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Revisionist History
The Amman bombings are a reminder that Iraqis have been involved with terrorism for a long time.
By Dan Darling
Weekly Standard 
11/15/2005 12:00:00 AM

LAST WEEK'S BOMBINGS in Amman, apparently carried out by Iraqi suicide bombers loyal to Abu Musab Zarqawi, have led to a new round of discussions in both the Western and Arab press as to whether or not the Iraqi insurgency is branching out into other parts of the Middle East. While much of this debate has been useful, many analysts, in their eagerness to criticize the Iraq War, have obfuscated the actual context in which the bombings took place. It has been suggested that (1) Zarqawi was not aligned with al Qaeda prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq; and (2) This is the first time that Iraqi nationals have been involved in international terrorism or jihadist causes. These memes are popular among both analysts and the press.

They are also demonstrably false.

Amidst the reporting on the Amman bombings, the Associated Press noted this anecdote with regard to the Radisson SAS hotel, one of the buildings targeted by the suicide bombers: "U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi and bin Laden operations chief Abu Zubaydah were chief organizers of a foiled plot to bomb the Radisson SAS. The attack was to take place during millennium celebrations, but Jordanian authorities stopped it in late 1999." If this is the case, then the bombing of the Radisson SAS and the two other Amman hotels last week should not be seen so much as an outgrowth of the Iraqi insurgency as much as a tell-tale al Qaeda modus operandi: continuing to target a given location until the attack is carried out successfully (recall the 1993 World Trade Center bombing).

Moreover, Zarqawi's close collaboration with senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the 1999 plot is another problem for intelligence analysts, counterterrorism officials, and diplomats have claimed for three years--despite the evidence to the contrary--that Zarqawi operated separately of or in opposition to bin Laden prior to the fall of 2004.

Some have gone even further, claiming that it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq which brought the two terrorists together. Yet such a position defies logic given that the first public mention of Zarqawi was his original indictment in connection with the 1999 plot, where he is listed in Jordanian court records under his real name, Ahmad al-Khalialah (Ahmed al-Khalayleh), alongside senior al Qaeda leaders Zein Al Abiddeen Hassan (Zain al-Abd Din Hassan, the real name of Abu Zubaydah), Omar Mahmoud Abu Omar (Sheikh Abu Qatada, later described by Spanish authorities as bin Laden's ambassador in Europe), and Louay al-Sakkah (Louai Sakra), who was arrested over the summer in connection with a plot to attack Israeli cruise ships in Turkey.

All of this information is available in the public record, but it has been substantially underreported.

AS FOR THE INVOLVEMENT of Iraqi nationals in international terrorism, this topic is complicated by the fact that a number of Saddam's former lieutenants, most notably Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, have publicly embraced Islamic extremism since the U.S.-led invasion. But remember: Saddam Hussein's regime promulgated an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam during the course of its al-Hamlah al-Imaniyyah (Return to Faith) campaign from 1993 until its downfall. An entire generation of Iraqi Sunni youth have been indoctrinated to accept a form of Islam that, if not identical to some of most virulent aspects of Salafism, is certainly close kin to it. Yet even this line of analysis ignores the number of Iraqi nationals prominently involved in al Qaeda over the years.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that only a handful of Iraqis were involved in terrorism prior to the war, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna documents Iraqis' involvement at the highest levels of al Qaeda in his 2002 book Inside Al Qaeda, which Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, recommended in his own 2004 book Imperial Hubris.

According to Dr. Gunaratna, the Iraqis involved in al Qaeda include not only its first military chief, Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi, but also a number of other senior members, including Abu Ubaidah al-Iraqi, Ayoub al-Iraqi, Abu Fadl al-Iraqi, and Abu Burhan al-Iraqi. Combine this list with other known Iraqi jihadis, such as Mahmouh Mahmud Salim (Abu Hajer al-Iraqi) and 1993 World Trade Center bomber Abdul Rahman Yasin, and you get an even clearer picture of Iraqi involvement with terrorism.

And lest you believe that these individuals are exceptions to the rule, Dr. Gunaratna provides the 1993 numbers for Arab mujahideen living in Pakistan who chose to register with the government rather than follow bin Laden to Sudan. Among these Arab mujahideen are 326 Iraqis--a number larger than the number of Syrians, Sudanese, Libyans, Tunisians, or Moroccans who registers. Clearly, as early as 1993 Iraqi nationals already constituted a major component in the world of international jihad.

Dan Darling is a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute Center for Policing Terrorism.



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