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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Iraqi-al Qaeda disconnect

On June 16, the 9/11 commission released a staff report that found there was no credible evidence that there was a “collaborative relationship” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Since then, the Bush administration, and it’s supporters, have been attempting to reconnect the 2 in the mind of the public.

Bush said, on June 17
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."

Bush reiterated that the administration never said that "the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda," he said.” full article

Dick Cheney followed, on June 18
“"There clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming," Cheney said in an interview with CNBC's "Capitol Report."

"It goes back to the early '90s. It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts with Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials.”

When asked if he had information, proving the link, that the 9/11 commission did not possess, Cheney gave answered with a resounding, “Probably.” full article

There are really 4 main instances that the Bush administration and it’s supporters cite as proof that Iraq was working in collaboration with al Qaeda, and therefore, posed a serious threat to the United States.
1. The Sudan Connection-Osama bin Laden, while he was in the Sudan, collaborated with Iraqi intelligence officers to oppose the Saudi ruling family.
2. The Prague Connection-Mohammed Atta, the “lead hijacker,” met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 8, 2001.
3. The Fedayeen Connection-An officer in Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen was also a prominent member of al Qaeda
4. Poison Gas Connection-Iraq had provided training in “poisons and deadly gases” to al Qaeda as well as offering “chemical or biological” weapons training to 2 al Qaeda members as recently as December 2000.

The Sudan Connection.

The latest “evidence” to surface was publicized in a June 25, 2004 New York Times article. As the document dates to the mid 90’s, and cites meetings in a period and place that had already been addressed by the 9/11 commission, it is inconsequential in establishing a collaboration, between Iraq & al Qaeda, that posed a current threat to the United States. The article does, however raise suspicions as to the timing and origin of the document.
Contacts between Iraqi intelligence agents and Osama bin Laden when he was in Sudan in the mid-1990's were part of a broad effort by Baghdad to work with organizations opposing the Saudi ruling family, according to a newly disclosed document obtained by the Americans in Iraq.

American officials described the document as an internal report by the Iraqi intelligence service detailing efforts to seek cooperation with several Saudi opposition groups, including Mr. bin Laden's organization, before Al Qaeda had become a full-fledged terrorist organization. He was based in Sudan from 1992 to 1996, when that country forced him to leave and he took refuge in Afghanistan.

The new document, which appears to have circulated only since April, was provided to The New York Times several weeks ago, before the commission's report was released. Since obtaining the document, The Times has interviewed several military, intelligence and United States government officials in Washington and Baghdad to determine that the government considered it authentic.

The Americans confirmed that they had obtained the document from the Iraqi National Congress, as part of a trove that the group gathered after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government last year. The Defense Intelligence Agency paid the Iraqi National Congress for documents and other information until recently, when the group and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, fell out of favor in Washington. full article

What is of interest is that the Iraqi National Congress provided the latest document. Yes, the same Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi. The article notes that the document was circulated back in April, which predates the raid on Chalabi’s house as well the decision to cut U.S payments that were being made to the Iraqi National Congress.

At any rate, the document concludes that requests for joint operations against foreign forces in Saudi Arabia went unanswered and there were no other records of further collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda

The 9/11 staff report covered this very same period and concluded that, although an Iraqi intelligence officer met with bin Laden in 1994, no further collaboration between the 2 were reported.

The Prague Connection

On the Dec. 9, 2001, Dick Cheney stated, on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press "it's been pretty well confirmed that he [Mohammed Atta] 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."

This is probably the most cited piece of “evidence” that a collaborative relationship existed between Iraq and al Qaeda. The implication is that Atta was given support, direction and assistance by Iraqi intelligence. The problem for those that cite the ‘Prague Meeting” as proof of a collaboration is that it has never been proven. The meeting and its ostensible confirmation has its origin in a couple of New York Times articles.

In an October 26, 2001 article entitled “Czechs Confirm Iraqi Agent Met With Terror Ringleader” it was reported that
The Czech interior minister said today that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, just five months before the synchronized hijackings and mass killings were carried out.

The official confirmation of the meeting, the details of which remain a mystery, does not amount to proof of Iraqi involvement in the attacks full article

The only confirmation was the assurance of the Czech Minister. The Czech Minister offered nothing in the way of witnesses, photos, passport logs, videotape, or any other verifiable form of documentation that would have corroborated his “confirmation.”

7 days prior to this article, the New York Times ran an article in which Czech officials denied they had any evidence of a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat. The Czech officials reported they had been asked by Washington officials to search their records for evidence of a meeting.
"I can only confirm one visit in the summer," said Stanislav Gross, the Czech interior minister.

Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, said, "I haven't seen any direct evidence that Mr. Atta met any Iraqi agent."full article

The Czech officials stated they had only documentary evidence that Atta had passed through the airport on his way to Germany(the prior summer). They also added
Officials here said that confusion over a possible meeting resulted from reports of people coming forth saying they had seen Mr. Atta here. Some asserted they saw him with Iraqi officials.

The official said the authorities did not find the reports credible. Some came from owners of small businesses who appeared to have denounced their competitors for allegedly having done business with Mr. Atta, he said.

American intelligence services also dismissed this as well.

This is what we have. Czech officials originally dismiss American reports of a meeting between Atta and an Iraqi diplomat. Some of the reports came from competing Czech businessmen eager to denounce their competitors. Seven days later, the Czech Minister contradicts other Czech officials, without any evidence or substantive material and his “confirmation is accepted as proof that Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague, on April 8, 2001.

The Fedayeen Connection

9/11 Commissioner, John Lehman, claimed that documents tied al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, on a June 20 Meet the Press interview.
Lehman said that, since the report was issued, new intelligence had arrived "from the interrogations in Guantanamo and Iraq and from captured documents. ... Some of these documents indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda."

The claim that the Iraqi officer and al-Qaeda figure are the same first appeared in a Wall Street Journal editorial on May 27. A similar account was then published in the June 7 edition of the Weekly Standard, which reported that the link was discovered by an analyst working for a controversial Pentagon intelligence unit under Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. full article

The “analyst” that discovered this link is actually Penn State Political Science Professor , Christopher Carney. Carney, while looking over a list of Fedayeen officers, noticed the name Lt Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad. He remembered that an Iraqi, employed as a “greeter” by Malaysia airlines, had driven al Qaeda members to an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on January 5-8, 2000. The greeter’s name was Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi. This was the smoking gun the Bush administration needed and Lt Col. Hikmat Shakir was pronounced to be the Ahmad Azzawi that greeted al Qaeda members. Never mind that a greeter is not usually considered one of the more prominent positions in an organization or that their names had to be scrambled to find an overlap, this was offered as “evidence” of an Iraqi al Qaeda collaboration.

Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East History, explains the differences between the 2 names.
The al-Qaeda employee in Malaysia is named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi.
The Iraqi intelligence agent is named Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad.
The family name (here, nisba) of the al-Qaeda guy in Malaysia is Azzawi.
The family name of the guy in Iraqi intelligence is Ahmad.
Do you notice how they are not the same?
The personal or first name of the al-Qaeda guy is Ahmad.
The personal or first name of the Iraqi intelligence agent is Hikmat.
Do you notice how it is not the same?
So, Ahmad Azzawi is not Hikmat Ahmad. See how easy that is?
Mr. Ahmad Azzawi has a couple of middle names, to wit, Hikmat Shakir. Having a couple of middle names is common in the Arab world.
Lt. Col. Hikmat Ahmad just has one middle name, Shakir. This is the only place at which there is any overlap between them at all. They share a middle name. And, o.k., one of Azzawi's middle names is the same as Lt. Col. Ahmad's first name.
This would be like having someone named Mark Walter Paul Johnson who is a chauffeur for Holiday Inn.
And then you have a CIA agent named Walter Paul Mark.
Obviously, it is the same guy, right? Natch.
Azzawi is a nisbah, a form of last name having to do with a place or occupation or tribe. I'm not sure, but an `azzaw might be someone who specialized in consoling family members over the death of a loved one. It is being used as a family name.
Lt. Col. Ahmad's last name could also be used as a first name. It may well be his father's first name. Some Arab families use a system like that in Scandinavia. Thus, the father is Thor Odinsson and the son is Loki Thorsson. There isn't a stable family name in that case. In the old style, he might be Hikmat ibn Ahmad or the son of Ahmad, but a lot of people drop the ibn nowadays. Most families either have a nisba type family name or they don't. If a guy's last name is Azzawi, that would certainly be in the government records. Lt. Col. Ahmad did not have Azzawi as a family name.
The first name or personal name is called "ism". In this case, the first name of the al-Qaeda guy is Ahmad. This means "the most praised" and is an epithet of the Prophet Muhammad.
The ism or personal name of the intelligence officer is Hikmat. Hikmah in Arabic means "wisdom." Hikmat with a long 't' at the end shows Ottoman influence, which in turn suggests an upper class Sunni background.
There isn't actually any similarity at all between the names of chauffeur Mr. Ahmad Azzawi and intelligence official Lt. Col. Hikmat Ahmad, from an Arab point of view. (For a lot of purposes you would drop the middle names).full article

A White House administration official concedes that the allegation is likely a confusion over names. Not one to give up, Lehman claims that it is still possible that the man in Kuala Lumpur was affiliated with Hussein, even if he is not Lt Col. Hikmat Ahmad.

The Poison Gas Connection

On February 05, 2002, Colin Powell went before the UN Security Council and claimed that Iraq provided bin Laden’s Afghan camps with training in document forgery, manufacturing poison gases and gave medical treatment to al Qaeda members. His principal source for this “intelligence” was captured al Qaeda commander, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Now it seems if Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi “confessions” may have not been so reliable.
A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story, setting back White House efforts to shore up the credibility of its original case for the invasion of Iraq. The apparent recantation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, has never been publicly acknowledged. But U.S. intelligence officials tell NEWSWEEK that al-Libi was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Al-Libi, who once ran one of bin Laden's biggest training camps, was captured in Pakistan in November 2001 and soon began talking to CIA interrogators. Although he never mentioned his name, Secretary of State Colin Powell prominently referred to al-Libi's claims in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations; he recounted how a "senior terrorist operative" said Qaeda leaders were frustrated by their inability to make chemical or biological agents in Afghanistan and turned for help to Iraq. Continuing to rely on al-Libi's version, Powell then told how a bin Laden operative seeking help in acquiring poisons and gases had forged a "successful" relationship with Iraqi officials in the late 1990s and that, as recently as December 2000, Iraq had offered "chemical or biological weapons training for two Al Qaeda associates."

But more recently, sources said, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence from other detainees that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. "It's not clear which version is correct. We are still sorting this out." Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear. In any case, the cloud over his story explains why administration officials have made no mention of the "poisons and gases" claim for some time and did not more forcefully challenge the recent findings of the 9-11 Commission that Al Qaeda and Iraq had not forged a ?"collaborative relationship."full article

In January of 2004, less than a year after he went before the UN Security Council, Powell has this to say about the Iraq al Qaeda connection. "'I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection,' Mr. Powell said, in response to a question at a news conference. 'But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.'"

Powell is not the only one to now admit, after Iraq had been invaded, that they had no evidence that Iraq was involved with 9/11.

White House spokesman, Scott Mclellan on June 17, 2004” "In terms of this administration, we laid out the facts very clearly for the American people. . . . We made it very clear that there was no evidence to suggest that regime was involved in Sept. 11."

George W. Bush on Sept 17, 2003,” We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th”

Condoleeza Rice on Sept 16,2003” "We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein had either direction or control of 9-11."”

Donald Rumsfeld, asked about a poll in which 70% believed Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for 9/11 replied “I’ve not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that.

Paul Wolfowitz, when asked during an interview, when he first suspected Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks responded” "I'm not sure even now that I would say Iraq had something to do with it,"

There are those that will continue to insist that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11 or that it collaborated with al Qaeda in committing “acts of terror.” Those assertions are not backed by any available evidence and are more a matter of faith. They are based directly on, or are variations of the “4 connection” stories examined above; the first in which the INC provides the document, the second that originates from competing businessmen, the third that hinges on scrambling the names and the last, which was offered under “interrogation” and has now been recanted. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone pushing the al Qaeda/Iraq terrorist collaboration.


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