PUTIN AND THE KGB ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IRAQ, 9/11 AND STATE SPONSORED TERROR
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Just before last year’s US-led invasion of Iraq, the Russian leader returned to his former warning to Bush. In a telephone conversation that ended a long period of silence between the two leaders, he informed Bush of intelligence he had received of “international elements with ties to international terrorism” preparing a trap for US forces in Iraq that was aimed at tripping up Bush personally in a debacle. This would come in the form of a guerrilla war that would inflict heavy US casualties and force an American withdrawal.
The US president did not trust the warning, suspecting it was a ploy to avert the Iraq war, against which Moscow had lined up with Paris and Berlin.
But then Putin harked back to his warning to US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, when she visited him at the Kremlin on April 6. At the time, Saddam Hussein’s forces and loyalists were still holding onto parts of Baghdad.
Rice was sharply reproving. Russian intelligence had better not interfere in Baghdad, she cautioned, or make any attempt to help Saddam and his sons hide in Iraq or flee the country. Putin shot back that his own intelligence services were out of it, but certain other European agencies were itching to put their oar in. He did not identify the agencies, but Washington inferred he meant French intelligence. The Russian leader then advised Washington to beware of the guerrilla war brewing in Iraq, using terms similar to those he employed this week: “International terrorism aims to hurt the United States and George Bush.”
Since his fruitless conversation with Rice, Putin frequently comments on what he sees as the Bush administration’s misreading of the forces activating the Iraq insurgency. He drops these comments into private conversations with top Russian political and security aides. Washington, he says, mistakenly sees three elements fighting US troops in Iraq: al Qaeda and its affiliates such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam, ex-Baath party activists and foreign fighters (Syrians, Saudis, Yemenis and others).
But he is firmly of the opinion that none of the three commands the resources for moving thousands of people around the world and then into Iraq via Syria or Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, fully furnished with travel documents, money and safe havens, and generous stipends dispensed to the families they left behind. The Russian ruler insists that neither al Qaeda nor the 4,000 Syria-based former Baath officials directing the guerrilla war is capable of organizing a logistical operation on this scale and across such distances.
A former KGB hand himself, he points to the resources the CIA had to collect to place mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Cold War occupation. It could not be done without calling on Saudi intelligence and setting up an extensive network of transit and training camps in several Muslim countries, primarily in Egypt.
Al Qaeda maintained cells in Spain, Morocco, France, Tangier, Gibraltar and perhaps other countries to initiate major terrorist attacks, such as the Madrid train bombings last March. But the Russian leader is certain that to bring this sophisticated, multi-faceted plan to the stage of execution, at least one professional intelligence agency must have been called in to tie together the ends scattered across several countries and place them in the tight operational framework necessary. He also found the political timing more than suggestive of experienced intelligence involvement. The Madrid blasts were precisely timed to take place just before a gener al election and induce the defeat of the pro-American government in Madrid. Al Qaeda alone, Putin reasoned, does not have this kind of fine-tuned strategic expertise.
Counter-terrorism experts report that the Russian leader will have found fuel for his conviction in this week’s kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, chief of operations in Iraq for the international aid agency CARE. She was described in the videotape aired by Al Jazeera as “a British aid worker” although she was born in Ireland and carries Iraqi dual nationality.
Hassan, who has lived in Iraq for thirty years and is married to an Iraqi, was abducted Tuesday, October 19 – the day the first British troops were moved from the southern city of Basra to the flashpoint towns of Iskandriya and in Latafiya south of Baghdad, as “backfill” for the US troops needed for the assault on the Sunni rebel stronghold of Fallujah.
None of the local guerrilla groups currently under US and Iraqi military siege in the Sunni Triangle has owned up to the kidnapping, strengthening the conviction in the Kremlin that the decision to abduct a prominent Briton in Baghdad was made by none other than the “international terrorists” who are orchestrating the guerrilla war against Bush and American troops.
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