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Jack Kelly: Debunker mentality

It's hard work, seeing no ties between Iraq and al-Qaida

Sunday, December 15, 2002

The United States hasn't proved Saddam has weapons of mass destruction . . . but he'll use them against U.S. troops if we invade. Saddam has no connections to international terror groups . . . but he'll launch terror attacks inside the United States if America attacks him.

 
  Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com). 
 

To argue credibly against war with Iraq, opponents must maintain either that Saddam Hussein isn't a threat, or that he is so great a threat that an attempt to oust him would produce unacceptably high casualties. These positions contradict each other, and are contradicted by the facts.

Few besides Iraqi functionaries maintain that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction. U.N. weapons inspectors found thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons and their precursors, and a well-funded nuclear development program. At the time they were kicked out in 1998, all the inspectors were convinced that there was more to find. Presumably, Saddam would not have run the risk of war by expelling them if he didn't have something to hide.

If a respectable case is to be made that Saddam is not a threat, it has to be made on the basis that no matter how evil, mean, nasty and rotten Saddam may be, there is little likelihood he would initiate the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, or share such weapons with groups like al-Qaida, which clearly would.

So debunking evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaida has become an urgent task for anti-warriors. The New York Times has three times published stories casting doubt on a report that Sept. 11 hijack leader Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague last year, each time to have its debunking debunked by the head of the Czech intelligence service, the Czech interior minister, and the Czech prime minister at the time. All maintain to this day that the meeting took place.

The task of the debunkers is getting more difficult. In the current issue of Vanity Fair, David Rose reports that a special intelligence unit in the Pentagon has found nearly 100 separate examples of Iraq/al-Qaida cooperation going back to 1992.

A senior CIA officer told Rose that two other of the Sept. 11 hijackers -- Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- met with Iraqi intelligence officers in the United Arab Emirates a few months before the attack.

The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 9 that just before the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of al-Qaida guerrillas left Afghanistan to set up a backup base in northern Iraq. Abu Wael, a major in the Mukhabarat, an Iraqi intelligence service, was sent to Afghanistan in 1995 to be Saddam's liaison to al-Qaida, the Times said.

The Washington Post reported Dec. 12 that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaida took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month and have smuggled it into Turkey.

These new disclosures come on top of evidence of Iraqi involvement in earlier terror plots against the United States. It is accepted by all Western intelligence services that Iraq was behind an attempt to assassinate former President Bush in Kuwait in 1993. James Fox, then head of the New York office of the FBI, was convinced that Ramzi Yousef, convicted of masterminding the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, was an Iraqi agent.

Jayna Davis, an investigative reporter in Oklahoma City, found witnesses who placed Hussain al-Hussaini, a former Iraqi soldier and a dead ringer for the FBI sketch of John Doe No. 2, in the company of convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh the morning of the bombing of the Murrah federal building, and at a bar several nights before. Edward Angeles, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf terror group, said that McVeigh's confederate, Terry Nichols, met with Ramzi Yousef in Cebu City in the Philippines.

One of those indicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Abu Rahman Yasin, took refuge in Baghdad, where he lives today. Saddam also provided a home for Abu Nidal, the Osama bin Laden of the 1980s. Iraqi defectors say Saddam maintained at Salman Pak, a military base near Baghdad, a Boeing 707 on which terrorists could practice hijackings.

Many liberals insinuated that President Bush was to blame for the FBI's failure to "connect the dots" prior to Sept. 11.

But it is evident that it isn't only the FBI that is having difficulty connecting dots.

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