Wednesday, December 27, 2006

al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection?

Many have dismissed out of hand the information that Stephen Hayes has compiled in his book, The Connection as blatherings based almost entirely on a leaked, highly classified memo from Douglas Feith of the Defense Department. In truth, the allegations in the book are based on much more, and it is disingenuous and dangerous to dismiss them so simplistically and uncritically.

Read Part 2 of this series: "al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection? Clinton Says Yes".

The fact that Abu Musab al Zarqawi found sanctuary in Iraq makes it clear that Iraq and al Qaeda have some sort of a working relationship. It stands to reason that there might just be more to this story...

In its critique of Stephen F. Hayes book, The Connection, Media Matters suggests that the book is based almost entirely on a 16-page, highly classified memo that was (illegally?) leaked by Under-secretary of Defense Douglas Feith to Hayes. The Media Matters analysis also implies that Hayes could not be an expert on the subject that he writes about. In point of fact, the book:

is based on several trips to the Middle East; three to Iraq. It draws on sources built in that time, and includes hundreds of interviews with former Iraqi military officers; Iraqi immigrants to the United States; senior officials in the new Iraqi government, in Europe, and in the Middle East; current and former U.S. intelligence officials; soldiers and officers in the U.S. military; and senior policy makers in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Hayes' book suspiciously has no foot- or endnotes. It does claim, however, that "much of the information...comes from 'open sources.' So I set out to confirm or deny those open sources.

The first chapter of the book discusses an admittedly obscure figure, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," says the saying. It is not at all improbable that two individuals, Bin Laden and Hussein, could have had a relationship of general hatred except in those cases where they shared a mutual enemy. In 1998, the Clinton administration stated that Iraq posed a threat as a "rogue state with weapons of mass destruction" who appeared ready to use them. Within the week, Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa against America, claiming that because of their continuing aggression against the people of Iraq, all Americans should be killed.

Although the claim has engendered a large amount of controversy, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir possibly facilitated collaboration between al Qaeda and Iraq. It has become a sacrosanct tenet of George W. Bush's American detractors that "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever," as Richard Clarke put it. In an effort to maintain public respect for this allegation, it seems paramount that the story of Ahmed Shakir be thoroughly discredited. In an effort to dismiss what turns out to be some very interesting reportage on the part of Hayes, Media Matters attempts such an impetuous dismissal of Hayes claim as that "the story was most likely the result of 'confusion over names.' "

Here are some of the statements that Hayes makes about Shakir in chapter one of The Connection:

1. Shakir told co-workers that he had been hired by "a contact in the Iraqi embassy." The Iraqi embassy figure told him when to report to work and when not to. (p. 1)

Global security reports, among other things, on who may have been the embassy contact.

2. Shakir met and escorted Khalid al Mihdhar in Malaysia on January 5, 2000, to the home of al Qaeda member, Yazid Sufaat. Malaysian intelligence followed Shakir and al Mihdhar and photographed their adventure. al Mihdhar was later determined to be one of the hijackers of American Airlines flight 77 that struck the Pentagon on 9/11. (pp. 3-4)

Here's what McClatchy newspapers reported around that time.

Cooperative Research lists news stories that discuss Shakir's possible meetings with al Qaeda and his associations with al Mihdhar.

3. Shakir knew and had worked with Zahid Sheik Mohammed and Musab Yasin, brothers of the masterminds of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His phone contained the number of Abu Hajer al Iraqi, an original member of al Qaeda.

The above Cooperative Research link delves into these possibilities as well.

4. On October 21, 2001, Shakir boarded a plane for Iraq, but was detained in Amman, Jordan by Jordanian intelligence. Immediately thereafter, a flurry of communications, originating from inside the Iraqi government, sought to obtain his release.

NewsMax explains how and why Shakir was eventually released.

5. Jordanian intelligence concluded that Shakir's embassy contact in Malaysia worked for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, and that it was highly likely that Shakir was working for IIS as well.

Not all of this information may be accurate, but it is compelling. Hayes even admits that it does not necessarily prove that Iraq and al Qaeda worked together to plan and conduct the 9/11 attacks. But for someone who is not hell-bent on claiming that George W. Bush is a fraud and that we had no business invading Iraq, it seems that the information in Hayes' book bears the need for a great deal of study.
Read Part 2 of this series: "al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection? Clinton Says Yes".


Rich Warnick said...

Surely everyone knows that Zarqawi was in northern Iraq with Ansar al-Islam, outside the control of Saddam's government. There was no cooperation.

Also, prior to 2003 President Bush twice rejected plans to take out Zarqawi's base. The Bush administration was worried that such action would undermine their case for invading Iraq.

Frank Staheli said...


You've responded to but a small aside in my post.

I'd be interested about what you think about what I've found in Hayes' book so far, and in particular about the 5 points I've listed about Ahmed Shakir.

Rich Warnick said...

Frank, the Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi story was debunked years ago. The guy in Kuala Lumpur wasn't working for Saddam, he just had a similar name.

Frank Staheli said...

In the very article you quote, there is some controversy over Shakir. An official who refused to be named told two of the greatest anti-Bushies at NY Times that there was some confusion.

An official who didn't refuse to be named (Lehman) said that there is good indication that they are the same guy.

I don't see how you can consider that a closed case.

What about the 5 points I bring up? Especially what Jordanian intelligence believed? Unless they were strong-armed by the US (which doesn't seem likely, because the CIA said 'Let him go.') the Bush administration had excellent reason to believe that this was a strong link.

Kari said...

I found an article written by Mr. Hayes from Sept. 2005 that addresses Shakir and what information was out there about him (as of Sept. 2005) that the 9/11 commission did not add into their report.

I found that rather interesting.

Frank Staheli said...


I'll look into it. There may be little or nothing to the Shakir story, but as of this point it seems to me there is. And shortly after 9/11 there definitely was.

What frustrates me is how people inimical to George Bush don't play fair with the facts, and try to dismiss people like Hayes as nothing more than shysters when the reality is much more detailed.

I'll spend some time in an upcoming post detailing how they've branded Dick Cheney. I don't have any particular love for Cheney, but I also believe in fairness when it comes to reporting the news.

Rich Warnick said...

I consider the Azzawi case closed because the 9/11 Commission, of which Lehman was a member, concluded there was no cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Read the 9/11 Commission Report. Please.

Frank Staheli said...


I do owe you that courtesy, to read the 9/11 report. (BTW, I began reading the Lancet Survey report on Wikipedia as you had suggested on OneUtah, and found some interesting detail that allays some (many?) of my suspicions, but alas, I never finished reading that either. I need to take a speed reading course...)

I find it easier, I'll admit to read synopses of it, especially the ones that agree with my preconceived notions.

Here's an example of that from WorldNetDaily.

Thoughts after reading the WND article:

Did the 9/11 commission rely on "two of bin laden's most senior associates?"

Cheney says Zarqawi was in Baghdad proper in 2002.

Was "Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals used in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993" an Iraqi? Hayes and Joseph Farah say yes.

Rich Warnick said...

"Cheney says Zarqawi was in Baghdad proper in 2002." Vice President Dick Cheney also insisted (many times) that the lead 9/11 hijacker met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that turned out to be false.

I suggest you look at the bottom line. The Bush administration would like nothing better than to pin the blame for the 9/11 attacks on Saddam. Over a period of five years, with the full resources of the United States Government at their disposal, they have not been able to do it. They have Saddam’s files, they have the CIA, the FBI, the DIA, the NSA, you name it. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF COOPERATION BETWEEN SADDAM AND AL QAEDA.

Frank Staheli said...

Regarding the Iraq/Prague thing, Hayes says, and Hayes quotes Cheney as saying, that Czech intelligence had reported on the possible Prague meeting, but that there is very little evidence of it.

I link here to an article that probably refers to the very same Meet the Press episode where Cheney said this, and it's probably the one where Cheney said something to the effect that there is still no evidence that Iraq conspired with al Qaeda to commit the 9/11 terrorism.

But somehow, the left-leaning press has pinned something on Cheney where he either said exactly the opposite (the 9/11 link) or later recanted, probably when Czech intelligence found no futher evidence (Atta in Prague). Those on the conservative side of the issue have been stating as much for years (see Richard Miniter: Disinformation). Those on the liberal side continue to harp on what has become a non-issue (see Isikoff and Korn: Hubris).

There are still other issues in my post that you have not addressed.

Rich Warnick said...

It has been claimed that VP Cheney cleverly worded his assertions so that he didn't actually lie about the Prague meeting.

From Media Matters:

"Cheney did, in fact, discuss the alleged meeting as an unqualified certainty. From Cheney's November 14, 2001, appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes II:

GLORIA BORGER (CBS News contributor): Well, you know that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the hijackers, actually met with Iraqi intelligence.

CHENEY: I know this. In Prague, in April of this year, as well as earlier. And that information has been made public. The Czechs made that public. Obviously, that's an interesting piece of information.

From the December 9, 2001, edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

TIM RUSSERT (host): The plane on the ground in Iraq used to train non-Iraqi hijackers. Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?

CHENEY: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point. But that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue."

The FBI knew that Atta was in Virginia Beach, VA at the time of the alleged meeting in 2001. The Presidential Daily Brief for September 21, 2001 (which was distributed to Cheney) stated that there is no evidence of Iraqi participation in the 9/11 attacks.

Yet Cheney continued to tell the Prague story, that he knew was false, well into 2003.

Frank, after so many lies, the burden of proof is on the Bush administration. I don't need to address all the lies, others have done that. Check out the Frank Rich timeline:

Rich Warnick said...

On the subject of Bush administration lies, let me also refer you to Iraq on the Record, a report by the US House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform.

The report contains 237 false and misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq that were made by President Bush, VP Cheney, SecDef Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice.

Matt said...

I recommend the fine book The Secret History of the Iraq War by Yossef Bodanesky. It shows quite well Saddam's support for Islamic state terrorism and WMDs (and how close we came to getting them) .