Saddam and Osama Yet Again

SADDAM AND OSAMA YET AGAIN….Marc Lynch is still plowing his way through the Iraqi document dump, and today he examines a memo that was written in 1997 shortly after Osama bin Laden had moved from Sudan to Afghanistan. Among other things, it says, “Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location.”

Marc suggests that “activate” is a better translation of the Arabic word taf’il than “invigorate,” but then tells us that’s the least of the problems with this memo:

This is a very odd “document”. It’s handwritten, and is not on any kind of official letterhead or stationary. It has no stamps or signatures indicating that it had passed through the bureaucracy and been placed in the files. It is neither signed nor dated. I’m just not sure the grounds on which it was declared to be presumed authentic. That isn’t to say that it is definitively not authentic ? there could be cover pages and supplemental materials that were not included in the scanned file. But what was made public gives little reason for confidence.

I’ve got a slightly different question: who cares? This document apparently dates from 1997 and it doesn’t tell us anything new. We’ve known for years that Saddam and Osama had a few tentative contacts during the 90s, the last of which was in 1998/99 when Osama’s relationship with the Taliban was undergoing some strain and Saddam had just been bombed by U.S./British forces. The contact was brief and nothing came of it.

No one has ever suggested that Saddam had no contact at all with al-Qaeda. He did. But it never amounted to anything, and the credible evidence indicates that there hadn’t even been any casual contact between Saddam and al-Qaeda for over four years by the time we invaded Iraq in 2003. This document does nothing to suggest otherwise.