Critics of the Iraq War commonly claim that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no ties to al Qaeda or to any other Islamic terrorist organizations. Since fears of such links were part of the rationale for war, the implication of this claim is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was unjustified.
But evidence suggests that Saddam Hussein's Baathist Iraq was a haven for Islamic terrorists, including al Qaeda members and their affiliates. The evidence for Saddam's cooperation with, and support for, global terrorists is abundant. For example:
Journalist Stephen Hayes reported in July 2003 that the official Babylon Daily Political Newspaper, published by Saddam's eldest son, Uday, had printed what it called a "List of Honor" in its November 14, 2002 edition. This list gave the names and titles of 600 leading Iraqis, including this entry: "Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan." According to Hayes, that name matched that of Iraq's then-ambassador to Islamabad.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, formerly the director of an al Qaeda training base in Afghanistan, fled to Iraq after being injured as the Taliban fell. He received medical care and convalesced for two months in Baghdad. He then opened a terrorist training camp in northern Iraq and arranged the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman, Jordan.
Ramzi Yousef, the Kuwaiti-born ringleader of the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing plot, first arrived in the United States (on September 1, 1992) on an Iraqi passport.
Author Richard Miniterreported on September 25, 2003, that U.S. forces had discovered a cache of documents in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, showing that Iraq had given both a house and a monthly salary to al Qaeda member Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was indicted for mixing the chemicals in the bomb that exploded beneath the World Trade Center in 1993.
Along Iraq's border with Syria, U.S. troops captured Farouk Hijazi, Saddam's former ambassador to Turkey and suspected liaison to al Qaeda. Under interrogation, Hijazi admitted meeting with senior al Qaeda leaders at Saddam's behest in 1994.
While sifting through the bombed ruins of the Iraqi intelligence agency in April 2003, three investigators – the Toronto Star's Mitch Potter, the London Daily Telegraph's Inigo Gilmore, and their translator -- discovered a memo dated "February 19, 1998" and marked "Top Secret and Urgent." It said the agency would pay "all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden, the Saudi opposition leader, about the future of our relationship with him, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."
On January 5, 2000, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir — an Iraqi airport greeter reportedly dispatched from Baghdad's embassy in Malaysia — welcomed Khalid al Midhar and Nawaz al Hamzi to Kuala Lampur and escorted them to a local hotel where these September 11 hijackers met with 9/11 conspirators Ramzi bin al Shibh and Tawfiz al Atash. Five days later, according to Stephen Hayes, Shakir disappeared. He was arrested in Qatar on September 17, 2001, six days after al Midhar and al Hamzi had slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 216 people. On his person and in his apartment, authorities discovered papers tying him to the 1993 World Trade Center plot and to "Operation Bojinka," al Qaeda's 1995 plan to simultaneously blow up 12 jets over the Pacific Ocean.
The Czech Republic stands by its claim, rejected by some opponents of the war in Iraq, that in April 2001, 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta met in Prague with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim an-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat / intelligence agent. An-Ani was expelled two weeks after the suspected meeting with Atta, for his apparently hostile surveillance of Radio Free Europe's Prague headquarters -- from which American broadcasts to Iraq emanate.
Saddam paid bonuses of up to $25,000 apiece to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. On March 13, 2002, Reuters reported that Mahmoud Besharat, who was entrusted with dispensing these funds across the West Bank, gratefully said: "You would have to ask President Saddam why he is being so generous. But he is a revolutionary and he wants this distinguished struggle, the intifada, to continue."
According to the State Department's May 21, 2002 "Patterns of Global Terrorism," the Abu Nidal Organization, the Arab Liberation Front, Hamas, the Kurdistan Worker's party, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization, and the Palestinian Liberation Front all operated offices or bases in Saddam's Iraq. The dictator's hospitality toward these mass murderers placed him in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which prohibited him from giving safe harbor to or otherwise supporting terrorists.
Coalition forces found, alive and well in Iraq, a number of key terrorists who enjoyed Saddam's hospitality. Among them was Abu Abbas, mastermind of the October 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound American Jew whom Abbas's men threw to his death in the Mediterranean Sea. Another terrorist who took refuge in Baathist Iraq was Khala Khadr al-Salahat, accused of designing the bomb that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988 (killing 270 people). Yet another was the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, who resided in Iraq from 1999 to 2002. According to the Beirut office of the Abu Nidal Organization, Nidal had entered Iraq with the full knowledge and assent of the Iraqi authorities.
Coalition troops destroyed at least three terrorist training camps in Iraq, including a base near Baghdad called Salman Pak. This camp featured a passenger-jet fuselage where, according to numerous Iraqi defectors, foreign terrorists were taught how to hijack airliners with utensils.
The Philippine government expelled Hisham al Hussein, the second secretary at Iraq's Manila embassy, on February 13, 2003. Cell-phone records indicate that the diplomat had spoken with Abu Madja and Hamsiraji Sali, leaders of Abu Sayyaf, just before and just after this al Qaeda-allied Islamic militant group had conducted an attack in Zamboanga City. Those phone records bolster Sali's claim that the Iraqi diplomat had offered these Muslim extremists Baghdad's help with joint missions.