Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Saddam and Osama Sitting In a Tree...

Talking Points Memo has this entry regarding all the recent hub-bub over the Iraq-al Qaeda link.

The 9-11 Commission recently released a staff statement (entitled "Overview of the Enemy" [PDF]--isn't that catchy?) that started all this talk anew when they had this to say:

Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Hussein Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda have also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collabiorative relationship. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamently denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

Somehow the Bush administration took from that report the idea that "9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirms Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties," according to a Talking Points email that the administration sent out to its supporters (as reported in this WP article). And Vice President Cheney recently confirmed that Saddam "had long established ties with al Qaeda" [Remarks available on Whitehouse.gov].]

One last thing--Stephen Hayes (of Weekly Standard fame) wrote a book called The Connection that highlighted all the purportedly strong evidence for the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, but most of it does not hold much water (if Hayes' article of the same name is at all similar to the book). The one claim worth looking into (and highlighted recently by 9-11 Commissioner John Lehman on Meet the Press) is that a dude named Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was revealed on a roster of Saddam's (as a liuetenant colonel) and a dude by the same name also participated in meetings with sketchy folks in Malaysia in 2000. But I fail to see hwo that constitutes "long established ties." I guess I'm just dense (but then so is this CSMonitor commentator).

For other quotes by the Bush administration, see this New Republic Online post.

Update: Newsday is reporting that the CIA concluded ("a long time ago") that the Shakir fella who showed up on Saddam's list is not the al Qaeda terrorist by the same name. LAT is also reporting that "a U.S. intelligence official" is disputing the connection: Apparently a CIA investigation earlier this year "concluded that the individuals listed in captured Iraqi documents as members of the Fadayeen are not the same as the Iraqi who facilitated the arrival of a September 11 hijacker in Kuala Lumpur." So apparently he's an Iraqi--just not the Iraqi they thought he was? The WP claims that "a senior administration official" explained the name mix-up: the al Qaeda guy is "Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi" and the Iraqi military guy is Lt. Col. "Hakmit Shakir Ahmad." Sorry Iraq--it was just a simple misunderstanding. Here's your country back, just as we found it.

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