THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION argues that the Iraq war was the central front in the war on terror. Not long ago, John Kerry agreed. He called Saddam Hussein a terrorist. He worried about Iraq passing weapons to terrorists. His running mate prominently cited Iraq's terrorist connections as a chief reason for the war. As recently as early September, Kerry praised soldiers in Iraq as freedom fighters in the war on terror.
All of this has changed. The Iraq war, Kerry says now with borrowed conviction, was a distraction.
"The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy: al Qaeda," Kerry claimed, adding, "Iraq is now what it was not before the war--a haven for terrorists."
In an interview with Time magazine, Kerry claimed that the 9/11 Commission found not only that Iraq was not behind the September 11 attacks, but that Iraq had "nothing to do with al Qaeda."
In the past two weeks, his surrogates have gone even further. To wit: "There was no terrorism in Iraq before we went to war," said Stephanie Cutter, chief spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign, on September 9. "Iraq and terrorism had nothing to do with one another. Zero," said Teresa Heinz Kerry in a September 22 speech in Arizona. "Saddam Hussein and Iraq never were a threat to our national security or to the United States," claimed Ted Kennedy in an appearance on Hardball on Monday.
Why is Team Kerry so eager to separate the Iraq war from the broader war on terror?
If voters believe that Iraq is an important part of the war on terror, they are more likely to be patient with difficulties there. On the flip side, if Kerry were able to convince voters that the Iraq war was a distraction from the war on terror, he would erode confidence not only in Bush's handling of Iraq but also of the broader war on terror. According to numbers released in yesterday's USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll Kerry needs to do just that. Self-identified likely voters were asked about whether they approve of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq and the war on terror. Forty-eight of those surveyed approved of Bush's handling of the "situation in Iraq" and 49 percent disapproved. But the numbers spike when likely voters were asked about Bush's handling of the war on terror; 62 percent approve and only 36 percent disapprove.
So it's not difficult to understand why Kerry's campaign wants to separate Iraq and the war on terror. But to claim that Saddam had "nothing to do with al Qaeda?" That there was no terrorism in Iraq before the war? That Iraq has never been a threat to the United States? These are preposterous statements. They're not debatable, or a matter of interpretation. They are demonstrably false.
Here are some relevant facts about Iraqi support for terrorism:
* On March 28, 1992, the Iraqi Intelligence Service compiled a 20-page list of terrorists the regime considered intelligence assets. Atop each page was the designation "Top Secret." On page 14 of that list is Osama bin Laden. The Iraqi Intelligence document reports that bin Laden "is in good relationship with our section in Syria." The document has been vetted and authenticated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The existence of the document was first reported on CBS's 60 Minutes. It has been widely ignored.
* Saddam Hussein hosted regular conferences for terrorists in Baghdad throughout the 1990s. Mark Fineman, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, reported on one such gathering in an article published January 26, 1993. "There are delegates from the most committed Islamic organizations on Earth," he wrote. "Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors), Palestinian militants, Sudanese fundamentalists, the Islamic Brotherhood and Pakistan's Party of Islam." One speaker praised "the mujahid Saddam Hussein, who is leading this nation against the nonbelievers. Everyone has a task to do, which is to go against the American state."
* Abdul Rahman Yasin is an Iraqi who mixed the chemicals for the bomb used in the first World Trade Center attack on February 26, 1993. We know this because he has confessed--twice to the FBI and once on national television in the United States. He fled to Iraq on March 5,1993, with the help of an Iraqi Intelligence operative working under cover in the Iraqi Embassy in Amman, Jordan. A reporter for Newsweek interviewed Yasin's neighbors in Baghdad who reported that he was living freely and "working for the government." U.S. soldiers uncovered Iraqi government documents in postwar Iraq that confirm this. The documents show Yasin was given both safe haven and financing by the Iraqi regime until the eve of the war in Iraq.
* Later that same month--March 1993--Wali al Ghazali was approached by an Iraqi Intelligence officer named Abdel Hussein. Ghazali, a male nurse from Najaf, met another IIS agent named Abu Mrouwah who gave him an urgent mission: assassinate former President George H.W. Bush on his upcoming trip to Kuwait. On April 14, Kuwaiti police found Ghazali and other Iraqi Intelligence assets with two hundred pounds of explosives in a Toyota Landcruiser. Ghazali, the would-be assassin, told a Kuwait court that he had "been pushed by people who had no mercy." He said: "I fear the Iraqi regime, the Iraqi regime pushed me."
* According to numerous press reports, the deputy director of Iraqi Intelligence, Faruq Hijazi, met face-to-face with Osama bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden asked for anti-ship mines and al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. There is no indication that Iraq made good on his requests.
* That same year, according to internal Iraqi Intelligence documents authenticated by the U.S. intelligence community and reported in the June 25, 2004, New York Times, a Sudanese government official met with Uday Hussein and the director of Iraqi Intelligence to facilitate the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
* According to the New York Times, the same Iraqi Intelligence document said that bin Laden earlier "had some reservations about being labeled an Iraqi operative" and that "presidential approval" had been granted to the Iraqi Intelligence service to meet with him. Bin Laden "also requested join operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. At bin Laden's request, Saddam Hussein also agreed to broadcast on Iraqi television sermons of an anti-Saudi cleric.
* The Clinton administration cited an "understanding" between Iraq and al Qaeda in its 1998 indictment of Osama bin Laden. "Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."
* The 9/11 Commission reports that Iraq and al Qaeda had a series of "friendly contacts" that did not appear to have developed into a "collaborative operations relationship." The final report provides details of meetings between senior Iraqi Intelligence officials and al Qaeda terrorists throughout the spring and summer of 1998 and indicates that "Iraqi official offered bin Laden a safe haven in Iraq."
* The offer of asylum was also included in the Senate Intelligence Committee's unanimous, bipartisan review of prewar intelligence. From p. 335 of the Senate report: "A [CIA Counterterrorism Center] operational summary from April 13, 1999, notes four other intelligence reports mentioning Saddam Hussein's "standing offer of safe haven to Osama bin Laden."
* This, from p. 316 of the Senate Intelligence Committee report: "From 1996 to 2003, the [Iraqi Intelligence Service] focused its terrorist activities on western interests, particularly against the U.S. and Israel. The CIA summarized nearly 50 intelligence reports as examples, using language directly from the intelligence reports. Ten intelligence reports, from multiple sources, indicated IIS 'casing' operations against Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Prague began in 1998 and continued into early 2003. The CIA assessed, based on the Prague casings and a variety of other reporting, that throughout 2002 the IIS was becoming increasingly aggressive in planning attacks against U.S. interests."
* Page 331 of the Senate report: "Twelve reports received [redacted] from sources that the CIA described as having varying reliability, cited Iraq or Iraqi national involvement in al Qaeda's CBW [chemical and biological weapons] efforts."
* Abu Musab al Zarqawi traveled to Iraq in May 2002. He lived in Baghdad with the knowledge--and perhaps sponsorship--of the Iraqi regime. A passage from p. 337 of the Senate Intelligence Committee report cites a CIA report called Iraqi Support for Terrorism: "A variety of reporting indicates that senior al Qaeda terrorist planner al Zarqawi was in Baghdad [redacted]. A foreign government service asserted that the IIS knew where al Zarqawi was located despite Baghdad's claims it could not find him." More, from p. 338: "Al Zarqawi and his network were operating both in Baghdad and in the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq. The HUMINT reporting indicated that the Iraqi regime certainly knew that al Zarqawi was in Baghdad because a foreign government service gave that information to Iraq."
* More recently, Hudayfa Azzam, the son of bin Laden's longtime mentor Abdullah Azzam, told Agence France Presse that the Iraqi regime worked closely with al Qaeda in Iraq before the war. "Saddam Hussein's regime welcomed them with open arms and young al Qaeda members entered Iraq in large numbers, setting up an organization to confront the occupation," he said in an interview published August 29, 2004. Azzam added that al Qaeda fighters "infiltrated into Iraq with the help of Kurdish mujahideen from Afghanistan, across mountains in Iran" and that once they arrived, Saddam "strictly and directly" controlled their activities.
Does John Kerry truly believe that "Iraq and terrorism had nothing to do with one another?" Good question.
Does Jim Lehrer read THE DAILY STANDARD?
Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard and author of The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America.