For a regime long said to be sharply opposed to radical Islamic groups the secular Baath Party that formerly ruled Iraq has seen a conspicuously large number of its members caught in close collaboration with al Qaeda and other Islamic groups in post-invasion Iraq.
A recent arrest in Mosul identified a former Saddam Fedayeen leader as an insurgent leader responsible for al Qaeda/foreign fighter camps in Syria.
On March 23, the Tactical Report, an online Middle East intelligence service, reported that a former Saddam Hussein officer was appointed as an al Qaeda leader to set up attacks on Iraqi oil sites.
In addition to these "new converts" a number of older stories on the same topic were passed along to www.regimeofterror.com.
One story, from the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat translated by a reader at Powerlineblog notes that one of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top men, Omar Hadid, was a former personal body guard of Saddam Hussein and had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan before fighting against coalition forces in Fallujah and elsewhere. Hadid, according to an al Qaeda biography after his death, also had a relative who was an official for Iraq's Intelligence Services and worked with Hadid on postwar operations. It should also be noted that, according to Knight-Ridder news services, Hadid's background included outright conflicts with Saddam Hussein's regime though he testified to the country's move away from secular restraints after the first Gulf War.
As previously detailed in a piece at The American Thinker by Ray Robison, the fighting in Fallujah a number of years back also saw the teaming up of many members of Saddam Hussein's former Republican Guard and foreign and domestic jihadist fighters.
Reportedly there were "scores of men" like Abu Mustafa (who) was one former military officer who told TIME that he spent his time in jail (post-invasion) "studying Salafi Islam and receiving lessons in jihad from bearded Iraqis and detainees who came from places like Syria and Saudi Arabia" before joining the jihadist fighters in Iraq.
Abu Ali was "Among those who have thrown their support behind the jihad is insurgent leader Abu Ali. A ballistic-missile specialist in Saddam's Fedayeen militia, he fought U.S. troops during the invasion and has served as a resistance commander ever since, organizing rocket attacks on the green zone, the headquarters of the U.S. administration in Baghdad. When interviewed by TIME last fall, he spoke of a vain hope that Saddam would return and re-establish a Baathist regime." How Ali pictured a "secular" leader tolerating the type of violent Islamic extremism that Ali and others had helped spread in Iraq is quite a paradox.
One of the many anti coalition groups fighting in Iraq, called "Battalions of Islamic Holy War," whose leaders also met with TIME magazine, was "founded by frontline officers from Saddam's intelligence services and the Republican Guard who once shunned terrorist attacks that killed innocent Iraqis" later represented a "significant Iraqi wing of al-Zarqawi's network." The Senate Intelligence Committee's report in 2004 revealed some intelligence that predicted these sorts of relationships.
These additions add to an already sizeable list of ex-Baathists/Saddam loyalists who sided with Islamic/jihadist fighters and al Qaeda in Iraq. While it is certainly possible that many of these religious conversions and new relationships were initiated post-invasion, drawn together by the common enemy of U.S. led forces in Iraq, it is unlikely that the countless (likely hundreds) remnants of Hussein's secular regime did not have at least some kind of a foundation for a relationship with these groups prior to March 2003. The type of trust and confidence necessary to give assets including money, weapons, arms, safehouses and training and reciprocal placement of Baathists into al Qaeda leadership positions only leads an outside observer to conclude that the two sides shared common grievances, common goals and common beliefs.
It has been 4 years since Operation Iraqi Freedom began and many of these relations that have been discovered post-invasion give cause for re-thinking prewar assumptions that secular Baathists wouldn't cooperate with Islamic militant/terrorist groups, just as some in the government had predicted as being possible prior to invasion, contrasting the conventional wisdom of then and now.
By Mark Eichenlaub
Mark Eichenlaub runs the website Regime of Terror, "Documenting Saddam Hussein's State Sponsorship of Terrorism."