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Iraq now and in the near future


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This is another Stratfor special and provides their opinion of the current and
near future situation in Iraq from a US perspective.  It certainly makes
one think of what may happen next and points out the challenges
facing the Bush Administration.


Facing Realities in Iraq
December 30, 2004 1840 GMT

By George Friedman

On May 17, 2004, Stratfor published a piece entitled "Iraq: New Strategies."
In a rare moment of advocacy ( http://www.stratfor.biz/Story.neo?storyId=232011 ),
we argued that the war in Iraq had evolved to a point where the United States
was unlikely to be able to suppress the insurgency.

We argued then that, "The United States must begin by recognizing that it
cannot possibly pacify Iraq with the force available or, for that matter,
with a larger military force. It can continue to patrol, it can continue to
question people, it can continue to take casualties. However, it can never
permanently defeat the guerrilla forces in the Sunni triangle using this
strategy. It certainly cannot displace the power and authority of the Shiite
leadership in the south. Urban warfare and counterinsurgency in the Iraqi
environment cannot be successful."

We did not and do not agree with the view that the invasion of Iraq was a
mistake. It had a clear strategic purpose that it achieved: reshaping the
behavior of surrounding regimes, particularly of the Saudis. This helped
disrupt the al Qaeda network sufficiently that it has been unable to mount
follow-on attacks in the United States and has shifted its attention to the
Islamic world, primarily to the Saudis. None of this would have happened
without the invasion of Iraq.

As frequently happens in warfare, the primary strategic purpose of the war
has been forgotten by the Bush administration. Mission creep, the nightmare
of all military planners, has taken place. The United States has shifted its
focus from coercing neighboring countries into collaborating with the United
States against al Qaeda, to building democracy in Iraq. As we put it in May:
"The United States must recall its original mission, which was to occupy Iraq
in order to prosecute the war against al Qaeda. If that mission is
remembered, and the mission creep of reshaping Iraq forgotten, some obvious
strategic solutions re-emerge. The first, and most important, is that the
United States has no national interest in the nature of Iraqi government or
society. Except for not supporting al Qaeda, Iraq's government does not

Most comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam are superficial and some are absurd, but
one lesson is entirely relevant to Iraq. In Vietnam, the United States
attempted to simultaneously re-engineer Vietnamese society and wage a
counterinsurgency campaign. That proved impossible. The United States is
attempting to do precisely that again in Iraq. It will fail again for the
same reason: The goals are inherently contradictory.

Creating democracy in Iraq requires that democratic institutions be created.
That is an abstract, bloodless way of putting it. The reality is that Iraqis
must be recruited to serve in these institutions, from the army and police to
social services. Obviously, these people become targets for the guerrillas
and the level of intimidation is massive. These officials -- caught between
the power of U.S. forces and the guerrillas -- are hardly in a position to
engage in nation building. They are happy to survive, if they choose to
remain at their posts.

Even this is not the central problem. In order to build these institutions,
Iraqis will have to be recruited. It is impossible to distinguish between
Iraqis committed to the American project, Iraqis who are opportunists and
Iraqis who are jihadists sent by guerrilla intelligence services to penetrate
the new institutions. Corruption aside, every one of the institutions is full
of jihadist agents, who are there to spy and disrupt.

This has a direct military consequence. The goal of the Untied States in
Vietnam was, and now in Iraq is, to shift the war-fighting burden -- in this
case from U.S. forces to the Iraqis. This can never happen. The Iraqi army,
like the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, is filled with guerrilla
operatives. If the United States mounts joint operations with the Iraqis, the
guerrillas will know about it during the planning stages. If the United
States fights alone, it will be more effective, but the Iraqi army will never
develop. For the United States, it is a question of heads you win, tails I

The United States cannot win the intelligence war on the ground level. Its
operations to penetrate the guerrillas depend on Iraqis working with the
United States and these operations will be quickly compromised. The
guerrillas on the other hand cannot be rooted out of the Iraqi military and
intelligence organs because they cannot be distinguished from other Iraqis.
Some will be captured. Many might be captured. But all of them cannot be
captured and therefore no effective allied force can be created in Iraq. This
was the center of gravity of the problem in Vietnam, the problem that
destroyed Vietnamization. It is the center of gravity of the problem in Iraq.

Missed Opportunities

There were two points where the problem could have been solved. Had the
United States acted vigorously in May and June 2003, there is a chance that
the guerrilla force would have been so disrupted it could never have been
born. U.S. intelligence, however, failed to recognize the guerrilla threat
and Donald Rumsfeld in particular was slow to react. By the summer of 2003,
the situation was out of hand.

There was a second point where effective action might have been fruitful,
which was in the period after the Ramadan offensive of October-November 2003,
when Saddam Hussein was captured, and the beginning of the April 2004
offensives in Al Fallujah and the Muqtada al-Sadr rising. Those four months
were wasted in diffused action in several areas, rather than in a concerted
effort to turn Sunni elders against the guerrillas.

It is interesting to note that the attempt to break the Sunni guerrillas in a
systematic way did not begin until November 2004, with the attack against Al
Fallujah and an attempt to co-opt the Sunni elders. For a while it looked
like it might just work. It didn't. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's jihadists had
become too strong and too well organized. Whatever inroads were made among
the Sunni elders was blocked by al-Zarqawi's ability to carry out reprisals.
The Sunnis were locked into place.

The U.S. military is now carrying out an impossible mission. It is trying to
suppress a well-organized guerrilla force using primarily U.S. troops whose
intelligence about the enemy is severely limited by language and cultural
barriers that cannot be solved by recruiting Iraqis to serve as intelligence
aides. The United States either operates blind or compromises its security.

Unless the Iraqi guerrillas are not only throwing all of their strength into
this offensive, but also using up their strength in a non-renewable fashion,
the Jan. 30 elections will not be the end of the guerrilla war. There will be
a lull in guerrilla operations -- guerrillas have to rest, recruit and
resupply like anyone else -- but after a few months, another offensive will
be launched. There is, therefore, no possibility that the Sunni guerrilla
movement will be suppressed unless there is a dramatic change in the
political landscape of the Sunni community.

There is one bit of good fortune that arises out of another of Rumsfeld's
failures. His failure to listen to Gen. Erik Shinseki's warnings about the
size of the force that would be needed in Iraq after the war meant that the
U.S. force structure was never expanded appropriately. In most instances,
this is a terrible failing. However, in this case, it has an unexpectedly
positive consequence. We do not doubt for a moment that Rumsfeld would throw
in more forces if he had them. They would not solve the problem in any way
and would add additional targets for the guerrillas. But Rumsfeld doesn't
have the needed forces, so he can't send them in.

Facing the Facts

The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight
the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that
didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the
guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker
out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is
not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize
these facts:

1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will
infiltrate every institution it creates.

2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to
fight an effective counterinsurgency.

3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment
generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal.

4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to
opportunities and threats in the rest of the region.

And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon
as possible.

This does not mean strategic defeat -- unless the strategic goal is the
current inflated one of creating a democratic Iraq. Under the original
strategic goal of changing the behavior of other countries in the region, the
United States has already obtained strategic success. Indeed, to the extent
that the United States is being drained and exhausted in Iraq, the strategic
goal is actually being undermined.

We assert two principles:

1. The internal governance -- or non-governance -- of Iraq is neither a
fundamental American national interest nor is it something that can be shaped
by the United States even if it were a national interest.

2. The United States does require a major presence in Iraq because of that
country's strategic position in the region.

It is altogether possible for the United States to accept the first principle
yet pursue the second. The geography of Iraq -- the distribution of the
population -- is such that the United States can maintain a major presence in
Iraq without, for the most part, being based in the populated regions and
therefore without being responsible for the security of Iraq -- let alone
responsible its form of government.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces west and south of the Euphrates and in an arc
north to the Turkish border and into Kurdistan would provide the United
States with the same leverage in the region, without the unsustainable cost
of the guerrilla war. The Saudis, Syrians and Iranians would still have U.S.
forces on their borders, this time not diluted by a hopeless pacification

Something like this will have to happen. After the January elections, there
will be a Shiite government in Baghdad. There will be, in all likelihood,
civil war between Sunnis and Shia. The United States cannot stop it and
cannot be trapped in the middle of it. It needs to withdraw.

Certainly, it would have been nice for the United States if it had been able
to dominate Iraq thoroughly. Somewhere between "the U.S. blew it" and "there
was never a chance" that possibility is gone. It would have been nice if the
United States had never tried to control the situation, because now the U.S.
is going to have to accept a defeat, which will destabilize the region
psychologically for a while. But what is is, and the facts speak for

We are not Walter Cronkite, and we are not saying that the war is lost. The
war is with the jihadists around the world; Iraq was just one campaign, and
the occupation of the Sunnis was just one phase of that campaign. That phase
has been lost. The administration has allowed that phase to become the war as
a whole in the public mind. That was a very bad move, but the administration
is just going to have to bite the bullet and do the hard, painful and
embarrassing work of cutting losses and getting on with the war.

If Bush has trouble doing this, he should conjure up Lyndon Johnson's ghost,
wandering restlessly in the White House, and imagine how Johnson would have
been remembered if he had told Robert McNamara to get lost in 1966.

(c) 2004 Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All rights reserved.



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I think there is some over-simplification going on here. IMHO the US cannot simply abandon the fight it is now in: it is  almost impossible that such an action, (or the proposed withdrawal to the less-inhabited areas of the country), would not be seen as a defeat or at least as a major setback. IMHO this perception would exist in Iraq, in the region, in the rest of the world, and perhaps most importantly in the minds of the US electorate. It is hard to imagine otherwise. 

The US is caught in midstream: they will get just as wet going back as they will going forward, but if they go back the difference is that they might have to start all over. I also wonder how one proposes to exert any useful influence on a nation without controlling its economic and population centres. What good does occupying a bunch of rural area do, unless you are a guerilla in the early stages of revolutionary war? The Americans have just spent the last few years telling the world's military studies community about the vital importance of urban areas. What now? Forget all that?

The assertion that the type of government does not matter is also a simplification. While perhaps it is strictly true that the "type" of government does not matter (the nature of a govt has not traditionally deterred the US, or any other power, from making friends to suit purposes...), but rather the orientation of the govt. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that any benefit would accrue to the US (or its regional friends...) through the emergence of a violently unfriendly fundamentalist Iraq government (be it a monarchy, dictatorship or republic...) that was opposed to a US presence on its soil or in the region.

No: I think the US will have to see this through to the end, and before the situation begins to degenerate to the point that folks in the States, who now support the Iraq policy, will begin to see spectres of Vietnam. The country is an artificial invention of the British and probably never had any potential to be a unified peaceful democracy, but be that as it may the tiger has been seized by the tail and must be killed. Cheers.


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pbi you must admit they cocked up big time?
As I was taught and you also " Piss Poor Preparation makes for Piss Poor Performance"



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Hardly.  What's the death rate in Iraq right now?  The murder rate in the US is a heck of a lot higher than the rate of American deaths in Iraq.  They didn't "cock up" anything.  It's a work in progress.


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'It's one big shit sandwhich and we're all going to hafto take a bite out of it'

Iraq will be a center of topic for years to come with many nations taken part in peacekeeping once that finally get up and going.


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Spr.Earl said:
pbi you must admit they cocked up big time?
As I was taught and you also " Piss Poor Preparation makes for Piss Poor Performance"

I'm not sure what you mean here. If you mean that their political leadership underestimated what it would take to get full control of the situation, I tend to agree with you. If, on the other hand, you mean that the US military did not give it their best shot then I disagree. On top of that, the courage and fighting spirit of Marines and soldiers in places like Fallujah is beyond any question: they are giving it all they have. Cheers.


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The war in Iraq is a campaign in the Global War on Terrorism (in my opinion). It is normal that mistakes are made at the early stages of a conflict. History shows us that; take WWII for example: mistakes were made in the planning of the defence of Hong Kong and the raid on Dieppe to name a couple. Things only started to turn around in 1943 with the Italian campaign. Then after nearly 5 years of "trial and error", they were able to mount the Big One on D-Day.
The same thing is probably happening now, with commanders relearning the art of war in this new conflict.


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Its seems the US has made definite strategic gains over the course but
maintaining the same level of operations and tactics will be a difficult challenge for
a while to   come.   Considering a possible Iraqi civil war if elections are contentious
and the problems of troop rotations, the US may have to re-evaluate their
situation.   It will be interesting to see what happens after the Iraqi elections.


The war in Iraq is a campaign in the Global War on Terrorism

No it is not. A northern non-Saddam controlled region of the country had terrorists. Saddam had no Al qauda connections, in fact its exactly the opposite. You have to understand that dictators will do what ever it takes to keep power and won't risk it wall on stupid terrorist allies. War on Terrorism in Iraq was just the excuse the States needed to keep the uninformed American public from ripping them apart after the WMD thing.

Happy New Year  :cdn:


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Stephen Hayes has just released a book that documents the connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Believe whatever you want....


The Connection
From the June 7, 2004 issue: Not so long ago, the ties between Iraq and al Qaeda were conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom was right.
by Stephen F. Hayes
06/07/2004, Volume 009, Issue 37
From The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America
by Stephen F. Hayes.

"THE PRESIDENT CONVINCED THE COUNTRY with a mixture of documents that turned out to be forged and blatantly false assertions that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda," claimed former Vice President Al Gore last Wednesday.

"There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever," declared Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism official under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in an interview on March 21, 2004.

The editor of the Los Angeles Times labeled as "myth" the claim that links between Iraq and al Qaeda had been proved. A recent dispatch from Reuters simply asserted, "There is no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda." 60 Minutes anchor Lesley Stahl was equally certain: "There was no connection."

And on it goes. This conventional wisdom--that our two most determined enemies were not in league, now or ever--is comforting. It is also wrong.

In late February 2004, Christopher Carney made an astonishing discovery. Carney, a political science professor from Pennsylvania on leave to work at the Pentagon, was poring over a list of officers in Saddam Hussein's much-feared security force, the Fedayeen Saddam. One name stood out: Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. The name was not spelled exactly as Carney had seen it before, but such discrepancies are common. Having studied the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda for 18 months, he immediately recognized the potential significance of his find. According to a report

last week in the Wall Street Journal, Shakir appears on three different lists of Fedayeen officers.

An Iraqi of that name, Carney knew, had been present at an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on January 5-8, 2000. U.S. intelligence officials believe this was a chief planning meeting for the September 11 attacks. Shakir had been nominally employed as a "greeter" by Malaysian Airlines, a job he told associates he had gotten through a contact at the Iraqi embassy. More curious, Shakir's Iraqi embassy contact controlled his schedule, telling him when to show up for work and when to take a day off.

A greeter typically meets VIPs upon arrival and accompanies them through the sometimes onerous procedures of foreign travel. Shakir was instructed to work on January 5, 2000, and on that day, he escorted one Khalid al Mihdhar from his plane to a waiting car. Rather than bid his guest farewell at that point, as a greeter typically would have, Shakir climbed into the car with al Mihdhar and accompanied him to the Kuala Lumpur condominium of Yazid Sufaat, the American-born al Qaeda terrorist who hosted the planning meeting.

The meeting lasted for three days. Khalid al Mihdhar departed Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok and eventually Los Angeles. Twenty months later, he was aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it plunged into the Pentagon at 9:38 A.M. on September 11. So were Nawaf al Hazmi and his younger brother, Salem, both of whom were also present at the Kuala Lumpur meeting.

Six days after September 11, Shakir was captured in Doha, Qatar. He had in his possession contact information for several senior al Qaeda terrorists: Zahid Sheikh Mohammed, brother of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, the Iraqi who helped mix the chemicals for the first World Trade Center attack and was given safe haven upon his return to Baghdad; and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, otherwise known as Abu Hajer al Iraqi, described by one top al Qaeda detainee as Osama bin Laden's "best friend."

Despite all of this, Shakir was released. On October 21, 2001, he boarded a plane for Baghdad, via Amman, Jordan. He never made the connection. Shakir was detained by Jordanian intelligence. Immediately following his capture, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on Shakir, the Iraqi government began exerting pressure on the Jordanians to release him. Some U.S. intelligence officials--primarily at the CIA--believed that Iraq's demand for Shakir's release was pro forma, no different from the requests governments regularly make on behalf of citizens detained by foreign governments. But others, pointing to the flurry of phone calls and personal appeals from the Iraqi government to the Jordanians, disagreed. This panicked reaction, they said, reflected an interest in Shakir at the highest levels of Saddam Hussein's regime.

CIA officials who interviewed Shakir in Jordan reported that he was generally uncooperative. But even in refusing to talk, he provided some important information: The interrogators concluded that his evasive answers reflected counterinterrogation techniques so sophisticated

that he had probably learned them from a government intelligence service. Shakir's Iraqi nationality, his contacts with the Iraqi embassy in Malaysia, the keen interest of Baghdad in his case, and now the appearance of his name on the rolls of Fedayeen officers--all this makes the Iraqi intelligence service the most likely source of his training.

The Jordanians, convinced that Shakir worked for Iraqi intelligence, went to the CIA with a bold proposal: Let's flip him. That is, the Jordanians would allow Shakir to return to Iraq on condition that he agree to report back on the activities of Iraqi intelligence. And, in one of the most egregious mistakes by U.S. intelligence after September 11, the CIA agreed to Shakir's release. He posted a modest bail and returned to Iraq.

He hasn't been heard from since.

The Shakir story is perhaps the government's strongest indication that Saddam and al Qaeda may have worked together on September 11. It is far from conclusive; conceivably there were two Ahmed Hikmat Shakirs. And in itself, the evidence does not show that Saddam Hussein personally had foreknowledge of the attacks. Still--like the long, on-again-off-again relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda--it cannot be dismissed.

THERE WAS A TIME not long ago when the conventional wisdom skewed heavily toward a Saddam-al Qaeda links. In 1998 and early 1999, the Iraq-al Qaeda connection was widely reported in the American and international media. Former intelligence officers and government officials speculated about the relationship and its dangerous implications for the world. The information in the news reports came from foreign and domestic intelligence services. It was featured in mainstream media outlets including international wire services, prominent newsweeklies, and network radio and television broadcasts.

Newsweek magazine ran an article in its January 11, 1999, issue headed "Saddam + Bin Laden?" "Here's what is known so far," it read:

Saddam Hussein, who has a long record of supporting terrorism, is trying to rebuild his intelligence network overseas--assets that would allow him to establish a terrorism network. U.S. sources say he is reaching out to Islamic terrorists, including some who may be linked to Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi exile accused of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa last summer.

Four days later, on January 15, 1999, ABC News reported that three intelligence agencies believed that Saddam had offered asylum to bin Laden:

Intelligence sources say bin Laden's long relationship with the Iraqis began as he helped Sudan's fundamentalist government in their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. . . . ABC News has learned that in December, an Iraqi intelligence chief named Faruq Hijazi, now Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden. Three intelligence agencies tell ABC News they cannot be certain what was discussed, but almost certainly, they say, bin Laden has been told he would be welcome in Baghdad.

NPR reporter Mike Shuster interviewed Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, and offered this report:

Iraq's contacts with bin Laden go back some years, to at least 1994, when, according to one U.S. government source, Hijazi met him when bin Laden lived in Sudan. According to Cannistraro, Iraq invited bin Laden to live in Baghdad to be nearer to potential targets of terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. . . . Some experts believe bin Laden might be tempted to live in Iraq because of his reported desire to obtain chemical or biological weapons. CIA Director George Tenet referred to that in recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee when he said bin Laden was planning additional attacks on American targets.

By mid-February 1999, journalists did not even feel the need to qualify these claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. An Associated Press dispatch that ran in the Washington Post ended this way: "The Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered asylum to bin Laden, who openly supports Iraq against Western powers."

Where did journalists get the idea that Saddam and bin Laden might be coordinating efforts? Among other places, from high-ranking Clinton administration officials.

In the spring of 1998--well before the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa--the Clinton administration indicted Osama bin Laden. The indictment, unsealed a few months later, prominently cited al Qaeda's agreement to collaborate with Iraq on weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton Justice Department had been concerned about negative public reaction to its potentially capturing bin Laden without "a vehicle for extradition," official paperwork charging him with a crime. It was "not an afterthought" to include the al Qaeda-Iraq connection in the indictment, says an official familiar with the deliberations. "It couldn't have gotten into the indictment unless someone was willing to testify to it under oath." The Clinton administration's indictment read unequivocally:

Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq.

On August 7, 1998, al Qaeda terrorists struck almost simultaneously at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The blasts killed 257 people--including 12 Americans--and wounded nearly 5,000. The Clinton administration determined within five days that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks and moved swiftly to retaliate. One of the targets would be in Afghanistan. But the Clinton national security team wanted to strike hard simultaneously, much as the terrorists had. "The decision to go to [Sudan] was an add-on," says a senior intelligence officer involved in the targeting. "They wanted a dual strike."

A small group of Clinton administration officials, led by CIA director George Tenet and national security adviser Sandy Berger, reviewed a number of al Qaeda-linked targets in Sudan. Although bin Laden had left the African nation two years earlier, U.S. officials believed that he was still deeply involved in the Sudanese government-run Military Industrial Corporation (MIC).

The United States retaliated on August 20, 1998, striking al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant outside Khartoum. "Let me be very clear about this," said President Bill Clinton, addressing the nation after the strikes. "There is no question in my mind that the Sudanese factory was producing chemicals that are used--and can be used--in VX gas. This was a plant that was producing chemical warfare-related weapons, and we have physical evidence of that."

The physical evidence was a soil sample containing EMPTA, a precursor for VX nerve gas. Almost immediately, the decision to strike at al Shifa aroused controversy. U.S. officials expressed skepticism that the plant produced pharmaceuticals at all, but reporters on the ground in Sudan found aspirin bottles and a variety of other indications that the plant had, in fact, manufactured drugs. For journalists and many at the CIA, the case was hardly clear-cut. For one thing, the soil sample was collected from outside the plant's front gate, not within the grounds, and an internal CIA memo issued a month before the attacks had recommended gathering additional soil samples from the site before reaching any conclusions. "It caused a lot of heartburn at the agency," recalls a former top intelligence official.

The Clinton administration sought to dispel doubts about the targeting and, on August 24, 1998, made available a "senior intelligence official" to brief reporters on background. The briefer cited "strong ties between the plant and Iraq" as one of the justifications for attacking it. The next day, undersecretary of state for political affairs Thomas Pickering briefed reporters at the National Press Club. Pickering explained that the intelligence community had been monitoring the plant for "at least two years," and that the evidence was "quite clear on contacts between Sudan and Iraq." In all, at least six top Clinton administration officials have defended on the record the strikes in Sudan by citing a link to Iraq.

The Iraqis, of course, denied any involvement. "The Clinton government has fabricated yet another lie to the effect that Iraq had helped Sudan produce this chemical weapon," declared the political editor of Radio Iraq. Still, even as Iraq denied helping Sudan and al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction, the regime lauded Osama bin Laden. On August 27, 1998, 20 days after al Qaeda attacked the U.S. embassies in Africa, Babel, the government newspaper run by Saddam's son Uday Hussein, published an editorial proclaiming bin Laden "an Arab and Islamic hero."

Five months later, the same Richard Clarke who would one day claim that there was "absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever," told the Washington Post that the U.S. government was "sure" that Iraq was behind the production of the chemical weapons precursor at the al Shifa plant. "Clarke said U.S. intelligence does not know how much of the substance was produced at al Shifa or what happened to it," wrote Post reporter Vernon Loeb, in an article published January 23, 1999. "But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to al Shifa's current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts, and the National Islamic Front in Sudan."

Later in 1999, the Congressional Research Service published a report on the psychology of terrorism. The report created a stir in May 2002 when critics of President Bush cited it to suggest that his administration should have given more thought to suicide hijackings. On page 7 of the 178-page document was a passage about a possible al Qaeda attack on Washington, D.C., that "could take several forms." In one scenario, "suicide bombers belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the White House."

A network anchor wondered if it was possible that the White House had somehow missed the report. A senator cited it in calling for an investigation into the 9/11 attacks. A journalist read excerpts to the secretary of defense and raised a familiar question: "What did you know and when did you know it?"

But another passage of the same report has gone largely unnoticed. Two paragraphs before, also on page 7, is this: "If Iraq's Saddam Hussein decide to use terrorists to attack the continental United States [he] would likely turn to bin Laden's al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is among the Islamic groups recruiting increasingly skilled professionals," including "Iraqi chemical weapons experts and others capable of helping to develop WMD. Al Qaeda poses the most serious terrorist threat to U.S. security interests, for al Qaeda's well-trained terrorists are engaged in a terrorist jihad against U.S. interests worldwide."

CIA director George Tenet echoed these sentiments in a letter to Congress on October 7, 2002:

--Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.

--We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.

--Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.

--Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

--We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

--Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action.

Tenet has never backed away from these assessments. Senator Mark Dayton, a Democrat from Minnesota, challenged him on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection in an exchange before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9, 2004. Tenet reiterated his judgment that there had been numerous "contacts" between Iraq and al Qaeda, and that in the days before the war the Iraqi regime had provided "training and safe haven" to al Qaeda associates, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi. What the U.S. intelligence community could not claim was that the Iraqi regime had "command and control" over al Qaeda terrorists. Still, said Tenet, "it was inconceivable to me that Zarqawi and two dozen [Egyptian Islamic Jihad] operatives could be operating in Baghdad without Iraq knowing."

SO WHAT should Washington do now? The first thing the Bush administration should do is create a team of intelligence experts--or preferably competing teams, each composed of terrorism experts and forensic investigators--to explore the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. For more than a year, the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group has investigated the nature and scope of Iraq's program to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. At various times in its brief history, a small subgroup of ISG investigators (never more than 15 people) has looked into Iraqi connections with al Qaeda. This is not enough.

Despite the lack of resources devoted to Iraq-al Qaeda connections, the Iraq Survey Group has obtained some interesting new information. In the spring of 1992, according to Iraqi Intelligence documents obtained by the ISG after the war, Osama bin Laden met with Iraqi Intelligence officials in Syria. A second document, this one captured by the Iraqi National Congress and authenticated by the Defense Intelligence Agency, then listed bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence "asset" who "is in good relationship with our section in Syria." A third Iraqi Intelligence document, this one an undated internal memo, discusses strategy for an upcoming meeting between Iraqi Intelligence, bin Laden, and a representative of the Taliban. On the agenda: "attacking American targets." This seems significant.

A second critical step would be to declassify as much of the Iraq-al Qaeda intelligence as possible. Those skeptical of any connection claim that any evidence of a relationship must have been "cherry picked" from much larger piles of existing intelligence that makes these Iraq-al Qaeda links less compelling. Let's see it all, or as much of it as can be disclosed without compromising sources and methods.

Among the most important items to be declassified: the Iraq Survey Group documents discussed above; any and all reporting and documentation--including photographs--pertaining to Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi and alleged Saddam Fedayeen officer present at the September 11 planning meeting; interview transcripts with top Iraqi intelligence officers, al Qaeda terrorists, and leaders of al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al Islam; documents recovered in postwar Iraq indicating that Abdul Rahman Yasin, the Iraqi who has admitted mixing the chemicals for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was given safe haven and financial support by the Iraqi regime upon returning to Baghdad two weeks after the attack; any and all reporting and documentation--including photographs--related to Mohammed Atta's visits to Prague; portions of the debriefings of Faruq Hijazi, former deputy director of Iraqi intelligence, who met personally with bin Laden at least twice, and an evaluation of his credibility.

It is of course important for the Bush administration and CIA director George Tenet to back up their assertions of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. Similarly, declassifying intelligence from the 1990s might shed light on why top Clinton officials were adamant about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection in Sudan and why the Clinton Justice Department included the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship in its 1998 indictment of Osama bin Laden. More specifically, what intelligence did Richard Clarke see that allowed him to tell the Washington Post that the U.S. government was "sure" Iraq had provided a chemical weapons precursor to the al Qaeda-linked al Shifa facility in Sudan? What would compel former secretary of defense William Cohen to tell the September 11 Commission, under oath, that an executive from the al Qaeda-linked plant "traveled to Baghdad to meet with the father of the VX [nerve gas] program"? And why did Thomas Pickering, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, tell reporters, "We see evidence that we think is quite clear on contacts between Sudan and Iraq. In fact, al Shifa officials, early in the company's history, we believe were in touch with Iraqi individuals associated with Iraq's VX program"? Other Clinton administration figures, including a "senior intelligence official" who briefed reporters on background, cited telephone intercepts between a plant manager and Emad al Ani, the father of Iraq's chemical weapons program.

We have seen important elements of the pre-September 11 intelligence available to the Bush administration; it's time for the American public to see more of the intelligence on Iraq and al Qaeda from the 1990s, especially the reporting about the August 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and the U.S. counterstrikes two weeks later.

Until this material is declassified, there will be gaps in our knowledge. Indeed, even after the full record is made public, some uncertainties will no doubt remain.

The connection between Saddam and al Qaeda isn't one of them.



Peace_Keeper said:
The war in Iraq is a campaign in the Global War on Terrorism

No it is not. A northern non-Saddam controlled region of the country had terrorists. Saddam had no Al qauda connections, in fact its exactly the opposite. You have to understand that dictators will do what ever it takes to keep power and won't risk it wall on stupid terrorist allies. War on Terrorism in Iraq was just the excuse the States needed to keep the uninformed American public from ripping them apart after the WMD thing.

Happy New Year :cdn:

obviously you arent following it very closely.The initial reasons for invasion are irrellevant now, its already happened and is done with.The present issue is that there is a conflict there now, and the 'insurgents' are highly organized and are enemies of the United States, and anyone that befriends them.They kill their own citizens for talking to US troops.
They also call themselves Al-Qaeda In Iraq led by Al-Zarqawi.
If the states were just in there goofing around i could see your point, but its full of fighters now, and has become an icon over the war on terror itself.If the US were to lose control and be forced out of Iraq, it would deal a major blow to the efforts against terrorists, and morale and recruiting for Al-Qaeda would skyrocket.