DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources note that, in contrast to the Bush administration’s difficulty to prove the interconnected rationale between a US military campaign against Iraq and the global war on terrorism, Saddam makes no effort to conceal his increasing collaboration with al Qaeda to block American goals before they get off the ground.
Our sources describe the collaboration as intensifying for the short term, although limited to partnership in terror operations against America and Israel. (Details in next article)
Saddam persuaded al Qaeda leaders in the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan to send three elite terror executives into action on his behalf by dint of an elaborate presentation of their common interests. While not explicitly playing the Sunni vs. Shia card, it was implicit in his arguments:
One. Iraq’s conquest by the US and the overthrow of his regime in favor of a Washington-backed government would lead ultimately to the creation of a Shi’ite state in southern Iraq and the demise of al Qaeda aspirations to dominate the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia.
Two. A Shi’ite state in southern Iraqi would also pose a threat to the Saudi throne and the Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf, by encouraging the ambitions of the large Saudi and Pakistani Shi’ite minorities. The intelligence services of al Qaeda and Pakistan would therefore do well to support Saddam in order to prevent the rise of a Shi’ite state in Iraq.
Three. Saddam drew on the Afghan War situation in October and early November of 2001 for another argument. At the start of the US invasion of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan decided in the interests of prudence to quickly pull out of the embattled country as many al Qaeda fighters as possible. They therefore airlifted several thousand Saudis, Yemenis and Pakistanis out of Afghanistan, mainly from the besieged cities of Konduz and Khanabad.
Now is the time, Saddam insisted, for al Qaeda to return to the fray by enlisting en masse to Iraq’s aid. The downfall of his regime, he explained, would engender the collapse of Iraq’s vital logistical and intelligence support system that sustains al Qaeda forces operating in Yemen, parts of Saudi Arabia, the vast Rub al-Khali desert, the Red Sea area and the Horn of Africa, primarily in Somalia.
Iraq, according to its ruler, is ripe for conversion into a primary launching pad for Osama Bin Laden’s international terror campaign, a third command base alongside Afghanistan and Arabia.
Four. Iraq’s fall into American hands would snap the communications link between those three bases and al Qaeda comrades in Pakistan. Tehran has fallen by the wayside as a link in the chain, loath to hurt the chances of a Shi’ite state rising in Iraq.
For all these reasons, Saddam appealed to Saudi general intelligence and Pakistani military intelligence to assist in the deployment of a substantial al Qaeda fighting force to Iraq.
He pointed to the fact that, already, a minimal force, backed by Iraqi military intelligence and members of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, have made important gains in battles still raging in northeast Iraq around the main Halabjah highway to Suleimaniya (as DEBK-Net-Weekly No. 90 reported on December 20, 2002 in its article, “Early Portents of Iraq Conflict”).
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Jalal Talabani’s Democratic Front forces, aided by US special forces officers, have still not dislodged al Qaeda from positions it seized from pro-US Kurdish units in this region.
Saddam stresses, in his message to al Qaeda leaders, that by seizing control of a large wedge of northeastern territory, his troops buttressed by a substantial al Qaeda force would have a good chance of precluding the total US and Turkish takeover of northern Iraq. An enclave of this kind would be capable of at least partially obstructing production in the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul.
With the help of al Qaeda fighting forces, the Iraqi ruler is convinced he could carve out similar enclaves in eastern and southern Iraq, thereby saving the country from falling into American hands and prolonging the war for months, if not years.
Al Qaeda leaders are still considering Saddam Hussein’s request for a major military force to fight for him in the war against the United States. In the meantime, they have placed three of their top commanders at his disposal for terrorist operations against their common foes in the Middle East.