THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.And why are we just now finding out about this?
The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak--and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis. According to three officials with knowledge of the intelligence on Iraqi training camps, White House and National Security Council officials were briefed on these findings in May 2005; senior Defense Department officials subsequently received the same briefing.
The discovery of the information on jihadist training camps in Iraq would seem to have two major consequences: It exposes the flawed assumptions of the experts and U.S. intelligence officials who told us for years that a secularist like Saddam Hussein would never work with Islamic radicals, any more than such jihadists would work with an infidel like the Iraqi dictator. It also reminds us that valuable information remains buried in the mountain of documents recovered in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past four years.
The main worry, says DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. "There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to 'prove' that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we'd spend a lot of time chasing around after it."
Other officials familiar with the captured documents were less cautious. "As much as we overestimated WMD, it appears we underestimated [Saddam Hussein's] support for transregional terrorists," says one intelligence official."No shit, sherlock. Do you think Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Dr. Dean are getting this? I reckon they will just say that they are disappointed that they didn't have this information sooner, and it's Bush's fault they have egg on their faces. Oh no wait, Bill Kristol is trying to get the egg to their faces first.
IT'S CONVENTIONAL WISDOM. In fact, it's more than conventional wisdom. It's an article of faith among the enlightened: There was no connection, at least no significant connection, between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.There's a lot more. Read both of these articles, and go impress your friends and defeat your enemies!
Senate minority leader Harry Reid put it this way: "There was [sic] no terrorists in Iraq." His colleague, Carl Levin, member of both the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, says Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda was "nonexistent."
Senators Reid and Levin are Democrats, to be sure. But few prominent Republicans have challenged these assertions. And the Bush administration has been as quiet as a mouse--and just as meek. So the conventional wisdom reigns.
In fact, some of these documents have already been the subject of media reports:
(1) A 1992 internal Iraqi Intelligence memo lists Osama bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence asset in "good contact" with the Iraqi Intelligence section in Damascus. The Defense Intelligence Agency told 60 Minutes the document is authentic.
(2) Another internal Iraqi Intelligence memo, this one from the mid-1990s, reports that a Sudanese government official met with Uday Hussein and the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in 1994, in order to set up meetings between bin Laden and Iraqi Intelligence in Sudan. According to the Iraqi document, bin Laden was "approached by our side" after "presidential approval" for the liaison was given. The former head of Iraqi Intelligence Directorate 4 met with bin Laden on February 19, 1995. Bin Laden requested that Iraq's state-run television network broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda; the document states that the Iraqis agreed to honor this request. The al Qaeda leader also proposed "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia; there is no Iraqi response provided in the documents. When bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan in May 1996, the Iraqis sought "other channels through which to handle the relationship, in light of his current location." The IIS memo directs that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement." Pentagon analysts told the New York Times that the document appears authentic.