Monday, March 27, 2006

The Paper Trail

March 27, 2006

After substantial prodding -- including from this paper -- the U.S. government has finally begun to release its captured Iraqi documents and is posting them at the Web site of the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office. This material will take considerable time to absorb and analyze, but it may yet contribute significantly to our understanding of the nature of the threat Saddam Hussein posed.

Most dramatically, an Iraqi intelligence report, apparently written in early 1997, describes Iraqi efforts to establish ties with various elements in the Saudi opposition, including Osama bin Ladin. Until 1996, the Saudi renegade was based in Sudan, then ruled by Hassan Turabi's National Islamic Front. One of Iraq's few allies, Sudan served as an intermediary between Baghdad and bin Ladin, as well as other Islamic radicals. On Feb. 19, 1995, an Iraqi intelligence agent met with bin Ladin in Khartoum. Bin Ladin asked for two things: to carry out joint operations against foreign forces in Saudi Arabia and to broadcast the speeches of a radical Saudi cleric. Iraq agreed to the latter, but apparently not the former, at least as far as the author of this report knew. Notably, the report also states, "we are working at the present time to activate this relationship through new channels."

This one report hints at the extensive international presence that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) maintained. Iraq's ambassadors to Sudan and Yemen were intelligence agents, suggesting that those two countries were major centers of IIS activity. The report also mentions IIS stations in Islamabad, New Delhi and New York.

Another newly released document bears the name of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. It is a flyer from the "Committee for Arab Liaison with the Islamic Emirate" (i.e., Afghanistan) for recruiting volunteers in Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. It explains that the "Arab brothers" who wish to go there should send a written proposal "so that we can know him and his needs." Zarqawi is among six people listed as individuals to contact.

How close were relations between Iraq and the Taliban, a regime officially recognized by only three countries? The answer is necessary for understanding the nature of any ties Iraq may have had with al Qaeda or other Afghan-based Islamic groups. Hopefully, other documents will emerge to shed light on this question.

The formal cease-fire to the 1991 Gulf War required Iraq to recognize Kuwait and release the Kuwaiti hostages it had seized. Iraq did neither. On March 4, 2003, with war looming, Saddam's son, Qusay, ordered 448 Kuwaiti prisoners taken to sites the United States would likely attack. Nothing of their fate has been reported, and they may well have died. Iraq formally recognized Kuwait in 1994, but the official stationery of the Fedayeen Saddam in 2001 shows a map of Iraq that includes the state.

Other documents from this database were leaked some time ago. Perhaps because their provenance was not understood, these 30 pages did not receive the attention they merited. Particularly notable is an order issued by Saddam on Jan. 18, 1993: "hunt Americans on Arab territory, particularly in Somalia."

Most of these documents deal with terrorism and date from January to May 1993. They suggest that in early 1993, Saddam began to move actively to revive terrorist programs that had been established three years before, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Responding to a request from Saddam, Iraqi intelligence produced a six-page report, listing the names and nationalities of 100 Arab "martyrs" whom it had trained in the fall of 1990.

Another report explains that the IIS had reached an agreement with the deputy head of Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front "to use the Islamic Arab elements that had been fighting in Afghanistan and now have no place to go and who are physically present in Sudan, Somalia and Egypt." The IIS also agreed with Khartoum to renew its relationship with Egyptian Islamic Jihad -- headed by Ayman al Zawahiri, familiar as al Qaeda's most prominent contemporary spokesman.

Still another report describes Iraq's earlier agreement with Islamic Jihad, concluded on Dec. 24, 1990, as the start of the Gulf war loomed. Iraq was to provide training, financing and supplies to the organization "to execute martyr operations" against the members of the U.S.-led coalition, of which Egypt was a key Arab member. However, as this document explains, those operations stopped immediately after the cease-fire.

In 1993, Iraq was cautious about backing Egyptian terrorists, more so than the Sudanese. When Khartoum informed Baghdad that it was sending an Islamic Jihad leader, who had been based in Afghanistan and then lived in Sudan, to Iraq on a Sudanese plane carrying meat (this exemption from the general ban on flights to Iraq was granted by the U.N. Security Council), the IIS asked that the visit be postponed. Sudan insisted, and the IIS approved on condition the visit be kept secret. Subsequently, the IIS recommended that assistance to the Egyptian group be limited to financial support.

Two documents relate to Iraq's proscribed WMD programs. One is a table, providing details of a Sept. 6, 2000, contract for the production of "the malignant pustule" -- the Pentagon official who leaked these documents believed it referred to anthrax -- along with earlier contracts for sterilization and decontamination equipment. Another table describes an Aug. 21, 2000, contract for the production of mustard gas and earlier contracts for protective equipment. Small amounts of material are mentioned: three ampules of "the malignant pustule" (an ampule is a small, sealed glass vial) and five kilograms of mustard gas. These contracts could have represented test runs, or, as a former U.N. weapons inspector suggested to me, the material could have been intended for terrorism.

Many more documents are to be released in the coming months. Quite possibly, they will vindicate the decision to undertake the Iraq war; help maintain public support for fighting it; and radically change our understanding of Saddam's role in international terrorism.

Ms. Mylroie is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War Against America" (AEI, 2001).