Iraq And September 11 Date Wed 29 May

Iraq and September 11

Date: Wed, 29 May 2002 22:37:27 -0400 (EDT)

To: gulf2000 list

Subject: Re: Laurie Mylroie: Iraq, the Strategic Blunder, NRO

The media industry around sabre rattling toward Iraq continues to

flourish. But I just spent a week in Turkey talking to ordinary people,

and I want to report that Turks are terrified of an Iraq war. Their

economy has been badly battered by September 11 and its aftermath, which

has devastated tourism and by the extended US recession, which has hurt

Turkish exports. This is on top of an economic crisis that cut the value

of the lira in half against the dollar. Virtually everyone I asked told

me that an Iraq campaign next year had the potential for casting them all

into penury. They also, of course, worry that if the Kurds are stirred up

in Iraq, it will eventually spill over into eastern Turkey. Since the

Wolfowitz doctrine of eternal war does require the U.K. and Turkey as

permanent allies, pursuing a policy that has the potential to hurt Turkey

so badly is possibly self-contradictory.

As for the Mylroie piece in National Review Online, it is frankly full of

illogic, innuendo and drum-beating and completely lacking in any evidence

for sweeping assertions. We professors can’t help grading papers. This

one flunks.

The piece begins with September 11 and then says that al-Qaida could not

have pulled it off on its own. This is simply not true. The September 11

operation was not in fact terribly complex. It simply required 4 nearly

simultaneous airplane hijackings. It required that some of the hijackers

have attended flight school and know how to operate at a very basic level

the largely computerized flight equipment. It required that they be able

to follow the Hudson river valley and be able to bank. It required that

they hijack planes headed for the West Coast from the East, to ensure they

were loaded with fuel, to act as a bomb. The whole operation probably

cost less than $500,000. You did not need a government to plan this

operation or execute it, which is why it is so frightening. It is a

perfect example of asymmetry. The operation exploited a few basic holes

in U.S. air security, including an assumption that the hijackers would not

blow themselves up along with their planes.

Ms. Mylroie goes on to say that documentation on September 11 in

Afghanistan is slim. Duh. A top secret operation should not have a big

paper trail. If possible everything should be kept oral. *However*, there

are some very significant pieces of evidence locating the planning for the

operation in Afghanistan. The money trail goes back to the UAE and thence

to Pakistan. (Not to Baghdad). Atta and others went to Afghanistan for

training. Al-Qaida informants report seeing some of the hijackers in

al-Qaida camps. Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid al-Mihdar met with the al-Qaida

station chief in Malaysia before going on to San Diego. Many of the

hijackers were Saudi, which is what one would expect if they were linked

to Bin Ladin. No Iraqis were involved. And, Bin Ladin has been caught on

tape talking about the planning of the operation! Although Ahmed Ressam

(now in federal penitentiary), Djemal Baghal of Algeria (now in prison in

France) and Ra’id Hijazi (now in prison in Jordan) have given extensive

information on al-Qaida activities that has been proven accurate, *none*

has ever so much as mentioned any Iraqi role. Abu Zubayda, Bin Ladin’s

Palestinian right hand man now in custody, seems also to be voluble, and

if he were fingering Iraq I think we may be assured we would have heard

about it.

There is no credible evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11.

Nor is there any evidence that I can accept as a professional historian

linking Iraq to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Indeed, the

evidence that al-Gamaa al-Islamiyyah planned and executed 1993 is

overwhelming, and the amateurish way it was carried out is evidence in

itself that it was not a sophisticated state operation. Allegations,

assertions, suspicions, and overly complex conspiracy theories abound in

history. Professional historians are trained to weight the evidence and

sort it as to likelihood. Historians of the Middle East have perhaps been

insufficiently responsible in intervening in contemporary history, where

their professional skills are increasingly important. In fact, I would

argue that September 11 would only have been launched by an asymmetric

organization like al-Qaida, not by a state. If a state launched it, it

would be an obvious casus belli and the state officers could expect to

meet the world’s most powerful nation in all-out war. Saddam Hussein is a

brutal, crafty dictator, but he is not that stupid and rather likes being

in power.

Atta may or may not have met with the Iraqi intelligence chief, al-Ani, in

Prague. There are conflicting reports and the most recent public

assessments by Western intelligence agencies deny the meeting. If it did

occur, it almost certainly centered on the possibility of blowing up the

Radio Free Europe offices–not on September 11. Atta by this time had

shaved his beard and adopted a secular lifestyle, and if al-Ani did meet

him, al-Ani would have had no way to know he was al-Qaida. That al-Qaida

was capable of practicing false flag tradecraft toward the Baath Party is

far more plausible than than the Baath Party would get into bed with

radical fundamentalists who want to overthrow secular Arab governments and

resurrect the caliphate.

I continue to be skeptical that Saudi Arabia will lend its air space and

military facilities to a US war on Iraq. And, for technical reasons, I

believe that it would be difficult for the US to prosecute the war without

access to Saudi airspace. In the meantime, unsubstantiated allegations

and blatant illogicalities are not going to be of any help to us as a

nation in determining our security future. In fact, they could lead us in

counter-productive directions. Iraq has never been able to strike at the

US in any significant manner. Al-Qaida has. Al-Qaida is not dead, and,

indeed, may as we speak be attempting to foment nuclear war in South Asia

by terrorist attacks on Indian positions in Kashmir. The Bush

Administration would be well advised to keep its eye on that ball.


Juan Cole

U of Michigan

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