Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saddam's support for terror: the Pentagon report's unreported findings

"Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives." That was the notable, and unreported, finding of the report by the Institute for Defense Analyses, "Iraqi Perspectives Project: Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents."

Based on a review of some 600,000 documents captured in post-war Iraq, the 59-page Pentagon report, with over 1500 pages of appendices, details a 'de facto' link between Saddam's security organizations and Osama bin Laden's terror network. Yet, that was not the story reported in the U.S. press.

Instead, a headline in the New York Times and stories in the Washington Post, NPR and ABC reported that the study showed no links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

What accounts for the difference? Stephen F. Hayes in this week's The Weekly Standard ("Saddam's Dangerous Friends; What a Pentagon review of 600,000 Iraqi documents tells us, March 24, 2008, subscription) asks and answers the key question:
How can a study offering an unprecedented look into the closed regime of a brutal dictator, with over 1,600 pages of "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism," in the words of its authors, receive a wave-of-the-hand dismissal from America's most prestigious news outlets? All it took was a leak to a gullible reporter, one misleading line in the study's executive summary, a boneheaded Pentagon press office, an incompetent White House, and widespread journalistic negligence.

The storyline that drove the coverage by the mainstream press was based upon a leaked -- and "highly misleading" -- phrase taken from the executive summary: "This study found no 'smoking gun' (i.e. direct connection between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda."

Contrast that dismissive summation with the study's actual findings, detailed by Hayes:
In 1993, as Osama bin Laden's fighters battled Americans in Somalia, Saddam Hussein personally ordered the formation of an Iraqi terrorist group to join the battle there.

For more than two decades, the Iraqi regime trained non-Iraqi jihadists in training camps throughout Iraq.

According to a 1993 internal Iraqi intelligence memo, the regime was supporting a secret Islamic Palestinian organization dedicated to "armed jihad against the Americans and Western interests."

In the 1990s, Iraq's military intelligence directorate trained and equipped "Sudanese fighters."

In 1998, the Iraqi regime offered "financial and moral support" to a new group of jihadists in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

In 2002, the year before the war began, the Iraqi regime hosted in Iraq a series of 13 conferences for non-Iraqi jihadists groups.

That same year, a branch of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) issued hundreds of Iraqi passports for known terrorists.

IIS documents included in the Pentagon report reveal two terorist organizations relying on Iraqi financial support were the Afghani Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad of Ayman al Zawahiri.

Hayes concludes:
What's happening here is obvious. Military historians and terrorism analysts are engaged in a good faith effort to review the captured documents from the Iraqi regime and provide a dispassionate, fact-based examination of Saddam Hussein's long support of jihadist terrorism. Most reporters don't care. They are trapped in a world where the Bush administration lied to the country about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, and no amount of evidence to the contrary -- not even the words of the fallen Iraqi regime itself -- can convince them to reexamine their mistaken assumptions.
The most curious and puzzling aspect of the misreporting of the Pentagon report is the apathy and silence of the Bush administration. Hayes surmises that they were "too busy or too tired or too lazy" to correct the record.

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|| headland, 8:25 AM

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