Al Qaeda in Iraq?

Recently the theory of the Al Qaeda/Saddam Hussein connection has been trotted out, once again, like a lame trick pony at the circus. Those who seek to advance this thoroughly discredited and unproven point are, once again, falsely claiming they have at last got the smoking gun. I presume they believe that if they repeat a lie often enough, it will become truth, a sort of arrogant "create your own reality".

But, as with so much of the other "proof" for our invasion of Iraq, it is nothing more than a string of allegations, accusations, rumors, deceitful juxtapositions, half truths and unproven theories all very short of anything remotely resembling evidence. Most of these allegations rely on unconfirmed meetings that allegedly took place between Iraqi officials and Al-Qaeda operatives. None of these allegations offer substantial proof, such as the actual exchange of WMD between the two parties or even the faintest symbol of tacit support from Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda operatives.

This oft repeated tactic, of throwing politically partisan handfuls of fairy dust in the air, labeling it proof positive and then smugly proclaiming "case closed" has become rather shopworn. These arguments, devoid of critical analysis, study or review should serve only to discredit those who offer such faux logic, as well as those who deceive themselves into believing that this in some way is a reasonable substitute for supporting ones case with hard facts. Fantastically, those who would dare to challenge these outright lies and disinformation with the truth are accused of re-writing history, as though the partisan self-serving statements of politicians not only create their own reality but serve as the official account of our nation.

One of the many unsubstantiated justifications for our rush to invade Iraq is the mythical Al-Qaeda/Iraq connection. This wholly unproven canard is advanced without evidence as proof that Saddam was in collusion with terrorists, wanted to give them WMD (which he no longer had) and was probably involved in the terror attacks against America on 9/11 (which he of course was not).

There is no Saddam Hussein/Al Qaeda link, as I shall prove.

Although Al Qaeda members were indeed operating in Iraq, there is no actual evidence that they were invited in by Saddam. In fact, every indication of their conduct and operations strongly suggest otherwise, that they were operating independently to advance their fundamentalist agenda, not to support the secularist Baathist regime. Baathism and Al Qaeda fundamentalism are radically opposed to one another.

To de-construct this fable we must review briefly the recent history of the Kurdish area of Iraq or Kurdistan as it relates to this partisan political myth.

Traditional Kurdistan spreads across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia with a total population of about 30 million, 6 million of which live in the Iraqi portion. The Kurdish people have long sought to be re-united and autonomous, believing their freedom and independence lie in the establishment of a free Kurdish nation or Kurdistan.

During their struggle for independence against the recently deposed regime of Saddam Hussein, their activities were somewhat subdued, remaining this way until the late 1980's. During the period of the Iran/Iraq war (1980 – 1988), the Kurds received some support from the Iranians in an effort to open another front against the Iraqi government. In one uprising, 16 March, 1988, referred to by the Kurds as bloody Friday, Saddam’s military used chemical weapons on the citizens in the town of Halabja in an effort to quell the Kurdish rebellion.

In March 1991, Kurdish people rose up against Saddam in Kurdistan on assurances that the Gulf War allies would support them. Tragically the support did not come and Saddam engaged in retribution against the Kurds. In April 1991, responding in part to Saddam’s aggression against the Kurds, the US and France interpreted UN Resolution 688 to allow the use of force north of the 36th parallel which roughly covers the Kurdish area of Iraq (see map). In addition to this zone in the north, a second zone was declared in the south covering most of Iraq to a point just south of Baghdad. These countries established combat air patrols to prevent any Iraqi aircraft from entering these zones.

The northern no-fly zone negated Iraqi air support for Saddam’s conventional forces in the Kurdish area. Without air superiority, Saddam’s forces were unable to operate in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq in an area above the green line. Saddam’s government unofficially retreated from the region and lost effective control there.

Stepping into this power vacuum were the Kurdish Democratic Party or KDP, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or PUK and the now defunct Islamic Movement of Kurdistan or IMK. The IMK Headquarters were in Halabja. All three parties were dedicated to the creation of a separate and independent Kurdish homeland but had different views on how they would be governed, especially in the case of the IMK who sought radical Islamist goals.

Within months, the IMK splintered over political differences and religious interpretations and formed groups named Soran, Al Tawhid and Hamas. Many members of these three groups later rejoined into Jund-al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam) on September 1, 2001 and promptly declared a Jihad.

Additionally, some members of Jund-al-Islam had in the past been trained as Mujahideen (holy warriors) in Afghanistan by the Taliban and al-Qaida. Many Kurds also served in Afghanistan during the period when the US was supporting and training mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979 – 1989).

These members are part of the so called "al-Qaeda connection," falsely held up as "proof positive" that Saddam was involved with the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers carried out by Al Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia. There are numerous problems with this theory however:

  1. If these al-Qaeda members were in Iraq with Saddam's permission (which they were not), why were they operating in Kurdistan with the goal of seceding and rebelling from Iraq? Why were they not set up in a camp or camps just south of the 36th parallel so that Saddam could equip, train and support them to run operations against his enemies?
  2. If these al-Qaeda members were in Iraq with Saddam's permission, (which they were not) why were they not receiving any monetary, military or technical support from Saddam?
  3. If Saddam intended to give WMD to terrorists (which he did not), why did he not give it to these al-Qaeda members to use against Saddam’s enemies, the PUK and the KDP?

The fact is, all evidence indicates that Saddam and al-Qaeda were not in collusion but were in fact at odds with one another although due to the sanctions against him, Saddam's ability to deal with the Kurds and other insurgents deteriorated increasingly over time causing him to effectively lose control over the Kurdish north and threatened to also sweep away the southern portions as well.

Saddam was a Baathist, a secularist whereas al-Qaeda are fundamentalist Muslims with a radically different set of goals. The only way this rumor appears to have taken flight is by partisan political manipulation of intelligence that blatantly disregards facts, evidence and history.

Jund-Al-Islam had Taliban type goals, i.e. women would now wear burkas, segregation of the sexes, crackdowns on religious sects, etc. During this time, the PUK and Jund-al-Islam fought against each other; although both desired an independent state, PUK wanted a free and more traditional Kurdistan whereas Jund-al-Islam wanted a Talib style Islamic enclave formed within Iraq. This latter goal put them at odds with not only the PUK but also with the official Iraqi government, Baathists who were decidedly secularist.

Jund-al-Islam's (which later became Al-Ansar) Taliban orientation put them at odds with the secularist regime of Saddam who allowed and encouraged the very things that Al-Ansar sought to stamp out. As such they received no support from Saddam and were unable to control or affect Kurdistan in any significant fashion. Saddam was merely content to allow these rival groups to fight one another, allowing his dwindling power projection to be concentrated on other troubles within his borders.

There were other reasons why Al-Qaeda and Taliban sought to assert control via Al-Ansar. First, Kurdistan, specifically inside the Kurdish green line, was outside of Saddam's control. Second, the Kurds were not an autonomous part of Iraq and were already rebelling against Saddam Hussein with the stated goal of establishing their own homeland of Kurdistan.

Throughout history, terrorist groups have sought to establish enclaves or save havens in de-stabilized areas lacking a strong central government and the ability to root them out. For this reason, the north of Iraq in the Kurdish zone presented just such an opportunity. Kurdish intelligence and military forces were much weaker and less well established than those of Iraq which, it was believed, would allow Al Qaeda to flourish. Fortunately the Kurds were against such radical Islamist goals and fought themselves against Al Qaeda and Jund-al-Islam.

Sadly though, Al Qaeda are now in the central regions of Iraq thanks to the power vacuum created by the war and ongoing combat operations there. Due to the presence of an army of occupation, Al Qaeda and other groups with divergent and conflicting goals appear to now have a common enemy. The unavoidable conflict between an army of occupation and the civilians of that nation creates anger and hostility. This animosity provides recruits and support for radical organizations who would normally not enjoy any such aid and comfort.

In conclusion it is very apparent that there was no al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein link but that will not stop those to whom logic, facts and proof are irrelevant. To build any sort of logical foreign policy or problem solution one must establish a solid foundation of hard evidence, logic and proof. Apparently some people are incapable of doing anything that might cause them to actually admit they made a mistake, much less take the necessary steps to correct their error.

December 13, 2005