Saddam and Terrorism
Let me make the case that the government of Iraq has been involved in state-sponsored terrorism, as it is defined by the U.S. government, for over a decade. As director of counterterrorism for the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, you know that Secretary of State Albright had good reason for including Iraq among the seven countries designated as state sponsors of international terrorism in 2000.
Iraq, through its intelligence service, has attempted to sponsor or facilitate a number of covert attacks against U.S. interests. There were, for example, Iraq's sponsorship of a car-bombing attempt in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush in Kuwait City, Iraq's sponsorship in 1998 of the attempted recruitment of car bombers to destroy the headquarters building of Radio Free Europe in Wenceslas Square in the historic center of Prague, and Iraq's provision of fake identity papers and safe haven to two of the key figures in the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Since one purpose of covert sponsorship of terrorism is to remain hidden, there may have been other Iraq operations that better succeeded in concealing their sponsorship. Let's consider Iraq's relationship with al-Qaida. In your excellent book The Age of Sacred Terrorism (which should be required reading on 9/11), you report that Osama Bin Laden had contempt for Saddam and vice versa. OK, but even if they are ideological enemies, didn't U.S. (and U.N.) intelligence indicate that Saddam's scientists provided the technology for the VX chemical weapons facility for which Osama supplied the funds in the Sudan? Why wouldn't Saddam similarly use Osama's al-Qaida as cover to conceal his own covert actions? Or Osama use Saddam's embassy bases to facilitate his own operations? I submit expediency, not affinity, often governs such temporary alliances.
It is in this context that the Czech intelligence report of a meeting between an Iraq embassy official and an al-Qaida trained hijacker must be viewed. This report asserts that Mohamed Atta, who had previously visited Prague in June 2000, met with Iraq consul Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani at an undisclosed location in Prague in April 2001. Subsequently, on April 22, Hynek Kmonicek, who was then deputy foreign minister of the Czech Republic, ordered al-Ani expelled from Prague. According to Kmonicek, who is now the ambassador to the United Nations in New York, "the Czech government collected detailed evidence of the al-Ani/Atta meeting." The other Czech officials directly involved in this unprecedented expulsion, namely Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, and intelligence chief Jiri Ruzek, have all confirmed receiving the report of this meeting.
So, Daniel, before pre-emptively dismissing the possibility of an al-Qaida/Iraq liaison, wouldn't you want to hear from al-Ani, who is presumably in Baghdad?
Edward Jay Epstein is the author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood. (To read the first chapter, click here.)