- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

A majority of Americans, according to a recent poll, now call going into Iraq a mistake. Many Iraqis apparently failed to get the memo.

A poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority found 63 percent of Iraqis expect conditions to improve after the takeover of the interim government.

Four years ago, Iraq’s unemployment rate stood between 60 and 75 percent. The current estimated rate is now at approximately 30 percent — high by our standards, but a dramatic decline since the fall of Saddam’s regime.

What about those purported non-existent links between terrorism, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein? Some of the press enthusiastically reported the September 11 commission found no “link” or “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. But the commission — only charged with investigating the September 11 attacks — actually said, “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States (emphasis added).”

About connections between al Qaeda, terrorism and Saddam, the New York Times recently wrote: “Contacts between Iraqi intelligence agents and Osama bin Laden when he was in Sudan in the mid-1990s were part of a broad effort by Baghdad to work with organizations opposing the Saudi ruling family, according to a newly disclosed document obtained by the Americans in Iraq.”

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, in his new book, “The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America,” explores many Iraq-al Qaeda links:

• “The al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in the late 1990s linked to both al Qaeda and Iraq as a front for producing chemical weapons — according to the testimony of six senior Clinton administration officials … .

• “Photographs … placing Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a suspected Iraqi intelligence operative, at key planning meetings with al Qaeda members for the bombing of the USS Cole and the September 11 attacks … .

• “Official records … prove that Saddam’s regime harbored Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi who mixed the chemicals for the 1993 World Trade Center attack — the first al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil … .”

What about the Jordanian interception of 20 tons of chemicals, including VX and sarin, brought in from Syria by an al Qaeda cell? Remember, former weapons hunter David Kay said, “We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program.”

Terrorism expert John Loftus said the terrorists caught entering Jordan probably intended to kill as many as 80,000. “Syria does not make VX nerve gas,” says Mr. Loftus, “only Saddam Hussein did.” Mr. Loftus added, “There’s no doubt these guys confessed on Jordanian television that they received the training for this mission in Iraq.”

Former Clinton CIA Director R. James Woolsey believes Iraqi WMD-related material “probably” entered Syria months before the war. Mr. Woolsey also notes Iraq admitted making 8.5 tons of anthrax, which — reduced to powder — could fill a dozen easily portable suitcases, and that “Iraq’s ties with terrorist groups in the ‘90s are clear … with a decade of connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, including training in poisons, gases and explosives. There was no need to show that Iraq participated in September 11. … describing occasional cooperation of the sort that is well chronicled was quite sufficient.”

What about the discovery in Iraq of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) tipped with sarin gas, and another with mustard gas? What about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent statement he warned the Bush administration Saddam intended to attack America? “After the events of September 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services several times [emphasis added] received information that the official services of the Saddam regime were preparing ‘terrorist acts’ on the United States. This information was passed on to our American colleagues.”

Osama bin Laden, in 1996, issued a fatwa in which he called it the individual duty of every Muslim to kill American military personnel abroad. His 1998 fatwa added civilian targets: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilian and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” When asked, bin Laden later elaborated on using WMD: “Acquiring [chemical and nuclear] weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. To seek to possess the weapons that could counter those of the infidels is a religious duty.”

Yet many Americans believe: America went into Iraq for oil; Mr. Bush lied to build the case for war; Mr. Bush drove us into war to benefit rich friends in Halliburton; and the war in Iraq diverts our attention and resources from the war on terror.

Fortunately, the president correctly and boldly recognizes Iraq as an important front in the War on Terror. Stay the course, Mr. President.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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