The Real Connection
The first part is a myth, in that the Left has used it as a mantra ad nauseam, in such a way, that they all believe that this is one of the claims made by the President. The only connection I see, is that Saddam is part of the GWOT.
The second part, too, is a myth. There were connections. But the Left refuses to believe. If we found wmds, I wonder if those on the Left would believe or be in denial that they are real, at this point. Incidentally, I find it disingenuous for those who were against the war from the beginning to use the "no wmds found" as an argument, when they were opposed to the war, even knowing that the belief was that Saddam possessed wmds. It's taking advantage of 20/20 hindsight.
Curt has been doing an excellent job following the translations of the Saddam documents. Among other things, are pointing out operational links between Zarqawi and Saddam. Before the war in Iraq.
Last week, the Weekly Standard had a few pieces worthy of note on Zarqawi.
Shortly after Zarqawi's death, Abu Ayyub al-Masri was thought to be the next successor in Iraq. He seemed to be a logical choice. What Dan Darling points out in his piece, is how this would be significant in terms of U.S. pre-war claims that there was a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam before the Invasion:
According to the information provided by the U.S. military, al-Masri traveled to Iraq in 2002 before Zarqawi and established the first al Qaeda cell in the Baghdad area. From both his nationality and connections with al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, it can be reasonably concluded that al-Masri was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that al-Zawahiri headed prior to his merger with bin Laden's organization. This is significant, given the 9/11 Commission report's cryptic note that al-Zawahiri had "ties of his own" to the former Iraqi regime and al-Masri's presence in Saddam's Baghdad.CIA Director at the time, George Tenet, had this to say to Senator Reed before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
The argument--the specific line of evidence and argument we have made is they're providing safe haven to him. And we know this because a foreign government approached the Iraqis twice about Zarqawi's presence in Baghdad, and he disappeared. The second troubling piece of this, sir, is, as I mentioned yesterday, the two dozen other associates and two senior Egyptian Islamic Jihad associates that's indistinguishable from al Qaeda because they merged there. And the third piece I'd say to you is Baghdad's not Geneva. It is inconceivable that these people are sitting there without the Iraqi intelligence services knowledge of the fact that there is a safe haven being provided by people to people who believe it's fairly comfortable to operate there. That's as far as I can take the story today.And any connection beyond providing safe haven? Dan Darling comments:
It should be noted in the exchange cited above that Sen. Reed acknowledged to Director Tenet that there appeared to be "clear evidence" that the Iraqi regime was providing safe haven to Zarqawi and two senior Egyptian Islamic Jihad associates (one of whom was al-Masri). Secretary Powell later described these same individuals before the U.N. Security Council as having "established a base of operations" in Baghdad where they could "coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq . . . they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months."Curt made a post yesterday, regarding the man who may be the replacement, and his possible ties to Saddam's regime.
Powell also alleged that "We know these affiliates are connected to Zarqawi because they remain even today in regular contact with his direct subordinates, including the poison cell plotters, and they are involved in moving more than money and materiel." This is perhaps the most alarming accusation. The State Department's 2002 Patterns of Global Terrorism report notes that, "In the past year, al-Qaida operatives in northern Iraq concocted suspect chemicals under the direction of senior al-Qaida associate Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and tried to smuggle them into Russia, Western Europe, and the United States for terrorist operations."
CRITICS OF THE ADMINISTRATION claim that the presence of Zarqawi and his associates in Baghdad, like the body of administration claims of Iraqi collaboration with Zarqawi, were the result of "cherry-picked" or manipulated intelligence. The bipartisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee, whose members include several of the administration's most strident critics, found otherwise, concluding that "the information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency for the terrorism portion of Secretary Powell's speech was carefully vetted by both terrorism and region analysts" and that "none of the portrayals of the intelligence reporting included in Secretary Powell's speech differed in any significant way from earlier assessments published by the Central Intelligence Agency."
TWO FURTHER ASPECTS of al-Masri's career cut deeply into critics' understanding of Zarqawi and his organization. While some have alleged that bin Laden and Zarqawi existed as rivals prior to the invasion of Iraq, this interpretation is belied by General Caldwell's statement that Zarqawi first met al-Masri at al-Farouk, an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and has had a "very close relationship" with him since arriving in Iraq.
The acknowledgement by Caldwell that al-Masri was in contact with al-Zawahiri likewise belies critics' charges that no real connection exists between al Qaeda in Iraq and its parent organization headed up by Osama bin Laden. See the calls among Zarqawi's online followers for bin Laden to appoint a new emir of al Qaeda in Iraq so that their jihad can continue. Clearly, whatever the differences between Zarqawi and bin Laden, they were more than willing to cooperate when it came to killing Americans.
The potential rise of Abu Ayyub al-Masri in al Qaeda in Iraq provides a welcome opportunity for the administration to both clarify misperceptions concerning the nature and identity of our enemies and rebut critics who falsely accuse the administration of having brought terrorism to Iraq. Whether or not the administration chooses to seize this opportunity will be another matter altogether.
As far as those who still claim Zarqawi's al Qaeda link was made only after we invaded Iraq- that there were no terrorists there until we became occupiers, another piece by Thomas Joscelyn from the Weekly Standard reinforces what Curt has covered in previous posts:
There is abundant evidence that Saddam's regime, at the very least, tolerated Zarqawi's existence in regime-controlled areas of Iraq prior to the war. Moreover, at least three high-level al Qaeda associates have testified to Saddam's warm welcome for Zarqawi and his associates.Personally, I feel that whether the jihadists and terrorists in Iraq were there before or after the invasion is irrelevant. Terrorists are terrorists worthy of extermination wherever they may be....all else is details. Remember: Iraq is just one battlefield against an ideology that stretches throughout the civilized world. Al Qaeda in Iraq is nigh indistinguishable from Hamas who called Zarqawi a "brother-fighter"; from Somali Jihadists who declare war on godless infidels; and immigrant and homegrown terrorists in Britain, Canada, Holland, France, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, and the U.S, or any number of other nations. It's a world problem.
Consider what a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, told his CIA interrogators after his capture in March 2002. According to the Senate Intelligence Report, Zubaydah said "he was not aware of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda." But, he added that "any relationship would be highly compartmented and went on to name al Qaeda members who he thought had good contacts with the Iraqis." Zubaydah "indicated that he heard that an important al-Qaida associate, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and others had good relationships with Iraqi intelligence."
Zubaydah's testimony has since been further corroborated by a known al Qaeda ideologue, Dr. Muhammad al-Masari. Al-Masari operated the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, a Saudi oppositionist group and al Qaeda front, out of London for more than a decade. He told the editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi that Saddam "established contact with the 'Afghan Arabs' as early as 2001, believing he would be targeted by the US once the Taliban was routed." Furthermore, "Saddam funded Al-Qaeda operatives to move into Iraq with the proviso that they would not undermine his regime."
Al-Masari claimed that Saddam's regime actively aided Zarqawi and his men prior to the war and fully included them in his plans for a terrorist insurgency. He said Saddam "saw that Islam would be key to a cohesive resistance in the event of invasion." Iraqi officers bought "small plots of land from farmers in Sunni areas" and they buried "arms and money caches for later use by the resistance."
Al-Masari also claimed that "Iraqi army commanders were ordered to become practicing Muslims and to adopt the language and spirit of the jihadis."
Just as Saddam ordered, many of Iraq's senior military and intelligence personnel joined or aided Zarqawi's jihad. Many of the more prominent supporters and members of Zarqawi's al Qaeda branch, in fact, came from the upper echelon of Saddam's regime. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (aka the "King of Clubs") and his sons allied with Zarqawi, as did members of Muhammad Hamza Zubaydi's (aka the "Queen of Spades") family. Zarqawi's allies included Muhammed Hila Hammad Ubaydi, who was an aide to Saddam's chief of staff of intelligence, and some of his more lethal operatives served as officers in Saddam's military, including Abu Ali, "Al-Hajji" Thamer Mubarak (whose sister attempted a martyrdom operation in Jordan), Abu-Ubaidah, and Abdel Fatih Isa.
THESE BAATHISTS, and others, have spilled much blood in Zarqawi's name. Their attacks were among "Zarqawi's" most successful, including an assault on the Abu Ghraib prison and the first attack on the U.N.'s headquarters. The latter strike was among al Qaeda's earliest, killing Sergio de Mello, the U.N.'s special representative in Baghdad, in August 2003.
In addition to Abu Zubaydah and Muhammad al-Masri, a third high-ranking al Qaeda associate has explained Saddam's support for al Qaeda prior to the war. Hudayfa Azzam, who is the son of one of al Qaeda's earliest and most influential leaders, Adullah Azzam, gave an interview with Agence France Presse in August 2004 in which he explained Saddam's support for al Qaeda's members as they relocated to Iraq:
"Saddam Hussein's regime welcomed them with open arms," Azzam explained, "and young al Qaeda members entered Iraq in large numbers, setting up an organization to confront the occupation." Al Qaeda's terrorists "infiltrated into Iraq with the help of Kurdish mujahideen from Afghanistan, across mountains in Iran." Once in Iraq, Saddam "strictly and directly" controlled their activities, Azzam added.
Curiously, in all of the coverage of Zarqawi's death there has been no mention of Abu Zubaydah's, Muhammad al-Masri's, or Hudayfa Azzam's comments. This is not entirely surprising. Many of the basic facts surrounding Zarqawi's early days in Iraq have been muddled by those vested in the notion that Saddam's Iraq never supported al Qaeda.
Even when al Qaeda terrorists themselves admit that Saddam offered them safe haven and support, their words fall on the mainstream media's deaf ears.
What do al Qaeda, Abu Nidal Organization, Abu Sayyaf Group, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ansar al-Islam, Armed Islamic Group, and Chechnya-based Terrorists and numerous other terror groups share in common? Do you want to know what the real connection is here? It's militant Islam. This is the so-called religion of "peace"? Submit or else...