Other Iraqi documents expose the Saddam regime’s relationship with terrorism. It was holding meetings with members of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad as far back as 1990, when the two parties “agreed on a plan to move against the Egyptian government.” Another intelligence file from 1992 listed Osama Bin Laden as one of the “collaborators” that was “in good relationship with our section in Syria.” Others show that Iraq was seeking to recruit jihadists who fought in Afghanistan to attack the U.S. military in Somalia, raising questions about a possible Iraqi role in the ambush at Mogadishu.
It is also now known that in 1995, Osama Bin Laden asked Iraq to broadcast the sermons of a radical cleric. He also requested joint operations in Saudi Arabia against the U.S. military. High-level meetings were held throughout the 1990s, and a payment of $300,000 was made to Ayman al-Zawahiri in 1998. An Iraqi government document from 2001 discussed operations to overthrow the Saudi Royal Family using “martyrs.” It is quite possible Iraq had Al-Qaeda in mind for this objective, as a 2002 intelligence document discusses a forthcoming meeting with al-Zawahiri for a “revenge operation” against the Saudis.
Further investigation is needed into the case of Ahmed Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, an Iraqi who attended a pivotal meeting in January 2000 in Malaysia. Present at the gathering were top Al-Qaeda operatives, including two of the 9/11 hijackers, to plan the U.S.S. Cole bombing and the attacks of September 11, 2001. Azzawi worked as a “facilitator” for special guests at the airport, but it was the Iraqi embassy that determined his schedule and set him up with the job. His boss at the embassy was a member of Iraqi intelligence. Azzawi met one of the 9/11 hijackers at the airport, and they went to the Al-Qaeda meeting together.
The meetings ended on January 8. Azzawi returned to work for two days thereafter, and then disappeared. This strongly indicates that the purpose of his placement at the airport was to participate in this meeting. He was arrested six days after 9/11 in Qatar, where he was found with the contact information for top Al-Qaeda members including the brother of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He also had the contact information for the brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, the bomb-maker for the 1993 World Trade Center attack, who was harbored in Iraq. Significantly, Azzawi was called in 1993 from the safehouse where that attack was planned. After his release from Qatar, Azzawi was detained in Jordan on the way to Iraq. He was interviewed by the CIA, which determined that he had been trained in how to resist interrogation. He was released in Jordan under pressure from the Iraqi government.
One point that is often missed in the debate over Saddam Hussein’s terror connections is the fact that his regime was the only one to not condemn the 9/11 attacks and the only one to publicly celebrate them. It would have been grossly negligent and irresponsible for the U.S. to not focus on removing a state sponsor of terrorism that honored the 9/11 attacks, trained terrorists to commit further attacks, had a track record that gave every indication of future aggression.
The legacy of the invasion of Iraq will be debated for quite some time, but this new information makes clear that it is a mistake to depict the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime as benign and tolerable.
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