Al Qa’ida in Iraq? Safire says so…

Bill Safire tries to link al Qa’ida and Baghdad by pointing to Ansar al Islam, the insurgents operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. But in the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Ansar is the enemy of Saddam’s enemies, the Kurds.

Map courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

As the world looks to the United Nations today, where Hans Blix will deliver his “no smoking gun, we need more time” report on Iraq’s weapons program, William Safire, in today’s New York Times, tries once again to link Iraq and al Qa’ida by pointing to the 600 Ansar al-Islam fighters based in the far southeast part of Iraqi Kurdistan. But what he neglects to mention is that Ansar is operating in an region under which Saddam doesn’t have control — hardly a “haven” since the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is currently at war with the insurgents.
No doubt Saddam is providing funding to the group in an effort to destabilze Iraqi Kurdistan. But other countries are funding the group, including Iran and Turkey. The Kurds realize that their neighbors have no interest in seeing an independent Kurdistan and will support any group that might thwart those ambitions.
The Kurds, among which Safire apparently has sources, have been trying to convince anyone who will listen that Ansar is affiliated with al Qai’da. While I interviewed him last summer, Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir, the PUK Minister of the Interior, showed me a note — in Kurdish or Arabic, I’m not sure — that he said proved the group was getting funding from Baghdad. He wouldn’t let me make a copy of the note so I could get it independently translated, however, so there’s no way I could have verified its content.
(Also during the meeting, an aide brought him another note that he said a car bomb, likely headed for my hotel, exploded on a hill outside Suleimaniya. Again, I was unable to verify this, but I did see a smoke plume rising from a hill outside the city after the interview. I had been in Halabja, near Ansar territory, just the day before and Qisadir speculated that Ansar agents had seen me. Who knows?)
Safire has tried this linkage before, with his assertions — since disproved by Czech authorities — that hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Safire has never admitted this error.
Look, there is little doubt that Ansar has ties to al Qa’ida. And there is little doubt they are getting funding and weapons from Saddam. At the same time, however, because they are operating in an area that has been freed of Baghdad’s influence I find it hard to believe that they are operating with Saddam’s “blessing.” More likely, Tehran is helping them more than Baghdad is, and the Iraqi president is taking advantage of their presence to keep the Kurds off balance. Getting money from both Saddam and al Qa’ida does not logically lead to a linkage between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Ansar wants to destroy the Kurdish secular government and set up an Islamic state under shar’ia, the harsh Islamic law of the Taliban. Baghdad, however, is a secular gangster regime. If Ansar were ever to gain control of Iraqi Kurdistan — an impossible dream for the insurgents — Baghdad would immediately launch a campaign to crush the Islamists, who have no intention of co-existing peacefully with Saddam. I might add, too, that if the above scenario were to come to pass, the United States would be glad to see Saddam wipe them out.
Saddam is helping Ansar because of the old Arabic saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Were Ansar in power in Iraqi Kurdistan, the United States would rightly see them as an enemy. And you can imagine a set of very interesting allies.

FT: Caucasus terrorists have chemical/bio weapons

The Financial Times reports that Muslim militants associated with Al Qa’ida and Ansar al-Islam in Georgia and Chechnya have developed the biological agent ricin and are moving into western Europe via Turkey. The trail was first picked up by in north London after British police arrested Islamic militants on Jan. 5, breaking up a production facility there.

The Financial Times reports that Muslim militants associated with Al Qa’ida and Ansar al-Islam in Georgia and Chechnya have developed the biological agent ricin and are moving into western Europe via Turkey. The trail was first picked up by in north London after British police arrested Islamic militants on Jan. 5, breaking up a production facility there.
Ricin is a toxin derived from the beans of the castor plant, and can easily be produced as an aerosol spray or fine powder. Once inhaled, it usually begins working within eight hours. Initial symptons include weakness, fever, cough and finally pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) 18 to 24 hours after inhalation. This is followed by severe respiratory distress and death from hypoxemia (reduced oxygen supply to tissue) in 36 to 72 hours. Treatment for pulmonary edema is the usual prescription and medical masks can be effective in blocking the particles from being inhaled.
As scary as ricin is, it’s not well suited to a being a weapon of mass destruction as it settles out of the air relatively quickly. It is well-suited to assassinations, however, most famously being used by the Bulgarian secret police o kill dissident Georgi Markov during the Cold War in 1978. It was also tested, according to the CIA so take that for what it’s worth, by — surprise! — Iraq at the Jurf al-Sakr Firing Range in September 1989 in 155mm artillery shells with a capacity of three liters. I’ve seen reports that it is fatal if 1/10 millionth of a gram is inhaled.

Al Qa’ida branch established in Palestine

MEMRI details a posting on a bulletin board on the Web site, in which reader Abu Banan posted an announcement of the establishment of “the Islamic Al-Qa’ida Organization in Palestine.”

This is also from MEMRI, and details a posting on a bulletin board on the Web site, in which Abu Banan posted an announcement of the establishment of “the Islamic Al-Qa’ida Organization in Palestine.” The link to the announcement is allegedly here, but I wasn’t able to connect to it or the main site. [Update Dec. 9: It seems is suffering from denial-of-service attacks, which is why it’s currently unreachable.]
The translation, courtesy of MEMRI, of the announcement is as follows:

"...Brothers in Islam: From the land of the Night Journey and the Ascension to Heaven, we announce to the Islamic nation the establishment of the Islamic Al-Qa'ida Organization in Palestine, which will serve as a powerful basis for restoring the rights of our Arab and Islamic people in Palestine, [and] will defeat the Zionist Jewish invaders [and] return them to the place from whence they came. We declare that the squadrons of our martyrs will strike with all their strength at the Zionist and American arrogance in the region, and that the blood of our men in Palestine, in Afghanistan, and in Kashmir will [not] be shed unavenged..."

"Islamic Al-Qa'ida in Palestine joins its voice with the voices of the mujahideen in Palestine in its resistance to the partial and submissive solutions, and will accept nothing but the full liberation of the Palestinian land. Similarly, we call to the mujahideen in the Al-Nusseirat camp in the Gaza Strip to immediately stop the fighting between Hamas and the people of the Palestinian Authority, because these deeds serve only the murderous Jews, the Great Satans. From the land of the Night Journey we again declare a vow of allegiance to the Emir of the mujahideen, the leader Osama bin Laden, by means of whom Allah strengthened the Nation of Islam."

"Brothers in Islam: The Jihad against the [camp of] heresy and its regimes and symbols has arrived. The mujahideen of the Nation must rid themselves of the regimes of heresy and deception in our Arab countries. We call on our brothers in Islam in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to attack the American interests and the heretical institutions of apostasy [i.e. the regimes of these countries]. Allah willing, we will be the victors!"

"Death to the Jews and Zionism; strength to Allah, Allah is great, and victory to Islam!"

"The Islamic Al-Qa'ida Organization
The Stars of the Martyrs [in Arabic, Kawakib Al-Shuhada]
Ramadan 29, 1423 [December 4, 2002]"

Can’t keep a bad man down

Bin Ladin’s back, showing up the failures of American intelligence. And all the White House can do is talk about Iraq. Why?

Whoa! Who would have thought that Osama Bin Laden was really alive and hiding out for all this time? Apparently not the U.S. intelligence community which has fervently hoped that bin Ladin was toasted in the bombing of Tora Bora. That seems increasingly to be wishful thinking on the part of the United States. Astonishingly, the tape that has come to light, in which someone who sounds an awful lot like the Napoleon of Terror praises recent attacks and threatens more violence against the West if Iraq is attacked, was met with resounding indifference by the White House and the Pentagon. Sec. of Defense (and in-house funny man) Donald Rumsfeld quipped that Bin Laden was “alive or dead” when asked about the terror leader’s condition. Apparently, Schrödinger’s terrorist is a paradox they know well at the Defense Department.
But seriously folks, shouldn’t the news of bin Ladin’s survival be taken a little more, well, seriously? Senate Majority leader (for the moment) Tom Daschle, D-S.D., thinks so and valiantly questioned whether the U.S. is winning the war on terror yesterday, asking, in effect, if we didn’t declare victory in Afghanistan a wee bit early.
So if bin Ladin is alive, as is likely, and al Qa’ida is preparing to strike again, as is likely, the obvious course of action is to focus on … Saddam Hussein!
Argh. I tear my hair out over this. I’m convinced that the reason given by the left for the U.S.’s drive to topple Saddam — mainly control of Iraq’s oil fields — is much too simplistic to give the whole picture. And I don’t trust the Bush Administration that Iraq poses a clear and present danger, with Saddam being thisclose to fielding nukes on magic unmanned drones that could take out American cities. And the Butcher of Baghdad isn’t sostupid that he would give weapons of mass destruction to an element that he couldn’t control, such as al Qa’ida. So what gives? Why the push on Iraq when al Qa’ida poses a clear and present threat and Pakistan has been helping North Korea with its nuke program. (The implication is that if Pakistan has elements that would help the North Koreans, there are likely elements in the government that would help al Qa’ida in a similar manner.)
This report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies’ National Defense University might offer some clues. The main thrust of the report is that America has long realized the strategic value of the Persian Gulf, and fully intends to keep a military presence there regardless of any outcome in Iraq. “The United States will need to diversify its dependence on regional basing and forward presence, as well as reduce the visibility and predictability of its forward-deployed forces,” reads the report.
Why is this necessary? Because way back in 1990, the the Bush White House, part first, announced a defense posture that called for “adult supervision” of the world. And the most recent iteration of the National Security Strategy of the United States calls for the globe’s sole superpower to suffer no rivals militarily or economically, imposing a pax americana. So the United States is in the Gulf to guarantee the supply of oil not for itself, but for Europe and Japan, which get most of their oil from the Middle East. (Surprisingly, the United States gets most of its oil from Canada, Venezuela and Mexico; Persian Gulf sources supplied only 11 percent of America’s oil in 2000, according to the Department of Energy.) The United States Marines safeguard the Persian Gulf because Europe and Japan might re-arm and secure the oil sources for themselves if we didn’t. And as I said, the United States does not intend to suffer rivals gladly.
So we are going to be in the Gulf for a long time. As the INSS report says, “There is no escaping the U.S. role as a guarantor of Gulf stability. Thus, the United States needs a viable concept for its future forward presence that can be sustained over the long haul.” Saudi Arabia is not the secure base that we need for such a presence, as the presence of infidel troops so close to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina directly undermines the legitimacy of the House of Saud, which came to power in the 1920s as the family that would protect Islam’s holiest shrines. The presence of the troops inflames the faithful, such as bin Ladin, and leads the Saudi royal family to pay off the radical clerics that wield much influence in the kingdom. In essence this is the reason radical Islamists with possible access to nukes are “funded” by Saudi Arabia — the Saudis are buying them off and pointing a loaded gun away from their own head and toward someone else’s. If the House of Saud falls, which it could do at any time, a big reason will be resentment over its invitation of American GIs.
The solution is to get the 5,000 or so American off the Arabian peninsula. But the United States can’t pull out with Saddam in power; the troops are there to contain Saddam. So the solution to the solution is to remove Saddam from power, in the process diversifying the distribution of American troops in the region and removing a provocation to radicals. (Once they get over being pissed at the subjugation of Iraq, that is.)
Some would argue that this will just preserve Saudi legitimacy. Others may argue that a friendly regime in Iraq would undercut the Saudis and bring oil prices down as the two countries (which control the largest and second-largest known reserves of oil on the planet) compete for markets. There is evidence that the Saudis are hewing to the second view, doing everything in their power to impede the United States’ war planning, including a massive loan to Russia — interest free! — if the Bear had only vetoed UNSCR 1441. Alas for the Saudis, this didn’t happen, and they are caught between Iraq and a hard place.
So the goal of the United States is to maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf so that Europe and Japan don’t re-arm. In order to maintain a presence and decrease dependency on an unreliable ally, Saudi Arabia, Washington has to lighten the military footprint in the region by removing the cause for the heavy footprint — Saddam Hussein. Once that is accomplished, the forward forces can be distributed out of Saudi Arabia and a friendly Iraq can help pressure the Saudis to keep oil prices low. As a bonus, Washington would no longer have to easy on the Saudis in its war against al Qa’ida since Iraq would be the bulwark in the Gulf.
Could this be the strategy after all, part an elaborate chess game played on several boards at once? Winning such a game demands cool heads, clear minds and accurate intelligence — especially in a shooting war. The fact that bin Ladin has probably reëmerged right now means that the latter — since well before Sept. 11, 2001 — has been woefully lacking.