According to a report released September 8 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Saddam Hussein "was resistant to cooperating with al Qaeda or any other Islamist groups." It's an odd claim. Saddam Hussein's regime has a long and well-documented history of cooperating with Islamists, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.
As early as 1982, the Iraqi regime was openly supporting, training, and funding the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization opposed to the secular regime of Hafez Assad. For years, Saddam Hussein cultivated warm relations with Hassan al-Turabi, the Islamist who was the de facto leader of the Sudanese terrorist state, and a man Bill Clinton described as "a buddy of [Osama] bin Laden's."
Throughout the 1990s, the Iraqi regime hosted Popular Islamic Conferences in Baghdad, gatherings modeled after conferences Turabi hosted in Khartoum. Mark Fineman, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, attended one of the conferences and filed a story about his experience on January 26, 1993. "There are delegates from the most committed Islamic organizations on Earth," he wrote. "Afghan mujahedeen (holy warriors), Palestinian militants, Sudanese fundamentalists, the Islamic Brotherhood and Pakistan's Party of Islam." Newsweek's Christopher Dickey attended the same conference and wrote about it in 2002. "Islamic radicals from all over the Middle East, Africa, and Asia converged on Baghdad," he wrote, "to show their solidarity with Iraq in the face of American aggression. . . . Every time I hear diplomats and politicians, whether in Washington or the capitals of Europe, declare that Saddam Hussein is a 'secular Baathist ideologue' who has nothing to do with Islamists or terrorist calls to jihad, I think of that afternoon and I wonder what they're talking about. If that was not a fledgling Qaeda itself at the Rashid convention, it sure was Saddam's version of it."
Iraqi leaders frequently touted their Islamist credentials. "We are blessed in this country for having the Islamic holy warrior Saddam Hussein as a leader, who is guiding the country in a religious holy war against the infidels and nonbelievers," said Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam's top deputies, in an address to the terrorist confab. On August 27, 1998, 20 days after al Qaeda attacked the U.S. embassies in Africa, Babel, the government newspaper run by Saddam's son Uday Hussein, published an editorial proclaiming Osama bin Laden "an Arab and Islamic hero."
None of this is a secret, as the press coverage attests. But the authors of the Senate report seem determined to write it out of the history. On what basis do the authors claim that Saddam Hussein was "resistant" to cooperation with Islamists? The finding is sourced to "postwar detainee debriefs--including debriefs of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz." Well then, that settles it.
But why take Saddam's word for it? This is, after all, the same man who claims that he is the president of Iraq. Even assuming the man isn't a pathological liar, isn't it the case that detainees interrogated by a government fighting a global war on terror might have an incentive to understate their complicity in global terror?
This appears to have occurred to the report's authors. "The Committee believes that the results of detainee debriefs largely comport with documentary evidence, but the Committee cannot definitively judge the accuracy of statements made by individuals in custody and cannot, in every case, confirm that detainee statements are truthful and accurate."
In fact, it's not clear that the results of the detainee debriefs do, in fact, largely comport with the documentary evidence. What is clear is that where there was a conflict, the committee almost always chose to disregard the documentary evidence in favor of the debriefings, sometimes to comical effect. According to the report, Saddam Hussein was asked whether he might cooperate with al Qaeda because "the enemy of the enemy is my friend." The report dutifully--and uncritically--offers his response. "Saddam answered that the United States was not Iraq's enemy. He claimed that Iraq only opposed U.S. policies."
Really? That's hard to reconcile with these instructions from Saddam Hussein in a 1993 address. "Attack them, our beloved people," Saddam ordered in a speech broadcast on Iraqi television. "You are the glory of our nation. Attack them." Or this editorial: "American and British interests, embassies, and naval ships in the Arab region should be the targets of military operations and commando attacks by Arab political forces," argued Uday Hussein's newspaper Babel on November 15, 1997.