Saturday, November 27, 2004

Allegation Saddam Guard Was Al-Zarqawi Aide Spurs Dispute

Was the brother of the former director of Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau a guard for Saddam Hussein and the foremost aide of Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi? The rift between the Qatari-funded satellite channel Al-Jazeera and the Saudi-owned London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat over that allegation may reflect deeper fault lines between the two Gulf states.

On November 19, Al-Sharq al-Awsat published a report from Baghdad with the lengthy title: "Al-Zarqawi's aide a former guard of Saddam, brother of 'Al-Jazeera' office's director in Baghdad. Umar Hadid led Al-Fallujah battle, received training in Afghanistan." A translated paraphrase of the article was made by BBC Monitoring International Reports (not, so far as I know, publicly accessible on the web), though a rough translation of a portion of the article is available on FrontPage Magazine.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted informed sources in Iraq as saying that Hamid Hadid, the director of Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau had a brother who had been Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's foremost aide. This brother, Umar Hadid, was also said to have once been in the special guard of Saddam Hussein. (The translation on FrontPage says he was in Saddam Hussein's "personal body-guards unit"; the BBC Monitoring International Report says Umar was in "Saddam's Special Republican Guard.") About ten years ago, according to the report, Umar left the guard service to associate with radical Islamic fundamentalist groups. With one accomplice, he is alleged to have carried out a bombing of an al-Fallujah cinema that killed a person. He then is thought to have fled to Pakistan, and, from there, to have entered Afghanistan, where he received training in the base camps of al-Qa'idah, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.

Sources for the report thought that Umar Hadid may have left Afghanistan to return to Pakistan, after the overthrow of the Taleban regime in 2001. There is no doubt among the sources, however, that he returned to Iraq just before the beginning of the war, when Saddam Hussein provided a general amnesty for prisoners, wanted men and runaways.

According to intelligence sources, Umar Hadid led the battle against U.S. forces in al-Fallujah. Iraqi sources privy to information from western intelligence services also claimed that Umar Hadid was still in the al-Fallujah region after al-Zarqawi escaped.

The report of Al-Sharq al-Awsat also alleged that the Hadids had a third brother, who was killed, along with his family, when his house was shelled by U.S. forces just two hours after a visit from Umar.

Al Jazeera responded promptly, on November 20, with an interview of Umar Hadid in their Doha studio. Here are his denials, in a translation provided by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, November 20 (again, so far as I know, not available in any publicly accessible website):
Hadid: I am Umar Ahmad Muhammad al-Jumayli, a brother of Hamid Ahmad Muhammad al-Jumayli, director of Al-Jazeera bureau. The Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat published a report claiming that I have a connection with or that I am an aide to Al-Zarqawi in Al-Fallujah. I deny this because I am 24 years old. The report claims that I was in Afghanistan 10 years ago and went to Pakistan. Ten years ago, I was a little boy. Therefore, this is untrue.

Lina Zahr-al-Din, Al-Jazeera: You do not know Al-Zarqawi at all and you have not met him before?

Hadid: I do not know Al-Zarqawi or anybody linked to him. I hear about him from satellite channels only.

Zahr-al-Din: You said that 10 years ago you were a young boy, but the newspaper accused you that then you worked in Saddam Husayn's special guard. What did you exactly do then?

Hadid: I was a student. I was 14 years old. I left school then and began to drive a lorry to support my family. Afterward, I was enrolled in the Iraqi Army for three months. This is the military service document and the driving licence, which prove that I served in the Iraqi Army for three months. I was discharged later after paying cash for my discharge.
On November 23, Al-Sharq al-Awsat responded with a published interview of Iraqi interim Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan. Al-Sha'lan attacked Al-Jazeera satellite television as a "terrorist channel. He also claimed that Umar Hadid was indeed "a terrorist and is wanted by the Iraqi government for his terrorist activities in Fallujah." (quotation from "Analysis: Al-Jazeera's Row with Saudi Paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," BBC Monitoring International Reports, November 26, 2004).

On the same day, the new editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq al-Humayd, appeared on the Lebanese channel Future TV to defend his paper's feature story on Umar Hadid. Appointed by Prince Faysal bin Salman in October 2004, al-Humayd has given the London-based newspaper an editorial stance that is firmly in support of the war on terror. (In one piece, entitled "For Saudis only," for example, he took to task those Saudis who sympathized with the jihadists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and particularly, those fighting in Fallujah. He also called for Islamic clerics to stop inciting the youth of Saudi Arabia to jihad.) By the account of the interview in the BBC Monitoring International Report, it appears that al-Humayd took a moderately conciliatory stance toward al-Jazeera, and emphasized that the story's focus had been Umar Hamid, not al-Jazeera. Al-Humayd also expressed concern that the incident should not become "politicized" and lead to a rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Whatever the resolution of this dispute over the Hadids, the fast-approaching trial of Saddam Hussein promises to teach us much, much more about the nexus connecting Saddam's regime to global networks of terror.

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