Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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March 28, 2003

Strategic Trends in Iraq War Show Coalition Success and Concerns; Linkages Between Osama bin Laden/al-Qaida and Iraq Outlined

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. Some identifiable strategic patterns had emerged in the US-led Coalition war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein had, by March 27, 2003. These include:

It was the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegations which prompted UN actions, and which led to the deployment of weapons inspectors under Dr Hans Blix. It was clear, however, that Dr Blix had no real weapons experience, and that he was also committed to ensuring that he would not be the individual who would be responsible for triggering a war. Thus, the involvement of Dr Blix served only to obfuscate, rather than clarify, the issue. Quite apart from the underlying concerns of Dr Blix’s engagement, the UN inspection team was, during its commitment into Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003, so thoroughly penetrated by Iraqi intelligence services that there could be no element of surprise in the inspections (the US/UK gave them two or three test-cases which failed miserably). Besides, nobody wanted them to succeed: neither the UN (because this would mean war) nor the US (this would open the door to call for a political solution for Saddam now that he was cooperating).

The matter of Iraqi involvement with terrorism, and specifically with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization (which had been responsible for a number of key attacks on the US, including the September 11, 2001, attacks which motivated the US-led “war on terror” and the subsequent attack on Iraq), was something which the US inexplicably failed to adequately address. Significantly, one key al-Qaida terrorist organization, Ansar al-Islam, operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, was responsible for the terrorist bombing which killed Australian television cameraman Paul Moran on March 23, 2003. This organization maintained links with the Iraqi Administration of Saddam Hussein, as noted below. 

As a result of the failure of the US Government to articulate the Iraq-terrorist links, GIS has compiled a basic list of points to show the linkages and and the timeline of the development of the bin Laden-Iraq relations:

1. Doubt continues to be expressed in the international media about the strength of the US’ claim of linkages between the Government of Iraq and terrorism, particularly Iraqi links to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, which has been positively linked with both the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, and to Jamaah Islamiyah (and possibly Laskar Jihad) attacks and planned attacks on Australians in Bali, Singpore and elsewhere. The following is a brief outline on some of the linkages between Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida organization and the Government of Iraq. This is quite apart from the linkages between Iraq and bin Laden in the assassination of Afghan Northern Command leader Gen. Ahmed Shah Massud in the days before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, the use of bin Laden/Palestinian linkages through Iraq to Chechen terrorist/insurgent operations, and so on.

2. Mediated by the Sudanese terrorist and political leader Dr Hassan al-Turabi (Pan-Islamic Movement: PIM), Osama bin Laden himself had contacts with the Iraqis since his arrival in Sudan after the Afghanistan war and up to the major escalation of conflict against the US/West. From the beginning it was a relationship of convenience. There was close cooperation between al-Qaida Deputy Leader (and founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad) Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Iraqis concerning Somalia. In this, negotiations were conducted by Zawahiri, not so much bin Laden directly. Since early 1998, al-Qaida relations have improved dramatically with the Iraqis providing advance training, unique assistance (such as passports and communication), weapons of mass destruction, and, most importantly, cross-border access to Saudi Arabia.

3. Bin Laden provided Islamist operatives and legitimization to Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein. (In this regard, it is recommended that the last three chapters in the book Osama bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, be read; they describe the first phase of these relations. The author, Yossef Bodansky, is the Director of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare, and a key member of the GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs, International Strategic Studies Association team.1) Significantly, Mr Bodansky’s work and that of GIS is based on active HUMINT operations established over 30 years.

4. In August/September 2002, Israel acquired irrefutable evidence that Iraqi Military Intelligence Unit 999 was training bin Laden's operatives with WMD and handing them operational weapons. (Washington is reluctant to go publicly with this evidence because it also implicates Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat while Washington is pushing a "peace process" as a balance to the war on Iraq.) Subsequently, the Russians and the British governments provided independent confirmation. This development — the handing over to bin Laden assets of operational WMD — drove the US Bush Administration into action.

5. The forward basing and active preparations — including testing of the WMD systems — took place in Ansar al-Islam facilities in the north of Iraq. This organization was believed responsible for the martyr bombing of March 23, 2003, which killed Australian television cameraman Paul Moran in Sayed Sidiq, in Northern Iraq. The key to understanding of the Ansar al-Islam is the Summer 2000 campaign against the Kurds. The bin Laden assets deployed hundreds of Afghan (as in Pushtuns) commando to the Ansar area to help the Iraqi special forces as guides in the mountains. Saddam did not forget the favor. Presently, the Iranians are also there as a springboard for expanding Islamist influence. (Significantly, they are using the Turkomans as a bridge to Ankara in order to reach an agreement on respective condominium-type zones of influence).

The following provides a basic — and by no means complete — timeline on Iraq/al-Qaida cooperation:

* 1992 - Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader and number two official in al-Qaida) meet for several days with Iraqi Intelligence agents in Baghdad. An Iraqi, serving with the Taliban and who fled Afghanistan in late 2001 to be captured in Kurdistan, corroborated the meetings.

* 1993 - Formal relations and cooperation between al-Qaida and Iraqi intelligence begins via Sudan and Somalia.

* Summer 1994 - Early, inconclusive contacts on terrorism cooperation in Khartoum (Iraq was represented by its intelligence station chief in Khartoum, Faruq al-Hijazi, who later Deputy Chief of Iraqi Intelligence [Al-Mukhabarat al-'Amma], and subsequently, in 1999, became Iraq’s Ambassador-designate to Turkey). These contacts were initiated through Dr Hassan al-Tourabi of the Pan-Islamic Movement/Islamic National Front. These contacts continued through the mid-1990s.

* Early 1998 - Islamist support for Iraq in response to US and UK aerial bombing of Iraqi targets. Including in establishing Front.

* Spring 1998 - Muhammad abu-Islam and Abdallah Qassim visit Iraq, meet Qusay Saddam Hussein, establish training bases in al-Nasiriyah, Iraq. Beginning of operations into Saudi Arabia.

* Summer 1998 - Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, number two official in al-Qaida, visited Iraq, and met with Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin, who organized “profound” cooperation against US and Saudi Arabia.  

* Summer 1998 - Iraq offers bin Laden shelter.

* Autumn 1998 – Qusay Saddam Hussein’s representatives coordinate strategic cooperation in international terrorism with bin Laden and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan. Subsequent delegations of Iraqi Military Intelligence (Al-Istikhbarat al-'Askariyya) Unit 999 and WMD experts arrive in Afghanistan to assist bin Laden’s forces.

* Winter 1998 – Qusay Saddam Hussein’s confidantes al-Jubburi and al-Shihabi in Afghanistan for coordinating plans for “spectacular” operations to divert US attention away from Pres. Saddam Hussein. After US bombing, the London-based editor of the Arabic newspaper, al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdul Bari Atwan hails cooperation between Saddam and bin Laden.2

* End of 1998 - Faruq al-Hijazi in Qandahar (Afghanistan) to coordinate expansion of cooperation. Iraq provides blank Yemeni passports and other key support via Unit 999. Special training for operations in the West conducted in the Baghdad area, in Salman Pak. Jubburi and Shihabi return to Qandahar. Expansion of camp in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

* January 1999 - Joint activation of logistical and support systems in the West and Far East.

* Spring 1999 - Qusay establishes al-Nidah Islamist terrorist organization for strikes against US objectives in the Gulf. Bin Laden provides help and religious approval.

* Summer 2000 - Ansar al-Islam and hundreds Afghan commando assist Iraqi forces in Kurdistan.

* November 2001 - Taha Hussein in Quetta, Pakistan, and Qandahar, Afghanistan, with Haqqani to offer bin Laden and Omar and al-Qaida leadership shelter in Iraq. Reiteration of commitment to fighting the US.

* Spring 2002 - two senior al-Qaida commanders, Abu-Zubair and Rafid Fatah, in Baghdad to discuss shelter, advanced training and joint operations.

* Summer 2002 - Abu-Mussab Zarqawi in Baghdad, coordination with Unit 999 and Congress of Arab Popular Forces.

* September 2002 - Israel arrests Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) members trained by Unit 999 in Salman Pak with bin Laden’s trainees across the fence. Joint testing/training on chemical weapons (CW) in Halabja (Iraqi Kurdistan) along with Ansar al-Islam. Islamist teams then dispatched to Turkey, Chechnya.


1. See also: Bodansky, Yossef: The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism. Roseville, California, 2002: Prime Publishing.

2. Note that the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s The World Today program of Thursday, February  6, 2003, conducted an interview with Atwan as though he was a representative voice of the moderate Muslim community, when in fact he has been a key voice of the radical Islamists supporting bin Laden.