The subject of Al Qaeda in Iraq erupted on the campaign trail yesterday – CNN reports first John McCain said:
“I understand that Sen. Obama said that if al Qaeda established a base in Iraq that he would send troops back in militarily. Al Qaeda already has a base in Iraq. It’s called al Qaeda in Iraq,” McCain said.
“It’s a remarkable statement to say that you would send troops back to a place where al Qaeda has established a base — where they have already established a base.”
Later Barak Obama said –
“McCain thought that he could make a clever point by saying ,’Well let me give you some news Barack, al Qaeda is in Iraq,’ like I wasn’t reading the papers, like I didn’t know what was going on.”
“I said, ‘Well first of all, I do know that al Qaeda is in Iraq. That’s why I’ve said we should continue to strike al Qaeda targets. But I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.”
There’s video at HotAir.
Is that true? What was being reported before the 2003 invasion?
As early as March 15, 2002, about a year before the invasion, the Christian Science Monitor reported on what it called a Taliban-styled group operating in Iraq:
A radical Islamist group – with possible links to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein – is growing and threatening the stability of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
The group – Ansar al-Islam – emerged just days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. It delivered a fatwa, or manifesto, to the citizens in mountain villages against “the blasphemous secularist, political, social, and cultural” society there, according to Kurdish party leaders.
Since, Ansar al-Islam has nearly doubled in size to 700, including Iraqis, Jordanians, Moroccans, Palestinians, and Afghans – a composition similar to the multinational Al Qaeda network. Villagers here claim it has ransacked and razed beauty salons, burned schools for girls, and murdered women in the streets for refusing to wear the burqa. It has seized a Taliban-style enclave of 4,000 civilians and several villages near the Iran border.
With the US dedicated to rooting out Al Qaeda’s influence wherever it surfaces in the world, a group of Islamic extremists in northern Iraq with even loose ties to Al Qaeda could complicate further any Iraq intervention. Already the US is in a delicate dance with allies over how to handle Iraq, with many warning that the US must consider the implications of possible instability that a move to topple Hussein could cause.
On July 24, 2002, the BBC reported
A pocket of militant Islamic extremists, believed to be linked to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda movement, is causing havoc in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.
The presence of the violently anti-American group, known as the Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), is likely to attract increasing attention as US moves to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime gather pace.
Why CNN itself reported on September 25, 2002, this by then national security adviser Condoleeza Rice
… said the U.S. government clearly knows “that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time.”
“We know too that several of the detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development,” Rice said.
“So, yes, there are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history with terrorism in general. And there are some al Qaeda personnel who found refuge in Baghdad,” she said. “There clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented.”
At the same time, she cautioned that “no one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on September 11th, so we don’t want to push this too far.”
Rice added: “This is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clear, and we’re learning more. … When the picture is clear, we’ll make full disclosure about it.”
CBS reported on October 1, 2002, that there were tantalizing leads possibly linking Al Qaeda, Iraq and the September 11 attacks – from National Security Correspondent David Martin –
When hijacker Khalid al Midhar arrived in Malaysia in January of 2000 for a meeting of key al Qaeda operatives, he was met at the airport by an Iraqi named Ahmad Shakir, who worked part-time greeting VIPs, a job he got with the help of someone in the Iraqi Embassy.
One week later, al Midhar flew to the United States, and 18 months later he was aboard the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon. He is considered one of the most important hijackers because he was in charge of the so-called muscle – the young Saudi men responsible for subduing the passengers
That is not a smoking gun linking Iraq to Sept. 11, but it is one of several clues suggesting, though not proving, a connection between al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein.
Martin goes on to report on another link that existed before 9/11
The clearest link so far is that at least one senior member of al Qaeda fled to Baghdad after Sept. 11. He has since left Baghdad and there is no evidence Saddam Hussein knew about his visit, although in a police state like Iraq people don’t just come and go.
On October 10, 2002, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a floor speech that included the following:
In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. (emphasis added)
Globalsecurity.org has a long report on Al Qaeda in Iraq, which contains the following
ABU MUSA’AB AL-ZARQAWI [AKAs: KHALAILAH, Ahmed Fadee Ii AL-KHALAYLAH, Ahmad Fadil Nazzali ABU AL-MU’TAZ], has ties to al-Qaida, Asbat al-Ansar and Hizballah. In addition to providing the financial and material support for the assassination of a U.S. diplomat, he has participated in acts of terrorism, trained terrorist, led terrorist cells, facilitated transport of terrorists and is being cited in the international press as a suspect in the recent devastating bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad.
ZARQAWI has arranged training for terrorists at al-Qaida camps. While he was in Pakistan, ZARQAWI made contact with al-Qaida to train Jordanians. His operatives (called “Jund al-Sham”) began to arrive in Afghanistan in large numbers in l999. Some of these operatives trained at al-Qaida’s al-Faruq Camp, where they received full support from al-Qaida. ZARQAWI eventually established his own cell and camp in Herat, Afghanistan.
Returning to Afghanistan in 2000, he oversaw a terrorist training camp. One of his specialties, and one of the specialties of this camp, is poisons. When the American-led coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp, and this camp is located in northeastern Iraq.
So, Senator Obama, there appears to be plenty of evidence that Al Qaeda was in Iraq long before the US invasion of 2003.