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Osama's Best Friend

From the November 3, 2003 issue: The further connections between al Qaeda and Saddam.

Nov 3, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 08 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Not long after Shakir was detained, the Iraqi government began pressuring Jordanian intelligence for his release. Why exactly Shakir was discharged is unclear. In the period after the September 11 attacks, the Jordanian government was highly cooperative. It seems unlikely that they would release Shakir against the wishes of the U.S. government, especially at a time when the Bush administration was intensifying its rhetoric on Iraq. Nonetheless, Shakir was released on January 28, 2002, one day before President Bush focused world attention on Iraq as part of the "Axis of Evil" in his State of the Union address. U.S. intelligence officials believe Shakir quickly returned to Baghdad.

The evidence on Shakir, circumstantial at this point, seems to suggest a long relationship with senior al Qaeda operatives. What is less clear is Shakir's relationship--if any--to the deposed Iraqi regime. Many aspects of his story could be explained as mere coincidence. But three details make the most sense if one assumes the involvement of Iraqi intelligence: (1) the fact that an Iraqi embassy employee got him his airport job and controlled his schedule, (2) his extensive training in counter-interrogation, and (3) the fact that the Iraqi government was eager--by some accounts desperate--to get him out of Jordanian custody and back to Iraq.

There remain exponentially more questions than answers concerning Saddam Hussein's relationship to al Qaeda. Among them, it is a mere matter of detail to know why a native Iraqi, thanks to a contact in the Iraqi embassy, was in a position to escort two September 11 hijackers to a critical planning meeting, or why he possessed contact information for Osama bin Laden's "best friend." But the overarching fact--that Saddam and al Qaeda had a relationship--can no longer be seriously disputed.

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.