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Saddam's fall raises fears of terrorist-smuggler nexus

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Stephen Blank
Publication Date 12 May 2003
Cite as EurasiaNet, Saddam's fall raises fears of terrorist-smuggler nexus, 12 May 2003, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
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Stephen Blank 5/12/03

A EurasiaNet Commentary

The US military triumph in Iraq has led to the discovery of documents that seem to lend credence to the concerns that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime had connections to the al Qaeda terrorist network. The discoveries also raise the possibility that international terrorist networks are far more complex than previously believed.

According to various media reports, US military officials have uncovered evidence in Baghdad that shows Saddam Hussein's regime had contacts with al Qaeda representatives as early as 1998. It remains unclear how extensively the Iraqi government coordinated work with al Qaeda. Yet, the discoveries undermine the notion that ideological and religious differences would have precluded cooperation between Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda mastermind, and Hussein, the secular dictator.

Meanwhile, US and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq recently found documents concerning the activity of Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic group formerly based in the region. Ansar al-Islam, the documents reportedly show, propounded an ideological message strikingly close to that of al Qaeda. Political observers suggest that, given the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime, the Islamic terrorist group would have had difficulty maintaining a base on Iraqi territory without the government's tacit approval.

More revelations concerning the al Qaeda-Iraq connection may be forthcoming as US officials continue to review documentation. If the pattern of discovery continues, it may confirm earlier assessments that seemingly disparate radical groups and states in the Islamic world are capable of cooperating under the proper circumstances, especially when the target is a common enemy such as the United States or Israel.

This record of collaboration may reveal itself as a coordinated strategy among illicit arms and drug dealers that enables terrorist operations. Terrorist groups have long relied on criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking, to generate revenue. Rogue states have also been shown to he involved in the drug trade.

While the recently discovered documents appear to justify the Bush Administration's tough line against Saddam Hussein, they also indicate that US leaders should not take much comfort from driving the Iraqi dictator from power. The Iraqi documents point raise a disturbing possibility: It is conceivable that Iraq may have established itself as an intermediary between al Qaeda and various state intelligence services and international crime syndicates.

Iraq's suppliers of cash and contraband need not have known of its connections to the terrorist network, and bin Laden's supporters need not have known about Iraq's dealings with certain groups. As long as someone was providing cash, safe harbor, materials or alibis, operators on black markets could have been perfectly ignorant of their products' end users. These kinds of blind transactions are not uncommon in international arms smuggling, and what documentation does surface is often forged.

It is not yet clear to what extent the Iraq-as-middleman scenario is accurate. Nevertheless, US policy makers should take the possibility seriously. There are already enough indicators to be concerned that Iraq may have served as an important conduit for intricate deals involving money and illicit commodities, including arms and drugs. The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime does not automatically mean that possible Iraq-based links connecting terrorist groups with their suppliers have been smashed.

Editor's Note: Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent the views of the US Army, Defense Department or the US Government.

Posted May 12, 2003 © Eurasianet

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