By Steve Schippert | March 25, 2006
A disturbing portrait of American disinterest in Saddam Hussein's ties to international terrorism is beginning to take shape with the Joint Forces Command study, called the Iraqi Perspectives Project, and the current continuing release of Iraqi documents ferreted during the invasion and after the fall of Baghdad. Stephen Hayes continues to assume point in the effort to understand Saddam's ties and his latest in The Weekly Standard, Camp Saddam, illustrates what became, quite bluntly, a path to ignorance.
It is early, but the emerging picture suggests that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated Saddam Hussein's interest in terrorism. One U.S. intelligence official, identified only as an "IC analyst" in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on Iraq, summarized the intelligence community's view on Iraq and terrorism with disarming candor: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks. It wasn't until we realized that there was the possibility of going to war that we had to get a handle on that." [Emphasis Added]
(The Iraqi Perspectives Project [full report] can be downloaded here.)
That mindset was and is inexcusable. Recall also from the 9/11 Commission exchanges, among pundits and politicians alike, that it seemed as if there were a predisposed position that Saddam Hussein could not possibly have had any ties to terrorism, let alone 9/11. Every tie that was brought up, it seemed, was summarily dismissed or brushed aside.
Opponents of the Iraq invasion consistently cited (inaccurately) the 9/11 Commission report as saying there were no links between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. What the report actually said was that there were no known links. As Stephen Hayes’ column clearly demonstrates, can there be any question as to why?
This is not to declare that Hussein was (or was not) a principle actor behind the 9/11 attacks. Rather, it is to suggest that it is plainly obvious that not much was known period. To quote the 'IC analyst' in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, "we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks."
Brushed aside were clear indicators, such as Saddam’s open payment to the families of suicide bombers in the Palestinian Territories and satellite images of an airliner fuselage and passenger railway cars at the Salman Pak terror training camp.
Often cited as well is the assumption that, because Saddam was a secularist tyrant and bin Laden a puritanical religious fanatic, the two were enemies and therefore would never have collaborated. This shallow position fails to appreciate the bonding effect of a common enemy, Israel and the United States. For instance, the Sunnis, such as al-Qaeda, also view Shi’ites as apostates. Yet, Iran is harboring about 25 of al-Qaeda’s top leadership and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ child, Hezbollah, is coordinating operations with not only the Shi’ite Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but also the Sunni al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Iran has vowed to fund Hamas in the absence of any international aid and also financed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the tune of $1.8 million just this past February, illustrating that the pre-conceived Western assumptions of who is friend and who is foe are grounded in error.
At times with some, it appears as if there is a desire not to see certain connections, including any between Saddam and international terrorism, for the inconvenience it would present to strident positions such as opposition to the Iraq invasion or the refusal to consider it part of the War on Terror.
When politics enters the sphere of intelligence, objective analysis flies out the window. The 9/11 Commission was an open political exercise. What lies before us is an opportunity to avoid repeating that disservice to understanding. What is needed is independent and objective study, not bi-partisan review.
These documents being released deserve an independent, coordinated and objective study. No, they demand it. This can only be accomplished outside the Beltway, far removed from elected officials and their committees and far removed from agencies who may be predisposed to prove or disprove a given set(s) of data or past presentations and positions.
It should not be about who is right, but rather about what is right. Let the facts fall where they may.
Provided that these documents will eventually be released in full, that opportunity now lies before us. We should not allow it to be squandered.