Washington — Some months ago, when Michael Ledeen’s coolly argued book, The War Against the Terror Masters, came out I thought he had tipped the balance in favor of regime change in Iraq. Not only did he make the case that Saddam Hussein has aided and abetted international terrorism, he also linked Hussein to Al Qaeda. At least he made a strong enough case for me. Thus I was surprised when Official Washington ignored the case, and then claimed it was all very murky. Who could say how closely Hussein was to any terrorists, let alone Al Qaeda?
Well, now it seems President George W. Bush and our intelligence community is ready to make the case. One of the striking things about the President’s fine State of the Union speech was that he no longer asked Saddam for anything. It appears the President’s mind is made up. Saddam’s transgressions against humanity warrant regime change, and one of Saddam’s transgressions is support of terrorists, including Al Qaeda, the murderous madmen who killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.
The other night the President said that his government now has sufficient intelligence to link Hussein to the international assassins of innocent people. He said we have this intelligence from intercepted communications, from the interrogations of prisoners captured in the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, from defectors, and from other intelligence gathering. Frankly I have never understood why over the past few months it was considered so controversial to link Hussein to terror. The reports kept coming in.
The most damning linkage between Iraq and Al Qaeda came shortly after 9/11 when Czech authorities revealed that one of 9/11’s hijackers met in Prague prior to the attacks on New York and Washington with a known Iraqi intelligence officer. Though but a lowly student of architecture in Germany, Mohammad Atta, who probably flew the first plane to hit the World Trade Center, met in April 2001 with the second-secretary to Iraq’s embassy in Prague, Khalil Ibrahim Samir Al-Ani. Al-Ani was later expelled from the Czech Republic on suspicion of spying and of plotting to destroy American installations. I hope he is now back in Baghdad and very close to President Hussein. They deserve the same fate.
Curiously American officials have long doubted that this meeting took place, but the Czechs stand by their story. Now we have other evidence that Iraq has been complicitous with Al Qaeda. The Islamic extremists group Ansar al-Islam is operating in northern Iraq against Kurdish forces, obviously with Iraqi’s approbation. Before September 11 members of Ansar al-Islam were trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Moreover an Al Qaeda operative responsible for planning chemical and biological attacks, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, has been spotted in Baghdad where he was treated for injuries received while fighting in Afghanistan.
Of course even before the connections between Iraq and members of Al Qaeda were established anyone who cared to look into it could find out that Iraq was a safe haven for terrorists, just as Syria and Iran have been safe havens for terrorists. It has long been know that one of the most dangerous terrorists of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, had been the recipient of Iraqi hospitality. Nidal was responsible for some 90 terrorists attacks accounting for the deaths of nearly 900 people, 12 of whom were Americans. He died violently in Iraq not long ago having exhausted his usefulness to Islamic extremists. More recently, the Associated Press reports that Abu Abbas, the mastermind behind the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, in which one American was killed, has returned to Baghdad.
All this evidence of Saddam Hussein’s involvement with terror has been available for months. Now the President reports that next week Secretary of State Colin Powell will divulge still more evidence. That combined with the evidence that arms inspector Hans Blix has come up with makes the case overwhelmingly. It is time for America’s most effective peace movement to roll into Iraq — that is to say the American armed forces and their allies.