Skip to comments.France helped Iraq stymie opposition Documents also show link between Baghdad, bin Laden
Posted on 04/28/2003 3:51:11 PM PDT by Mihalis
France helped Iraq stymie opposition Documents also show link between Baghdad, bin Laden
Scott Stinson National Post, with files from The Daily Telegraph
Monday, April 28, 2003
CREDIT: The Associated Press
Osama bin Laden in an image from an al-Jazeera broadcast.
Documents discovered in Iraq's destroyed foreign ministry headquarters show France helped Baghdad try to stifle a Paris human rights conference, the second major find in recent days as journalists sift through the rubble of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Several papers suggest the French government aided Iraqi officials who arrived in Paris in February, 1998, to prevent a meeting of Indict, a prominent human rights group, from going ahead. Among the documents discovered by a reporter from London's Daily Telegraph is a letter from the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, that says the French Foreign Ministry had agreed that no Iraqi opposition leaders would be granted a visa to attend the conference.
The finding comes a day after reporters uncovered papers showing an al-Qaeda envoy was secretly invited to Baghdad in March, 1998, five months before al-Qaeda's deadly bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The documents, which show the Iraqi leadership sought to form a relationship with Osama bin Laden's group based on mutual hatred of the United States, are the first evidence of a direct link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Washington has long accused Baghdad of supporting al-Qaeda. George W. Bush, the U.S. President, made the alleged relationship between Saddam and bin Laden a plank in his case for waging war against Iraq. Other nations have downplayed the link and until now no solid proof of its existence had been found.
The files, discovered in the destroyed headquarters of Iraq's intelligence service, document correspondence between Iraqi agencies over preparations for the visit of the al-Qaeda envoy. Osama bin Laden's name is clearly legible three times in the papers, although it was covered in each instance by white correcting fluid that was scraped off by the people who found the documents.
One paper is marked, in Arabic handwriting, "Top Secret and Urgent." It is signed "MDA," a code name believed to be the director of one of the intelligence sections within the Mukhabarat, and dated Feb. 19, 1998. It refers to the planned trip from Sudan by bin Laden's unnamed envoy and refers to the arrangements for his visit. Bin Laden was based in Sudan until 1996.
An accompanying letter identifies the envoy as a trusted confidant of bin Laden and says Iraq will cover the envoy's travel and hotel costs "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 letter says Iraq's message for the al-Qaeda leader "would relate to the future of our relationship with him, bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."
Handwritten notes advise the Mukhabarat's deputy director-general to "bring the envoy to Iraq because we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden."
Other documents verify the envoy arrived in Baghdad from Khartoum in March, 1998, and stayed at a first-class hotel in the Iraqi capital for 16 days.
The papers support U.S. allegations that Saddam co-operated with al-Qaeda, and will spark debate about whether Baghdad supported the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"This discovery backs up everything we have heard about Baghdad's dealings with bin Laden," a Western intelligence official said on the weekend. "It shows that Iraqi intelligence was desperate to form an alliance with al-Qaeda. And if Saddam was working with bin Laden from the mid-1990s onwards, then that raises the question of whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks."
The documents suggesting co-operation between France and the Mukhabarat are the latest finding to display ties between Baghdad and one of the countries most vocally opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Other Iraqi intelligence files uncovered in the past two weeks have suggested Russia passed sensitive intelligence on to Iraq and detailed how Germany held secret meetings with Saddam's regime.
The French Foreign Ministry yesterday denied any collusion with Iraq, and although the Indict conference was held as planned, Iraqi officials considered their attempts to undermine it successful.
A memorandum dated April 18, 2000, was sent to Saddam's office by Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who was foreign minister at the time and later became the public voice of Iraqi defiance as information minister during the recent conflict. The memo is headed "The Failed Enemy Conference in Paris" and says French media ignored the event.
Ann Clwyd, a British Labour MP who chairs Indict, said yesterday she will be demanding an apology from the French government for its behaviour, which she described as "atrocious."
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