Iraq

Saddam and the Taliban

This is a cross-post by Kyle Orton

In the last two posts, examining the Saddam Hussein regime’s long relationship with al-Qaeda, a noticeable sub-theme was the connections the Saddam regime had with the Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan. The evidence accumulated suggests that Saddam’s policies in his later years, namely the Islamization of his own regime and instrumentalization of Islamists in foreign policy, included welcoming relations with the Taliban.

The Saddam regime’s contacts with al-Qaeda date to the 1990-91 Gulf War. The first direct contacts between the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and al-Qaeda took place after bin Laden moved to Sudan in 1992. Saddam and al-Qaeda reached a non-aggression pact in 1993. After bin Laden moved to Afghanistan in May 1996, the Iraqi Embassy in Pakistan became the “point of contact” with al-Qaeda.

It is little surprise that, in maintaining his connection with al-Qaeda, Saddam should develop connections to the Taliban. As in Sudan, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan becomes virtually indistinguishable from the Taliban government. In both Sudan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda supplies money and battle-hardened troops to regimes engaged in civil wars; in return al-Qaeda gets land for training camps and the functions of a State such as passports and diplomatic pouches to move weapons and other contraband.

One of the repeated requests from al-Qaeda to Saddam through the 1990s is for training camps on Iraqi soil. This request is never shown in the documentation to have been refused. The Fedayeen Saddam, a fanatically loyal Praetorian unit with a notably Islamist character, ran training camps for foreign terrorists at Salman Pak and around Lake Thartharat least 8,000 men graduated those camps during the Saddam years (and this continued afterwards). Whether al-Qaeda had men trained at Saddam’s camps is simply unknown. Al-Qaeda did get training camps on Iraqi soil before the end of Saddam’s regime, however.

In 1998, Kurdish Salafi-jihadists began infiltrating back into northern Iraq from Afghanistan, through Iran. With al-Qaeda seed money and under the guidance of men loyal to Islamic State (ISIS) founder Abu Musab az-Zarqawi, the holy warriors in Kurdistan would merge into Ansar al-Islam and take control of a five-hundred-square-kilometre strip of territory on which they opened training camps. Ansar was provided with money and weapons from the Saddam regime in its war against the Kurdish government, and Ansar’s strategic driver, formally third-in-command, Saadan Mahmoud Abdul Latif al-Aani (Abu Wael), was an IIS officer. Ansar hasmerged into ISIS.

What role the Qaeda-affiliated forces trained in and by Saddam’s Iraq had on the Taliban’s success in the Afghan civil war is unsayable on the available evidence.

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