- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAGHDAD Iraqi intelligence documents provide fresh evidence of a direct link between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network and Saddam Hussein's regime, including discussions of a visit by bin Laden to Iraq.
Papers found here in the bombed headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, reveal that an al Qaeda envoy was invited clandestinely to Baghdad in March 1998.
The documents show that the purpose of the meeting was to establish and maintain a relationship between Baghdad and al Qaeda based on mutual hatred of the United States and Saudi Arabia. The meeting apparently went so well that it was extended by a week and ended with arrangements being discussed for bin Laden to visit Baghdad.
The papers show that, despite denials by both sides, Saddam's regime desired to "maintain contacts" with bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The Sunday Telegraph found the file on bin Laden inside a folder lying in the rubble inside a room of the bombed intelligence headquarters. There are three pages, stapled together; two are on paper headed with the insignia and lettering of the Mukhabarat.
The file shows correspondence between Mukhabarat agencies over preparations for the visit of al Qaeda's envoy, who traveled to Iraq from Sudan, where bin Laden was based until 1996.
The documents recount what Baghdad hoped to achieve from the meeting, which took place less than five months before bin Laden was placed at the top of America's most-wanted list following the bombing of two U.S. embassies in east Africa.
Perhaps aware of the sensitive subject matter, Iraqi agents at some point clumsily attempted to mask all references to bin Laden, using white correcting fluid. When the dried fluid was carefully removed, however, the name is clearly legible three times.
The file contradicts the claims of Baghdad, bin Laden and officials of some Western governments that there was no link between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda.
One Western intelligence official described the file as "sensational," adding: "Baghdad clearly sought out the meeting. The regime would have wanted it to happen in the capital, as it's only there they would feel safe from surveillance or detection."
One paper dated Feb. 19, 1998, is marked, in handwriting, "Top Secret and Urgent." It is signed "MDA," a code name believed to be the director of an intelligence section within the Mukhabarat. It refers to the planned trip by bin Laden's unnamed envoy and arrangements for his visit.
A letter with this document says the envoy is a trusted confidant of bin Laden. It adds: "According to the above, we suggest permission to call the Khartoum station to facilitate the travel arrangements for the above-mentioned person to Iraq. And that our body carry all the travel and hotel costs inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden."
Khartoum station is Iraq's intelligence office in Sudan.
The letter refers to bin Laden as an opponent of the Saudi Arabian regime and says the message to convey to him through the envoy "would relate to the future of our relationship with him, bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."
According to handwritten notes at the bottom of the page, the letter was passed through another director in the Mukhabarat and on to the deputy director general of the intelligence service.
It recommends that "the deputy director general bring the envoy to Iraq because we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden."
The deputy director general penned his signature of approval to the document. All of the signatories use code names.
The other documents confirm that the envoy traveled from Khartoum to Baghdad in March 1998, staying at al-Mansour Melia, a first-class hotel. It mentions that his visit was extended by a week.
In notes in a margin, the name Mohammed F. Mohammed Ahmed is mentioned, but it is not clear whether this is the envoy or an agent.
Intriguingly, the Iraqis refer to sending back an oral message to bin Laden, perhaps aware of the risk of a written message being intercepted. However, the documents do not mention whether a meeting took place between bin Laden and Iraqi officials.
Over the past two weeks, the Sunday Telegraph has discovered various other intelligence files in the wrecked Mukhabarat building. They include documents revealing how Russia passed on to Iraq details of private conversations between Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, and how Germany held clandestine meetings with the Iraqi regime.
The latest revelation coincides with the arrest of Farouk Hijazi, who was captured Friday by U.S. forces in Iraq near the Syrian border. Mr. Hijazi became head of external operations for the Mukhabarat in the 1990s.
Washington says he was the link man between Iraq and al Qaeda and that he met bin Laden in Kandahar before the September 11 attacks, when he was Iraq's ambassador to Turkey.

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