him.

By the time I finished the Summary and reached Pg. 1, it was already clear that Saddam only used “terror organizations” against the Kurds & Iran… threats to his Presidency, and not a threat to the United States so long as we did not threaten his Presidency (note again the above observation that it was the threat of an invasion by the U.S. that initiated any contact between Saddam and al Qaeda at all, and even those were inconsequential). The suggestion by the Bush Administration that Saddam might initiate another “9/11 type attack” is unfounded because there would be nothing for Saddam to gain by drawing the wrath of the U.S.. This is evidenced by his willingness to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq in late 2002 and the dismantling of al Samoud missiles in early 2003, all in an attempt to appease the United States so he could retain power.

On the question whether Saddam might “inadvertently” have provided a terrorist group like al Qaeda with weapons/training that could then be used against the U.S., one must keep in mind that Saddam never entrusted al Qaeda with any weapons or training that they could then turn around and use against him.

Now, thinking outside of the IDA report, connect what the report actually says… training/construction assistance in car bombs and explosive vests to be used against anyone that threatened the reign of Saddam Hussein, to the Bush Administrations’ pre-war claims of:

“25,000 liters of anthrax, materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent […] upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents, several mobile biological weapons labs.”
“the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

It would seem clear that the threat from Saddam Hussein was greatly exaggerated. Possession of such items suggests a regime *seeking* a conflict with the United States, when the IDA report clearly demonstrates that is the last thing he wanted.

There was a phrase in the report that piqued my interest: “Weapon caches in overseas embassies”. Every mention in the report simply acknowledges their existence yet provide no detail. As it is unlikely Saddam stockpiled those “tons of chemical weapons” in foreign embassies (and the report certainly never makes that claim), it is likely the weapons being referred to were conventional firearms such as handguns and rifles “in excess of weapons required for embassy security” (pg 4). Without more detail, this is only speculation. I find it interesting that we appear to know the existence of these weapons, but no record of their seizure following the fall of Baghdad. I mean, how is it we know about these weapons but apparently no one has gone in, confiscated them, and provided a full accounting of what was there? For more than a year, Iraq had no sovereign government to deny anyone access to those embassies. And someone MUST of had access enough to confirm the weapons were there, so how come we don’t know how many and of what type? The report never says (at least the 94-page summary never says).

In 1999, Saddam tasked his Fedayeen to plot an offensive dubbed “Blessed July”, targeting Kurd’s living outside of Iraq, including London. Fedayeen training camps were reused to “train terrorists for assignment in London” (pg 1) targeting “Kurdish areas” […] “targets for this operation were most likely Iraqi exiles”, not Londoners in general. Note: “it remains unclear to this day if any parts of this specific plan were ever executed.” A quick date-restricted Google News search between 1999 & 2000 for any report of Kurds being bombed or attacked “in London” turned up nothing. Included in Saddam’s “Blessed July” plot: “hostile agent Ahmad Chalabi”… you remember Chalibi… the Iraqi exile that convinced a willing Bush Administration that he had “documented evidence” of Saddam’s vast WMD stockpiles and burgeoning nuclear programs… documents which he never produced.

Regarding documentation of “the production, testing, and delivery of a sophisticated car bomb using military-grade explosives” described on pages 4-5, keep in mind that the targets of these bombs were Kurds and other Arab enemies of Iraq, not Americans. Since al Qaeda was not concerned with targeting Kurds, it is unlikely, considering Saddam’s hyper-sensitivity towards al Qaeda, that he ever provided them with this sort of training. And again, remember that no such attack ever took place in the UK.

On pages 7-8, the IDA report reveals Saddam’s increasing support for “suicide attacks”, producing a letter showing “organizations within the regime were already considering the use of suicide terrorism in the fall of 2001.” Anyone that might draw a connection between this and 9/11 is talking nonsense. The planning for 9/11 had been in the works for at least 18-months (perhaps years) by that time, and flies in the face of the report’s own acknowledgment of Saddam’s reluctance to aid al Qaeda, with “no collaborative ties” ever being found. Also keep in mind that the uncovered document is a continuation of Saddam’s Kurdish offensive.

Moving on to later pages, the report cites Saddam’s training of Arab militants as early as 1981 (pg. 15), but for what purpose, the report never says. It does say that training was still taking place before the 1991 Gulf War (presumably to fend off a U.S. defense of Kuwait).

Between the years of 1991 and 1999, the report shows a number of extra-Iraq (outside Iraq) plans by Saddam’s Fedayeen Army:

  • In 1992, Saddam sought a retaliatory strike against Egypt for its assisting the U.S. during the ’91 Gulf War. (pg 16)
  • In June of ’92, Saddam ordered no less than 212 operations against the Kurds in Northern Iraq, which became the impetus for the UN decreed “No fly zones”.
  • A 1993 document (pg 17) speaks of Iraq training Sudanese fighters inside Iraq to be followed by opening a training camp for Sudanese insurgents inside Sudan after the U.S. became involved in the Somali Civil War (Sudan is the Western region of Somalia). Weapons listed that were to be supplied to the Sudanese: conventional arms: rifles & pistols.
  • Saddam tried to inject himself into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing controversy after the fact, expressing doubt that Abdul Rahman (“the blind sheik”) was even capable of organizing something so elaborate on his own without any outside help, but wanted to know if he had because “it would be a big bonus for the Arabs…” if he had (pg 43)
  • In 1995, Saddam tasked an IIS (Iraqi Intelligence Service) agent “to kill two Swedish journalists by blowing up their car with two sticks of dynamite”. While the report does not state where or why, the suggestion appears to be that they were in Iraq at the time. Without going into too much detail, the plot failed due to colossal incompetence (pg 32).
  • Saddam’s Fedayeen Army actively recruited thousands of foreign fighters between 1990 and 2003, mostly from Saudi Arabia, to fight in the Iraqi army. Other than that, there are no substantial reports of Iraqi military operations between 1995 and the planning of the “Blessed July” offensive against the Kurds in 1999, prompted as a retaliation against U.S. imposed sanctions against Iraq (Saddam believed he could bargain-down the sanctions if he threatened the Kurds we were protecting behind our No Fly Zone).

Summarizing a 90 page summary of a 400 page report takes some doing, but one point is clear, that at no time did Saddam ever posses the desire, means nor capability of threatening the United States, and viewed groups like al Qaeda to be too great of a threat to his own rule to entrust with any substantial support that could then be turned against him. His weapons were limited to conventional firearms and “dumb missiles” like SCUDs and al Samoud rockets with no navigation and minimal payloads, none of which were prohibited under the terms of his 1991 surrender (the UN ordered Iraq’s al Samoud missiles destroyed in 2003 upon discovery they had been modified to exceed their maximum travel distance to within reach of Israel.)

The IDA report does dispel (yes, that’s the correct spelling) the common misconception that Saddam was not engaged in “any” terrorist activity between 1992 and 2003, or that Iraq “never” contacted al Qaeda, though it is clear that none of these activities were related to instigating an unprovoked attack against the United States, nor any of the other justificatios given for invading Iraq on the grounds of it being an “imminent threat” to the security of the United States.

I’ll try to get to some lighter fare next week. Promise.