Tracking the Usama and Saddam Connection

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, September 8, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror (search) would be a lengthy war. A different kind of war fought on many fronts, in many places. Iraq is now the central front.


BRIT HUME, HOST: The appearance of al Qaeda (search) elements, joining forces with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's broken regime, has raised an interesting question. Are they there simply to resist American and coalition forces, or was there a stronger connection all along between Saddam Hussein's regime and Usama bin Laden's organization than the Bush administration was prepared to argue?

One person who thinks that's the case is the author and strategic analyst Greg Copley, president of Global Information Systems and he joins me now.



HUME: We know a few things about the terrorist connection. But the administration has not said much about them. And when the administration is asked about the al Qaeda-Usama bin Laden connection, it doesn't really emphasize it. How strong is the case in your judgment?

COPLEY: The case is extremely strong and has been extremely strong since the early 1990s. In fact, in 1990, before Saddam invaded Kuwait, he and Muammar Qaddafi, both agreed that the Islamists were the number one threat to both of them. After the...

HUME: This would mean extremists like Usama and his organization?

COPLEY: Exactly. But after the First Gulf War, they both realized that they needed to ally themselves with the Islamists against the greater threat, which was the United States and the West. Now, this relationship developed consistently from 1992 onwards with Ayman al Zawahiri, No. 2 man in al Qaeda, developing strong links with Saddam Hussein's administration. But what we...

HUME: How…what do we know about that, al Zawahiri and his connections?

COPLEY: Well, we know that they had the first meetings in 1992 in Sudan and subsequently had...

HUME: That was when Saddam was holed up in Saddam, right?

COPLEY: That's correct. And they had a number of meetings subsequently...

HUME: Who was doing the meeting on the part of Iraq?

COPLEY: A variety of officials and it's possible that they got all the way up to Saddam at some stage. But certainly they were very, very senior Iraqi officials. There was no question about this being a low level...

HUME: And they went to Sudan and had the meetings with Zawahiri?

COPLEY: And also meetings in Iraq. And in fact, the…once it started to get underway, you started to see a variety of connections and building up with, as we saw, the Ansar al Islam connection, which was very, very profound.

HUME: Now, the Ansar al Islam connection was manifested in part by the presence in Iraq of a training camp that got attacked in a part of the war. Now, what about that training camp? How long had it been there? And what do we know about what happened?

COPLEY: Well, the training camp developed sometime in the mid 1990s before Ansar al Islam, in fact, gained its identity.

HUME: Now, that's an al Qaeda connected organization?

COPLEY: Very much so. It's a Wahhabist organization, very strongly connected with bin Laden. And bin Laden put…pushed in troops from Afghanistan in there…or forces to help the Iraqis with their anti-Kurd operations in 2000 in the mountains of that area around Sulimanyah.

HUME: Because that's where they were located in the north near where the Kurdish fronts were, right?

COPLEY: That's correct.

HUME: I see.

COPLEY: But they subsequently were given chemical weapons by Saddam and this has been fairly well documented over the years.

But the big problem with the Bush administration's failure to link al Qaeda to Saddam is because if you link these groups to Saddam, you also have to link them with the other terrorist groups, which were training in Iraq at the same time.

HUME: Such as?

COPLEY: Such as the Palestinian groups and various connections with even the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. So, you have all of these links coming together and affecting the whole picture with regard to the Palestinian- Israeli situation.

Now, the British government, which promised to support the United States in Iraq, did not want the United States bringing in the question of Iraqi links to Palestinian terrorism. The Brits…the British Labour Party were basically supportive of the Palestinians and didn't want anything to color their view of the Palestinian movement. So, the Bush administration essentially acquiesced to the British and did not make the strenuous links that it should have made.

HUME: Now what about the 9-11 connection, if any? I mean the case has been made that there is a connection there, but the administration has stayed away from that, like the plague.

COPLEY: They have. Again, many of these things are identifiable through the linkages between bin Laden's groups in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Chechnya and particularly in Bosnia where, of course, at least nine of the 9-11 terrorists were involved.

HUME: Well, now looking at the situation there now, what would you think are the motives now for the arrival in Iraq of these al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked elements? Is this simply a case of you've got the Great Satan in there; let's go make trouble? Or is this in protection of a base they feel they can't afford to lose?

COPLEY: Well, it's probably in protection of a base they can't afford to lose. They are tied with, in this respect, with the Iranians. The Iranian clerics and the al Qaeda leadership are under pressure. They are wanting as much as possible to carry the war to the U.S. forces; and there in Iraq, that's where they're vulnerable. And that's one of the places they're take the war to them.

And so while they can get them across the border from Saudi Arabia, they will. There are some of the Wahhabis, also some of the Shiia from the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, also moving into bolster the Shiia presence in Iraq. The Iranians are supporting both Ansar al Islam; they are supporting other groups there as well. As well as the Baathists who are remnants of the Saddam...

HUME: On balance, is this a bad thing we're having to fight these people here now? Or as the president suggested, better to fight them in the Middle East, than the Midwest. He didn't put it that way but that was the idea. Last question, not much time.

COPLEY: I think it's essential to fight them both in Iraq and now again in Bosnia where they're coming out again.

HUME: They're emerging in Bosnia again?

COPLEY: They're emerging in Bosnia again and in Kosovo, and in Serbia.

HUME: Very interesting interview, sir. Thank you very much for coming.

COPLEY: Thank you.

HUME: Hope to have you again.

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