September 8, 2006

Senate Report: Iraq and al-Qaeda

Hatched by Dafydd

The first in a series of continuing, relatively short posts on the September 2006 report from the Senate Intelligence Committee comparing prewar and postwar intelligence on Iraq.


In contrast to the good news from Iraq, which the elite media bury in a dark editing room, in a locked closet, inside a filing cabinet, and stuffed into an old sardine tin, every headline today screams a wildly misleading characterization of what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare to Prewar Assessments actually reports. Viz., this Associated Press story:

Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, a Senate report says, contradicting assertions President Bush has used to build support for the war in Iraq. The report also newly faults intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.

Released Friday, the report discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.

As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."

Democrats contended that the administration continues to use faulty intelligence, including assertions of a link between Saddam's government and the recently killed al-Zarqawi, to justify the war in Iraq.

The way that AP carefully parses their sentences, it's hard to argue; they imply rather than demonstrate, making it difficult to refute. But having just finished reading the entire Senate Intelligence Committee's report, I have to say that it's far more tentative than AP makes it out to be.

And even the report itself fails to draw obvious conclusions from physical evidence, often relying instead upon what actors in the drama say during interrogations... actors with interests of their own.

The Senate report is a marvel of missing the forest for the trees: the senators spend too much time in the weeds; they never take a step back, a deep breath, and look at the whole picture. This leads them into folly again and again... and the Zarqawi-connection section is a perfect example.

I am utterly persuaded that Saddam Hussein saw al-Qaeda, and especially Musab Zarqawi up in Ansar al-Islam, as a "threat" to his regime. But that does not mean Hussein made any attempt to remove Zarqawi, nor that he did not harbor Zarqawi, nor even that he did not have an operational relationship with Zarqawi.

For heaven's sake, many Americans in the 1940s saw Communism as a threat to the United States (though the president did not)... but that did not stop FDR, with the support of the entire political establishment, from allying with Josef Stalin against Adolf Hitler. There is an old proverb: Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Thus, the central dichotomy of the AP story is a canard: there is no inherent conflict between fearing an enemy and allying with that same enemy.

So let's get to specifics.

It's absolutely correct that in October 2005, the CIA issued a report with that quotation, that "the regime did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." AP's style in this endeavor (attempting to "prove" that Bush lied us into war) will not be one of overt, bald-faced lying, but rather subtle inueno that allows the reader to leap to a false conclusion.

The CIA in 2005 thus reversed its earlier assessment (in 2002) that Hussein did tolerate Zarqawi's presence in the Kurdish north. However, what AP omits is that other facts cited in that same section of the Senate report belie that mysterious reassessment by the CIA.

Notably this, covered on pages 93-96 of the pdf linked above (pp. 90-93 of the actual document): in October 2002, an unidentified foreign government -- probably acting as an Iraq-United States go-between -- demanded that Iraq arrest Zarqawi and four associates and extradite them to the U.S. Hussein -- desperately trying to stave off the pending American invasion, issued a written order to the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) to arrest the five, who were up in Ansar al-Islam.

However, there is no indication that there was any serious attempt to act on these orders... which most likely means the written orders were for show and were countermanded by oral orders not to be vigorous about it. Instead, some low-level IIS agents were tasked with the job; but there's no indication they even went to Ansar al-Islam.

However, had Hussein really wanted to get Zarqawi -- thinking him such a danger to Iraq and having absolutely no connections to Zarqawi's group -- why didn't he use the IIS agents who had already infiltrated Ansar al-Islam? These infiltrators, discussed in the same passage of the Senate report, played no role in the supposed manhunt for Zarqawi.

Or for that matter, why didn't the Iraqis send troops into Ansar al-Islam itself to hunt for Zarqawi and his cabal? If Saddam Hussein really saw them as a threat, why not expend at least as much military force removing them as he expended massacring, relocating, and brutalizing his own people?

Eventually, Zarqawi left northeastern Iraq for Iran, transited Iran, and reentered Iraq in the south. But one of his associates named in the demand, Abu Yasim Sayyem, was captured. The Iraqis determined that he was indeed a member of (or contractor to) al-Qaeda, just as Zarqawi was. But rather than extradite him to the United States, they released him -- on direct orders from Saddam Hussein.

If we can pull our heads out of the weeds of specific bits and dribbles of intel for a moment, here is the big picture: Hussein's actions are not those of a brutal dictator who really wants to get rid of Musab Zarqawi or his band of merry men at Ansar al-Islam.

They are instead the actions of a brutal dictator who still thinks he can stave off a U.S. invasion and get sanctions lifted, especially "with a little help from his friends," the French, the Russians, and the Chinese. So he issues an order never intended to be obeyed, but which he can point to in order to show "good faith."

It turns out that the CIA's reassessment above was almost entirely based upon interviews with captured IIS agents and al-Qaeda members at Ansar al-Islam: each side denied there was any cooperation or treaty. Again, however, a little bit of common sense:

  1. Why would low-level flunkies in either the Iraqi Intelligence Service or Ansar al-Islam have any idea of a secret concordance between Hussein and Zarqawi? How many people do you think would be told about this?

    Is Zarqawi going to tell his fanatical Wahabbi followers that he's made a deal with that secular devil who outlawed Wahabbism? Is Hussein going to tell junior IIS officers that he has a cooperative agreement with the world's number-one terrorist, when that connection is already being used by the United States to push for war? This is silly; people at that level have no "need to know" and every reason to be kept in the dark.

  2. Even assuming that some of the detainees that the CIA interviewed were high enough up -- and trusted enough by Hussein or by Zarqawi -- to be privy to this information... why would they tell the truth to the CIA? What's in it for some fanatical Baathist or al-Qaeda jihadi? Answer: nothing!

So most detainees wouldn't even know, and those who did know have no incentive to tell the truth. Thus, the evidence upon which the CIA based its conclusion that there was no connection is utterly non-dispositive. So we're left with Hussein's actions: making no serious effort to capture them, and even turning loose the only Zarqawi affilliate he had.

At the very least, this is "turning a blind eye;" and it's equally consistent with "harboring" and having a "relationship." Once again, the CIA does yeoman work in muddying up the intel waters, casting vague aspersions on the Bush administration while never really coming out and alleging any specific crime, exaggeration, or moral failing... just a vague whiff of the "Bush lied" meme.

This first piece is important: for if the Senate report is faulty, vague, and misleading on the simple question of Saddam Hussein's relationship with Musab Zarqawi -- and if the pedestrian and non-specific "conclusions" of the report are mischaracterized into flat accusations by the elite media -- then how can anyone imagine they're dispositive on the much more complex questions of WMD programs, Saddam Hussein's intentions, his possible future relationship to terrorist groups, and indeed, the entire rationale of the war: that Hussein's Iraq represented a serious enough threat to the United States to warrant the invasion.

It cannot. This report is not, as Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI, ) alleges,

A devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration’s unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts” to link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda.

There is as much in this bipolar report to support such links as to refute them. Rather, Tony Snow is absolutely correct:

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told The Associated Press there was “nothing new” in the report, and that members of both political parties had agreed before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.

“In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had, and they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on,” Mr. Snow said.

Keep that in mind as we move on to other sections of the report over the next few days.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 8, 2006, at the time of 7:49 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Terrye

It is also true that when Zarqai first came to Iraq from Afghanistan he first spent time in Baghdad, he was even treated in a hospital there. Why didn't Saddam grab him then? I am sure Saddam knew he was and where he came from and yet he let him go about his business of sitting up his terrorist training camp in the first place.

This is what pisses me off about the Democrats. They say Bush is playing politics by asking for legislation to try terrorists, but they come out with this tired old now because of elections.

Saddam always struck me as a sort of mafia Don. He was slippery, he left the dirty work to his underlings and he considered everyone, even his own sons a threat. So what? That is how people like this get away with the crap they get away with.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 9, 2006 3:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: sanddog

It's amusing to watch the left attempt to rehabilitate Saddam Hussein from a brutal dictator to a clueless leader who was constantly being hoodwinked by evil forces within his government.

Just when you think they can sink no lower, they throw out tripe like this and expect everyone to get onboard the revisionist train.

The above hissed in response by: sanddog [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2006 12:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: ikez78

Nice points on Saddam's terror links.

I have started a site based on four years of research to look into this very subject. It is

The above hissed in response by: ikez78 [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 29, 2007 1:35 PM

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