Was Abu Nidal Forgery Aimed at Refuting Joe Wilson?

The LA Times summarizes the case made by journalist Ron Suskind that the Bush administration orchestrated the forging of a document by Iraqi defector and former intelligence chief Tahir Jalil Habbush. Habbush was allegedly paid $5 million and settled in Jordan because of his cooperation.

The document, which alleged that 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta received training at a camp run by Abu Nidal in Baghdad, was leaked to British hack Con Coughlin in December, 2003.

The allegations in the document are completely implausible. Sabri Khalil al-Banna, known as Abu Nidal, was a psychopathic and paranoid leftist who had had ties to East Germany and split with the PLO because it was too far right for him. Neither would al-Qaeda, a far rightwing Muslim fundamentalist cult, have been willing to have anything to do with him, nor he with it.

The regime of Saddam Hussein would never, ever have allowed a loose canon like Abu Nidal to run a terrorist training camp in Iraq. I mean, really. First you accuse the Baath of being totalitarian, then you say they let notoriously unstable people run around with explosives? Moreover, Jordanian intelligence would never have countenanced such a thing, and Saddam needed Jordan’s smuggling trade to get around the UN/ US boycott, so he could not have afforded to disregard their sensibilities completely. He could not have hidden a whole training camp from Amman!

Ironically, Habbush, who created the forgery, had probably been the one who whacked Abu Nidal, as head of Iraqi intelligence, in 2002. So, having killed the man, Habbush then used him for tradecraft purposes.

The letter also mentions, according to Coughlin, the purchase of uranium from Niger by Iraq and its transshipment across Libya and Syria.

Ayad Allawi, a long-time CIA asset, vouched for the forged document to Coughlin. That item is circumstantial evidence for Suskind’s narrative about Bush coercing the Company into manufacturing this thing. Allawi, based in London, had a special charge from the CIA to cultivate ex-officers who defected from Iraq, so he may have been Habbush’s handler.

Now for the big mystery: Why bother to cook up this document in September, 2003, after the US had already conquered Iraq?

It seems to me likely that the forgery was ordered by the White House as a direct response to Ambassador Joe Wilson’s New York Times op-ed that revealed that he had proven false the allegation that Saddam had recently bought yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger.

By September of 2003, a guerrilla war was raging in Iraq and it had become clear that there were no WMD. Shiite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim was blown up in Najaf on August 31. GIs were being killed in al-Anbar.

Bush and Cheney needed to refute Wilson’s allegation that they ignored his report on Niger uranium. They also needed a smoking gun to tie Iraq to al-Qaeda, without which their continued occupation of the country was on thin legal grounds.

Tying Atta to Abu Nidal would form an ex post facto justification for the war, something Bush desperately needed.

Tying Syria and Libya to the alleged Iraqi nuclear program was also a way to set them up as the next targets.