Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 14, 2003
WAR: Smoking Gun - Or Flaming Lie?
The London Telegraph is reporting an improbably damning find -- a memo to Saddam Hussein himself demonstrating that Mohammed Atta was training in Baghdad under Abu Nidal in the summer of 2001, and tossing in claims about uranium from Niger to boot:
Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day "work programme" Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal's base in Baghdad.
In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy".
The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment - believed to be uranium - that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.
Although Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document, Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq's ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, said the document was genuine.
"We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al-Qaeda," he said. "But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks."
(Link via The Corner)
This is a huge story if it has even a grain of truth to it, and a significant story (i.e, big-time fabrication) if it doesn't. Frankly, this almost seems too convenient -- it's entirely possible that all this happened, but finding a memo addressed to the dictator himself and including both the Al Qaeda connection in its strongest form (i.e., contemporaneous support of September 11) and the Niger story in the same breath makes me rather suspicious. I'm sure if there's anything bad to be known about Dr Ayad Allawi, we'll be hearing it very soon from the usual suspects (Josh Marshall, call your office). Certainly, it's not improbable that the Iraqi provisional government includes some people who are desperate to suck up to the Bush Administration and not too subtle about doing so.
The article doesn't say whether Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti is in US custody, and a cursory web search indicates he may still be at large (although I may have missed something; the best list a Google search turned up was this BBC list from October).
Either way, it's a story we need to hear more about.