Can We Please Shut the Washington Post Down Today?
Berkeley Faculty Club: August 27

A Question for James Fallows...

James Fallows writes:

Bombing Iran: What is The Atlantic's Line?: Jeffrey Goldberg's cover story, on Israel's preparations to bomb Iran (and what that means for America), is getting a lot of attention, and deserves to. It is very much worth reading for its thoroughly-reported and authoritative assessment of what the Israeli, U.S., and Iranian governments are likely to do and why...

A question for James Fallows: Does he have any reason to believe that this "thoroughly-reported and authoritative" article that the Atlantic Monthly is boosting today contains any smaller a bullshit quotient than what Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in 2002 for the New Yorker? And if he does could he share those reasons?

The New Yorker: A Reporter at Large: The Great Terror: The stories, which I later checked with experts on the region, seemed at least worth the attention of America and other countries in the West. The allegations include charges that... Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992; that a number of Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan. If these charges are true, it would mean that the relationship between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought.... The possibility that Saddam could supply weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terror groups is a powerful argument among advocates of “regime change,” as the removal of Saddam is known in Washington....

On the surface, a marriage of Saddam’s secular Baath Party regime with the fundamentalist Al Qaeda seems unlikely.... But about ten years ago Saddam underwent something of a battlefield conversion to a fundamentalist brand of Islam.... This conversion... has opened doors to Saddam in the fundamentalist world....

The Kurdish intelligence officials I spoke to were careful not to oversell their case.... But they do have proof, they said, that Ansar al-Islam is shielding Al Qaeda members, and that it is doing so with the approval of Saddam’s agents.... The real leader, these officials say, is an Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Wa’el, and who, like the others, spent a great deal of time in bin Laden’s training camps. But he is also, they say, a high-ranking officer of [Saddam Hussein's] Mukhabarat....

The Kurdish officials told me that they learned a lot about Abu Wa’el’s movements from one of their prisoners, an Iraqi intelligence officer named Qassem Hussein Muhammad.... I asked him if he was sure that Abu Wa’el was on Saddam’s side. “He’s an employee of the Mukhabarat,” Qassem said. “He’s the actual decision-maker in the group”—Ansar al-Islam—“but he’s an employee of the Mukhabarat.”...

Later, I asked the Kurdish officials if they believed that Saddam provides aid to Al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups or simply maintains channels of communication with them. It was getting late, and the room was growing even colder. “Come back tomorrow,” the senior official in the room said, “and we’ll introduce you to someone who will answer that question.”... The man they introduced me to the next afternoon was a twenty-nine-year-old Iranian Arab, a smuggler and bandit from the city of Ahvaz. The intelligence officials told me that his most recent employer was bin Laden.... The Iranian had a thin face, thick black hair, and a mustache; he wore an army jacket, sandals, and Western-style sweatpants. Speaking in an almost casual tone, he told me that he was born in 1973, that his real name was Muhammad Mansour Shahab, and that he had been a smuggler most of his adult life.... Othman gave him the name Muhammad Jawad to use....

One day in 1999, Othman got a message to Jawad, who was then in Iran. He was to smuggle himself across the Iraqi border at Fao, where a car would meet him and take him to a village near Tikrit, the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s clan. Jawad was then taken to a meeting at the house of a man called Luay, whom he described as the son of Saddam’s father-in-law.... Mukhabarat officials instructed Jawad to go to Baghdad, where he was to retrieve several cannisters filled with explosives....

Carole O’Leary, a Middle Eastern expert at American University, in Washington, and a specialist on the Kurds, said it is likely that Saddam would seek an alliance with Islamic terrorists to serve his own interests. “I know that there are Mukhabarat agents throughout Kurdistan,” O’Leary said, and went on, “One way the Mukhabarat could destabilize the Kurdish experiment in democracy is to link up with Islamic radical groups. Their interests dovetail completely. They both have much to fear from the democratic, secular experiment of the Kurds in the safe haven, and they both obviously share a hatred for America.”...

It is unclear what biological and chemical weapons Saddam possesses today. When he maneuvered UNSCOM out of his country in 1998, weapons inspectors had found a sizable portion of his arsenal but were vexed by what they couldn’t find. His scientists certainly have produced and weaponized anthrax, and they have manufactured botulinum toxin, which causes muscular paralysis and death. They’ve made Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that causes gas gangrene, a condition in which the flesh rots. They have also made wheat-cover smut, which can be used to poison crops, and ricin, which, when absorbed into the lungs, causes hemorrhagic pneumonia....

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power. After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities. Those who have followed Saddam’s progress believe that no single strike today would eradicate his nuclear program.... There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter forever the balance of power in the Middle East...

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