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When two plus two equals maybe
By Steven Martinovich
Polls just before the beginning of the war against Saddam Hussein's regime showed that a majority of Americans believed that the Iraqi dictator played some role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This belief came despite White House statements, intelligence agency analysis and media reports to the contrary. Behind that mistaken notion, however, lies a truth: Hussein and his Ba'athist dictatorship had links to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
The existence of that connection is the subject of Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen F. Hayes' The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America. Marshalling considerable circumstantial evidence, Hayes argues that ideological and religious differences presented only a moderate impediment to the two sides working together. They had, after all, a common enemy that each was eager to rain blows on.
According to several intelligence agencies, the links between al-Qaida and Hussein date back to the early 1990s. Various meetings between mid- and high-level officials from both sides occurred in places like Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan with the aim of forming an alliance. Evidence suggests that Iraqi intelligence funneled money and provided training and equipment to al-Qaida. In return, Iraq's ability to strike at the United States and its interests was enhanced, with the added benefit of plausible deniability.
Surprisingly the media of late have either ignored these links or argued that they are exaggerated. Even in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, the media focused most of its attention on the suspected stocks of weapons of mass destruction. That wasn't always the case, as Hayes illustrates. From the early 1990s on, it was often the media that led the way in investigating the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida. Stung by America's inability to find any WMDs -- the existence of which the fourth estate accepted unquestioningly, the media seemingly ignores the terrorism angle in a bid not to provide any further rationale for the invasion.
The argument has been made that the Wahabbist al-Qaida and the fascist secular Ba'athist state were unlikely partners, proof according to many critics, that an alliance was impossible. The evidence certainly suggests that both sides were leery of the other. Several in the highest reaches of al-Qaida were opposed to any alliance with Iraq while bin Laden himself was reportedly ambivalent about Hussein. Although Hussein in later years recast himself as a Muslim warrior, it seems that Iraqi intelligence was hoping to infiltrate al-Qaida and use its terrorist network for its own purposes. Denying a link on religious grounds ignores, however, Hussein's numerous other links to terrorist groups and individuals.
The Connection's weakness comes from the lack of concrete proof that critics demand, though it must be said that the standard of evidence they demand from people like Hayes is far higher than his critics are subject to. Although he asserts that there is "evidence of Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks" he also immediately admits that this evidence is "circumstantial and highly speculative." Thereafter he repeatedly warns the reader that the evidence he is relying on to make his case is open to interpretation and as future information comes to light, it as likely to weaken his case as strengthen it.
Despite that, the sheer amount of circumstantial evidence that Hayes brings to bear makes a very convincing case. At a certain point there can only be a fire when there is this much smoke. Although The Connection is likely to preach only to the choir of believers who have argued for years of the links between Iraq and al-Qaida, it should also -- in an ideal world -- be persuasive enough for critics not to dismiss easily. Until we have conclusive evidence, The Connection remains the best proof available to the public of how two enemies joined together to fight a common foe.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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