A new Pentagon report on Iraq and Terrorism has the news media buzzing. An item on the New York Times blog snarks, "Oh, By the Way, There Was No Al Qaeda Link." The ABC News story that previews the full report concludes, "Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda."
How, then, to explain this sentence about Iraq and al Qaeda from the report's abstract: "At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust"? And how to explain the "considerable overlap" between their activities which led not only to the appearances of ties but to a "de facto link between the organizations?" (See the entire abstract below.)
And what about this revelation from page 34? "Captured documents reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda -- as long as that organization's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term vision." (The example given in the report is the Army of Muhammad in Bahrain, a group the Iraqi Intelligence Service describes as "under the wings of bin Laden.")
And there is this line from page 42: "Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives."
Really? Saddam Hussein "supported" a group that merged with al Qaeda in the late 1990s, run by al Qaeda's #2, and the New York Times thinks this is not a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? How does that work?
Anyone interested in the "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism" -- that language comes from this report, too -- should read the entire thing for themselves, here.
Here is the abstract:
Captured Iraqi documents have uncovered evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist and Islamic terrorist organizations. While these documents do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al Qaeda network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al Qaeda as long as Saddam could have these terrorist-operatives monitored closely. Because Saddam's security organizations and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some way, a "de facto" link between the organizations. At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust. Though the execution of Iraqi terror plots was not always successful, evidence shows that Saddam's use of terrorist tactics and his support for terrorist groups remained strong up until the collapse of the regime.
UPDATE: Just to be clear, the confusion is not entirely the fault of the news organizations. The executive summary says that the evidence did not reveal a "smoking gun (direct connection)" between Iraq and al Qaeda. But, as noted, the report itself offers much evidence that the opposite is true.