- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

Newly declassified documents show a number of links between the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein and violent terrorist or Islamist groups, many of them dating from the early 1990s.

A Pentagon-funded study of the documents failed to find a direct link between Saddam and al Qaeda, the group that carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. But it did establish Iraqi support for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose leader Ayman al-Zawahri merged the group with al Qaeda years later.

The papers also show that Saddam’s Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) maintained a working relationship with Palestinian terrorist groups, secretly sent representatives to meet with them and trained scores of non-Iraqi Arabs to attack Israel.

“Iraq was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism,” said the report by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a nonprofit private group working under contract to the Pentagon. The institute, whose history goes back to 1947, has three federally funded research and development centers and addresses national-security issues that require specific scientific and technical expertise.

The report, which is being mailed by U.S. Joint Forces Command to the journalists and media outlets, contains copies of the captured IIS documents that provide a detailed picture of Iraq’s decades-old support of various terrorist groups.

Al Qaeda out

Agreeing with previous intelligence reports, the IDA said the documents showed no direct operational link between Iraq and al Qaeda, a connection that had been suggested by the Bush administration before the war. The Bush administration has not been eager to redebate its reasons for the invasion.

Lt. Col. Philip Smith, a Joint Forces command spokesman, said, “The report speaks for itself” and declined to comment further. The Central Intelligence Agency also declined to comment.

A 2006 Senate intelligence committee report said the postwar investigations by the intelligence community found only two confirmed al Qaeda-Iraq contacts. This spurred charges from Democrats that the Bush White House had politicized prewar intelligence.

Since then, government analysts have continued to examine thousands of translated Iraqi documents to get a clearer picture of the Saddam-terror axis. It was in that vein that the IDA wrote its report, “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents.”

Lawrence Korb, an analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, said the important point in the IDA report is that there was no Saddam-al Qaeda operational link.

“The idea that the same people who attack on 9/11, that Saddam was connected to them, is not true,” Mr. Korb said. “There’s no doubt Saddam was involved with a lot of terrorist groups. A lot of them he used against his own people.”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, thinks the new details are “very significant.”

“It demonstrates the intentions of where Saddam was willing to go,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “Were there proven contacts between him and al Qaeda? No. Maybe no. But were there clear indications that this was a guy who was more than willing to support Islamic terrorist organizations? This is one more piece of evidence that shows: yeah.”

Mr. Hoekstra bemoaned the White House’s refusal to highlight the Islamic Jihad-Saddam connection, or, for that matter, recent disclosures that Saddam told his FBI interrogator that he planned to resume production of weapons of mass destruction.

“It just points out from my standpoint how pathetic this administration has been in really talking to the American people about the threat from radical jihadists in general and what was going on in Iraq in particular,” he said.

White House spokesmen did not return calls seeking comment on the IDA report.

Al Qaeda aside, the IDA report shows that Baghdad was an active player in international terrorism.

“Many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States,” said the report. “State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability.”

Egypt jihad in

Perhaps the IDA report’s most significant new disclosure is that the Iraqi Intelligence Service, known as the Mukhabarat, established an alliance with Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). A captured 1993 memo from the IIS to Saddam said that Iraq had aided the group previously and was restarting contacts to help with attacks on the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally.

EIJ was founded by Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon who, along with other members, sought to overthrow the secular Egyptian government. After the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he was arrested but served jail time only for illegal arms possession. He met bin Laden in Afghanistan while with the mujahedeen resistance fighting the Soviets. He returned to Egypt in 1990 and, in 1998, merged Egyptian Islamic Jihad with al Qaeda.

In 1996, he was arrested in Russia for recruiting Chechen jihadists, but Russian officials released him, saying they couldn’t confirm his identity. Zawahri, who is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list for his role in the September 11 attacks, also has been indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

“In a meeting in the Sudan, we agreed to renew our relations with the Islamic Jihad Organization in Egypt,” the Iraqi memo states. “It carried out numerous successful operations, including the assassination of Sadat. We have previously met with the organization’s representative and we agreed on a plan to carry out commando operations against the Egyptian regime.”

A second memo issued to the IIS from Saddam’s office stated, “There has been agreement since December 24, 1990, with the representative of the Islamic Group organization in Egypt on a plan to move against the Egyptian regime by carrying out commando operations provided that we guarantee them financing and training.”

A third memo reveals that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who is now jailed in Iraq, sent a letter to Egyptian Islamic groups encouraging them to cooperate in “acts of insurgency against the Egyptian government.”

Palestinians in

Before the 2003 invasion, the Bush administration made an issue of Saddam’s offer to provide money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as proof of Baghdad’s support for international terrorism. The IDA report reveals that Saddam provided much more significant aid to groups such as Hamas, a terror group backed by Iran and now in control of the Gaza Strip.

A 2002 annual report by the IIS’ M8 division told of providing millions of dollars and arms to Palestinian terror groups and training Palestinians in Iraqi camps. The IIS maintained representatives in the Palestinian territories who met with Hamas leaders, such as founder Ahmad Yassin, who conveyed their needs to Baghdad.

In 2002, Baghdad hosted 13 conferences of various Islamic groups, according to the M8 report, which also told of scores of messages from these groups seeking money and arms.

Abu Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, found safe haven in Iraq in the late 1980s. He became a wanted man after he engineered the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro during which American Leon Klinghoffer was shot and pushed overboard in his wheelchair.

In 1996, Abbas apologized for the hijacking and urged a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord. But the Iraq documents tell a different story. Abbas made secret visits to Palestinian terror groups to advise them on attacking Israel. In 1998, he met with Hamas leader Yassin.

Upon his return to Baghdad, Abbas was debriefed by the IIS. An Iraqi memo stated, “Abu aI-Abbas stated that he is willing to fully work, in any area, which will serve Iraq’s objectives towards the Zionist enemy.”

The U.S. captured Abbas in 2003 as he tried to escape to Syria. He died of natural causes while in custody in 2004.

Sara A. Carter contributed to this report.

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