Iraq and al-Qaida (Again)
The attempts to tie Baathist Iraq to al-Qaida continue among the hawks in Washington, and they continue to be without logical or evidentiary foundation.
Al-Qaida wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It hates him. Bin Ladin was angry at the Saudi government in 1990 for not doing in Kuwait what was done in Afghanistan and allowing the Islamic International to deal with Saddam instead of inviting the infidel Americans to tread sacred Arabian soil. Saddam views al-Qaida as a dire threat to Baath Party, secular Arab nationalist dominance of the Middle East.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss suggested that myths among Brazilian Indians had their own logic, and one of the key principles was “contiguity.” That is, mythic symbols evoke things in nature that appear to be next to one another.
The current spate of attempts to link Iraq to al-Qaida is characterized by this mythology of contiguity.
The way it goes is this. The only group in al-Qaida with any Iraq links at all is a small Kurdish terrorist organization called Ansar al-Islam, which is able to operate in Kurdistan only because the United States has kicked the Baath Party out of that part of Iraq. There are no Ansar al-Islam cells in Arab Iraq, under Baathist rule. Some Kurds linked to Ansar al-Islam were in Afghanistan with al-Qaida. It is the looser political and social controls under the American fostered free Kurdish north that allows Ansar to operate.
Ansar al-Islam has conducted operations against the forces of the traditional Kurdish tribal leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani who account between them for the loyalties of virtually all Kurds in northern Iraq. In a particularly gruesome politics of theater, Ansar al-Islam recently desecrated the tombs and shrines of Naqshbandi Sufi leaders (mystical Islam is overwhelmingly popular among Kurds as opposed to the fundamentalist Ansar, which like al-Qaida is influenced by puritan Wahhabi strictures against any cult of saints).
US intelligence sources allege that Saddam has given money to Ansar al-Islam to stir up trouble in Kurdistan.
The syllogism goes that since Ansar has shadowy links with al-Qaida, and Saddam has been alleged to occasionally use Ansar, therefore Saddam is up to his neck with al-Qaida. Safire, with breathtaking dishonesty, even has tried to call Ansar members caught in Afghanistan “Saddam’s men.” This would be like calling Phalangist rogue terrorists in Lebanon “America’s men” because the US occasionally worked with them.
Rumsfeld has now also charged that a thousand members of al-Qaida fleeing Afghanistan have taken refuge in Iraq, and that this is another reason to attack Iraq. Of course, *thousands* of al-Qaida and Taliban have fled to Pakistan, which seems unable to locate the vast majority of them (including possibly Bin Ladin and Zawahiri themselves). And yet this (quite rightly) is not held against Pakistan. The idea that Iraq is deliberately harboring Islamist terrorists is absurd, since the Baathists would be afraid of them themselves. The US can’t even find the al-Qaida cells in the US, but expects Iraq, which isn’t very organized after ten years of international boycott, to be able to out-perform the FBI.
The irony is, of course, that the depth of past US support for the radical Islamic anti-leftist terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere far exceeds the tenuous links attributed to Saddam. Among the favorites of the CIA was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, guerilla leader and mass murderer who has now returned to Afghanistan from his sanctuary in Iran and joined al-Qaida remnants in opposition to the Karzai government. Orrin Hatch, Fred Ikle and other members of the Reagan administration flew to Beijing in January of 1986 to plead with China to intercede with its close friend Pakistan to allow the US to give Hekmatyar and other terrorists Stingers to use against the Russian boys. Pakistan gave in. One of those Stingers was found last November outside Prince Sultan airbase in Saudi Arabia, and it had apparently been fired by an al-Qaida member at a US fighter jet without effect. Maybe, in view of the long and profound links of the Republican Party with extremist Islamic terrorists, we need a regime change in Washington.