Since the cataclysmic events that took place on the morning of September 11th 2001, an extended series of consequences have unfolded with an alarming rapidity. Between vast escalations of military activity abroad, the passing of draconian laws, like the Patriot Act and the NDAA, the instituting of the Department of Homeland Security, and the ramping up of domestic spy programs through the NSA, 9/11 has served as a catalyst for a radical change in how America conducts itself both at home and around the world. In the weeks and months following the incident, the American people were bombarded with a veritable hurricane of bald-faced lies and assertions based on dubious “intelligence”. Before they could begin to wrap their heads around the significance of the events taking place around them, their government had already set plans into motion to wage a decades-long military conflict in the Middle East, a conflict which rages at full force to this day. In fact, recent developments in Iraq regarding the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, elevate the issue of the 2003 Iraq War to the highest importance.
Among the general populace, a widely-accepted narrative has developed which attempts to make sense of all that has happened since September 11th. Very broadly, the narrative contends that Islamic extremists have declared war on the United States, and this alone serves to explain and justify the long string of wars that have been waged in the name of the global “War on Terrorism” ever since. What’s most surprising about the public narrative is that it offers almost no explanation at all of how or why Iraq was, directly or indirectly, implicated in the 2001 terror attacks on New York and DC. At best, the public storyline suggests only a vague connection between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Any substantial explanation of this tie, however, has seemingly fallen away into the ethereal memory hole of American historical conscience.
Of the many oft-repeated talking points which comprise the terror war narrative, the question of the highest importance almost always goes unasked: why exactly did the United States wage war against Iraq in the first place? It is extremely peculiar that the largest-scale, most significant conflict to date in the war on terrorism has no widely-understood explanation. Those who have paid the highest price to initiate this war, the American people, seem to be the least informed on the matter. It is because of this lack of understanding regarding Iraq in particular that the terror war was ever able to get underway, and, indeed, build up a seemingly unstoppable momentum.
On this 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which initiated the drive for war, it is vital to return to these basic questions. How did this happen? Who was involved? What justifications were given to go into Iraq in the first place? After more than a decade, the American people still cannot provide firm answers to such questions. To understand the broader war on terror, and how it came to dominate American foreign policy, it is necessary to fill in the blanks of the official narrative, as well as overturn some of the prevailing falsehoods about Iraq, WMDs, and its connection to al-Qaeda.
In basic terms, the official US government justification for the Iraq War goes something like this: Saddam Hussein was a material supporter of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda—particularly the Islamic militant Abu Musab Zarqawi—offering safe harbor and/or training facilities for them in Iraq. On top of this is the related claim that Hussein was actively pursuing ”weapons of mass destruction,” using “mobile bio-weapons labs,” as well as “aluminum tubes” for centrifuges in a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. In his alleged link to militant Islam—and his ties to Palestine in the case of Zarqawi, a Jordan-born Palestinian—Saddam was said to have planned to provide Iraq’s weapons to terrorists, who would act as his proxies. For these reasons, Iraq was said to be a threat to its neighbors, and a threat to the United States. These claims are officially stated in a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), but also informally circulated in TV and print news media in the run up to the war.
While the Bush Administration explicitly refrained from directly accusing Saddam of complicity in the 9/11 attacks, they were certainly happy to let the American people believe there was a direct connection between the two. After all, many thought, why would the US ever wage a war against Iraq, seemingly as a result of 9/11, if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Due to the disjointed and incoherent Administration narrative, and the mainstream media’s willingness to freely speculate on all matters pertaining to 9/11, Iraq, and terror, the American people were left to rationalize and put two-and-two together on their own, often concluding that Saddam and September 11th were related.
The only explicit attempt to tie 9/11 to Iraq was in the claim that lead 9/11 hijacker, Mohammad Atta, made contact with Iraqi intelligence at a meeting in Prague. Later, additional allegations derived from “Israeli security sources” assert that an Iraqi agent furnished Atta with an “anthrax flask” at the same meeting. Some suggested also that Iraq was involved in the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks that took place shortly after 9/11, targeting media outlets as well as Senators Patrick Leahy and Thomas Daschle (who both, coincidentally, happened to oppose the invasion of Iraq). All the talk of anthrax, no matter how baseless, ultimately helped to terrorize the American people and warm them up to the idea of war with Iraq. Finally, but no less important, we have the documents, curiously supplied by an Italian intelligence agency (SISMI), which were claimed to prove Saddam’s attempt to procure 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from Niger. Sprinkle in a little Wilsonian talk of “spreading democracy,” and you’ve got yourself a war.
As we shall see, absolutely none of the casus belli presented to the American people had any resemblance to reality. Through a complex network of government officials—primarily connected to the Pentagon and the office of the Vice President—media pundits and journalists—such as Judith Miller, others at the New York Times, and the PNAC crowd at the Weekly Standard—as well as foreign sources—Iraqi ex-pats as well as Italian and Israeli intelligence—the Iraq War was set off without a hitch; built upon, in the words of Colin Powell, a “web of lies.”
An essential link in the chain was the Pentagon-created Office of Special Plans (OSP). Established in 2002, this agency lies at the very heart of the War Party push to invade Iraq. Through this Office, headed by Abram Shulsky under the authority of Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, “intelligence” was funneled into important or influential places, such as the office of Vice President Cheney via his Chief of Staff, Louis “Scooter” Libby. In one case, information was even directly leaked by Douglas Feith to Bill Kristol’s neocon rag, the Weekly Standard, demonstrating, in part, the state-media complicity in misleading the American people. Additional players linked to the OSP, to name only a few, include NESA bureau head William Luti, Defense Policy Board members Richard Perle and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as well as neocon Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, whose prior informal intelligence activity with Feith was officially codified in the creation of the OSP. Its primary task was to dig through raw intelligence agency information, unaccompanied by the judgment of a professional analyst, in order to ham-fistedly piece together official justifications for war.
According to retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and former Pentagon desk officer Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked closely with senior Pentagon staff such as William Luti, higher-up officials in the OSP were “willing to exclude or marginalize intelligence products that did not fit the agenda.” To that end, information disseminated from this office was carefully cherry-picked and highly exaggerated, with much of it gleaned from the Iraqi expat group the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Presiding over the INC was Ahmed Chalabi, essentially a double agent for the Ayatollah, who temporarily served a vital purpose for his neo-conservative dupes.
Chalabi dazzled neocons with talk of a future “Hashemite Kingdom” in Iraq (referring to Jordan; diplomatically and economically friendly with Israel). He was selected by administration war hawks as early as the Gulf War to lead the Iraqi political march to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Exiled from Iraq, and a convicted bank fraudster, Chalabi weaseled his way into high position in the post-Saddam Iraqi state after helping the Bush Administration successfully bamboozle their way in. Later on, to the horror of his former US colleagues, his true loyalties were discovered, revealing an epic betrayal of the War Party in favor of his long-held Iranian connections. As an influential figure among pro-war ideologues, Chalabi was able to carefully sway events to Iran’s benefit in ways which his neocon handlers were oblivious of. Despite this double-cross, it was Chalabi and his INC “heroes in error” who provided many of the intelligence sources that were vital in the push for invasion. For example, in a New York Times piece by Judith Miller, she cites a meeting, arranged by the INC, with an “Iraqi defector,” claiming there to be “renovations at sites for chemical and nuclear arms” in Saddam’s Iraq. With the popular news media parroting the government’s claims, it helped to quickly move along the pro-war policy.
In the end, nothing regarding the claims of “aluminum tubes,” initially insisted on by the CIA’s WINPAC center, was true. The same goes for the “arms sites” and “mobile weapons labs,” both of which were sourced from Iraqi defectors. All of these talking points were, as well, used in Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February of 2003, a speech which was crucial in the green-lighting of the American-led coalition to invade Iraq. The lies in that speech, as well as the ones told in the 2002 NIE cited above, are officially debunked by a 2004 Senate Report (download PDF in link) which cites intelligence community conclusions on the various fraudulent claims. None of the information used to bolster the WMD story held any weight, and a large portion of the US intelligence community had said so all along. This was not just a big mistake, it was intelligence deliberately concocted, or presented wildly out of context, in order to send the nation (back) to war, to finish the job started in the 1991 Iraq conflict.
Official skepticism toward Bush Administration claims of Saddam’s weapons, as well as his ties to terror is illustrated in the leaked UK intelligence documents, known as the “Downing Street Memos”. These memos depict high-ranking UK officials expressing concern over whether the Administration was “fixing” intelligence around a pro-war policy, rather than a policy around intelligence. Before, during, and after the war, there were a multitude of intelligence sources, as well as a fairly large body of journalism, which conveyed deep skepticism toward the dubious pro-war talking points. There certainly were dissenting voices in the lead up to the war; these voices simply went unheeded and unheard, at least until after the invasion. The mainstream media chose, instead, to create an echo chamber for the flurry of false claims emanating from the Bush Administration and the tightly-knit group of neo-conservatives in high office or positions of public influence.
Also proven false in the 2004 Senate Report are the allegations of Saddam attempting to purchase yellowcake uranium from the Nigerian government in 1999-2000. The documents passed along from Italian intelligence, in fact, turned out to be the crudest of forgeries! From October of 2002 to March of 2003, the CIA, as well as the IAEA, expressed doubts about the information contained in the documents, yet this didn’t stop President Bush from invoking it in his State of the Union address of January 2003. Indeed, the CIA’s skepticism was either discounted or completely circumnavigated in order to push this particular piece of intelligence.
Of much interest here is the 2005 La Republica exposé (translation) which explores the antics of one Rocco Martino, an Italian peddler of information who worked with Italian, and at times French, intelligence. Martino and a number of associates, looking for a quick way to make money, were able to use various intelligence assets to attain access to outdated Nigerian documents. Using official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Nigerian Embassy in Rome, this group of rapacious rogues crudely pieced together the stale documents to create the forgery, which they hoped to sell. They were initially handed off to SISMI and to the French, who quickly saw them for what they were. But much changed after 9/11 and the Bush Administration’s mad scramble for Saddam-WMD intelligence. At this point, SISMI finds new willingness to share the documents with the CIA station in Rome, while Martino gives them over to British MI6. The information makes its way to the Bush Administration, where it is eventually used in the 2003 SOTU address in the form of sixteen ambiguous words. Following the rest of this story, with its possible ties to a police sting, Iran, Israel, and Michael Ledeen, will lead us down quite a deep rabbit-hole, which due to space limitations simply cannot be elaborated on here.
Finally it should also be briefly noted that the more recent scandal involving the outing of undercover agent Valerie Plame is heavily related to her husband’s investigation of the forged Niger documents. The Wilson-Plame Niger investigation clearly probed too close to the truth, leading to an attempted career assassination at the behest of powerful people.
Another key example of botched intelligence is the claim of the meeting in Prague between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence, as well as the later attempt to link this meeting with anthrax. The Prague meeting was initially reported by Czech officials, although there were various conflicting accounts, where different Czech officials deny the meeting ever happened. An interesting parenthetical note, when Dick Cheney cited these reports in a TV interview to confirm the 9/11-Iraq tie, he refers to “Czechoslovakia,” a country which had not existed since the Czech-Slovak split in 1993. This certainly could have been a simple slip of the tongue, but it seems that, assuming Cheney himself had seen the Czech report, it’d be fresh enough in his mind to at least get the country’s name right!
Mark Rossini, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent given the task of analyzing the Czech report on the Prague meeting, recalls his reaction to the Cheney interview: “I remember looking at the TV screen and saying, ‘What did I just hear?’ And I–first time in my life, I actually threw something at the television because I couldn’t believe what I just heard.” A 2006 Select Committee on Intelligence report repeats this conclusion, held among US intelligence circles, that the Prague meeting was dubious at best, definitely not solid enough base a military invasion on. Since this meeting likely never occurred, there is no need to provide further evidence to disprove the claim, sourced from “Israeli security,” that a flask full of anthrax was given to Atta during the meeting.
Aside from the Prague-anthrax connection, further attempts were made to link the anthrax-letter attacks to both the 9/11 hijackers and, again, to Iraq. The letters themselves contained messages that were so deliberately suggestive of hijacker involvement that it strikes one as suspicious, proclaiming “09-11-01, this is next,” and “Death to America, death to Israel.” Bryan Ross at ABC repeatedly said, with increasing degrees of certainty, that it was very likely from Saddam Hussein’s anthrax program. He sourced three or four unnamed “well placed people,” which if true might suggest that Ross was purposely mislead by government agents who wished to anonymously disseminate false information.
Despite the massive FBI probe into the case, no definitive answers were ever provided as to who was responsible. The total incompetency of the FBI, however, didn’t stop independent journalists from delving into the case themselves. From these investigations came a series of very strange discoveries, not the least of which was the likelihood that the specific anthrax strains used in the letter-attacks originated in US Army labs! Although two different people were selected as “fall-men,” the baseless accusations against neither of them stuck. The second of the two, one Dr. Ayaad Assaad, an Egyptian-American scientist, worked at the Fort Detrick facility from which samples of anthrax, among other dangerous biological compounds, went missing years before the letter-attacks. In later, seemingly unrelated, events at Fort Detrick, Dr. Assaad’s colleagues, primarily a group led by a man named Phillip Zack, engaged in bizarre and juvenile harassments against him. This same Phillip Zack was a suspect in a 1992 internal Army inquiry, thought to be making unauthorized access, by cover of night, to a biological compounds lab, where pathogens like anthrax, Ebola, and the Hanta virus had gone missing.
Moreover, in late September 2001, an anonymous letter is sent to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia alleging that Dr. Assaad was behind a terrorist plot to use biological agents in the United States. This accusatory letter was sent after the anthrax-letters were mailed, but before they were discovered to contain anthrax. This suggests that some third-party, somebody other than Dr. Assaad, had foreknowledge of the attacks. Tying things together, in the missive accusing Assaad it is also stated that the author had formerly worked with him, demonstrating fairly extensive knowledge of Assaad’s career at USAMRIID.
Although the true culprits of the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks remain a mystery, this highly peculiar series of events seems to suggest there is much more to the story than simply another act of terrorism perpetrated by the same group responsible for the 9/11 attacks (or Iraq, as Bryan Ross asserted). One might speculate that this Phillip Zack, or somebody closely related, had a hand in the anthrax-letters, based on his suspected past unauthorized access to pathogens labs, his proven hatred for Dr. Assaad, and the strange letter sent by an alleged former colleague of Assaad’s, ascribing the guilt to him. There is more to be said about this long story, however what matters here is not the identity of the culprit, but the fact that despite almost zero solid evidence pointing to Iraq, nor to the 9/11 hijackers, influential people in the government and media were more than willing to accept such an event as a pretext for war; behind closed doors with the former, out in the open with the latter.
In the end, most of the high-ranking US officials involved in kicking off the Iraq invasion have subsequently come out to admit there were no WMDs, and no ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda. While they admit they made mistakes, most of them, unbelievably, deny they ever made claims about nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. They also deny ever asserting there were ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Needless to say, there are mountains of direct evidence proving without a shadow of a doubt that these people are complete liars, guilty of the highest crimes against humanity imaginable.
The Iraq War has often been blamed on faulty intelligence alone, and for some of the people involved this may well be true. However, what’s clear is that within the intelligence community itself, there was all along a basic consensus of the doubts regarding Bush Administration claims. The intelligence is not to be blamed, but those who wielded it in dishonest and outright corrupt ways.
What’s more are the absolutely damning ties between the neocon cabal largely responsible for the war, and the Israeli foreign policy apparatus. There is a long and extensive history of neo-conservative groups’—especially the Project for a New American Century (PNAC)—involvement in the crafting of both Israeli and American policy, as well as garnering immense tax-dollar support for the Israeli state. Perhaps this is best illustrated in a 1996 Israeli policy paper entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” authored by neocon figurehead David Wurmser, with signers-on Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, among others.
Here they outline a plan regarding how Israel should deal with its neighboring Arab states. Working with allies Jordan and Turkey, they hope to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of [Israel’s] most dangerous threats.” This includes countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Iran—most of whom the US has taken an increasingly aggressive posture toward. Iraq also is said to a valuable prize, with the removal of Saddam Hussein from power a priority. Indeed, for many years, long before 9/11, this very same group of hardline Israel-firsters sought to influence American policy toward war with Iraq as well, in large part to serve Israeli interests, alongside military-industrial ones. The 9/11 attacks were obviously used as justification to execute this plan, to get a regime change in Iraq. To these neocons, American and Israeli state-security interests are one in the same, certainly regarding Iraq, as well as the aggressive Zionism (illustrated in the “Yinon Plan”) which characterizes Israeli policy, both domestic and foreign.
This incestuous neocon-Israeli involvement in the crafting of state-policy should, of course, come as no surprise. This is a well-known phenomenon, not any sort of speculative conspiracy fringe. Israel not only has long-standing ties with influential conservative movers-and-shakers in the foreign policy field, but also a history of deceptive and outright murderous behavior all around. From the decades of military occupation of the Palestinian people, the Israeli spying on American institutions, the multiple cases of Israeli (or Israel-related, through AIPAC) theft of sensitive US intelligence-related secrets, the theft of uranium in the 1950s to build nuclear bombs with, to their deliberate attempt to sink the USS Liberty in June of 1967, Israel has quite a deranged history indeed.
As with most matters of policy, the Iraq War was certainly not pushed by only one single set of interests. Things aren’t so simple. The Israel-first neocon crowd had a very important role to play, but in the end this was a confluence of many inter-locking interest groups. Political campaigning, military-industrial interests, oil, and, especially in the case of Bush Jr., personal ambition; these also were part of the incentive-structure for a pro-war policy. All of the people responsible for this war did not necessarily have to be unified in a grand conspiracy in order to push for the same policy-objective. Indeed, it just goes to show the way in which disparate and varying interest groups can come together in agreement where their individual motivations and values meet. It is sometimes easy to ascribe a collective agency to government actors, but these are still human beings we’re speaking of here. Each individual, in reality, acts according to the values placed on his own given ends in the situation he finds himself in.
I have hardly even begun to broach the voluminous content of the Iraq War chronicles, but this short review should alone serve to prove the case. The United States government, or rather a militant clique within its most powerful and influential agencies, sent this nation to war, based on fraudulent pretexts, with a largely disarmed and impoverished adversary. Between the 1990s sanctions, which lead to the deaths of 500,000 children, the one million people killed in the war of 2003, and many more millions displaced—their homes in ruin and their lives destroyed—the toll taken on the Iraqi people has been devastating. From 1990-2012, it is estimated 2-3 million Iraqis were killed or died, due to the economic sanctions, the two wars waged by the US government, and the Civil War which broke out during the second occupation.
Let us never forget how easily this happened, as we are faced with yet another attempt to send troops to Iraq. For almost a half-century now, the United States has constantly intervened in Iraq, and to what avail? Of all the trillions of dollars, the millions of lives, the rivers of blood poured into the country, it has only given rise to the most brutal, out of control problem to date: the Islamic State. ISIS is currently rampaging across Iraq and Syria, taking entire swaths of territory and proclaiming the establishment of a long-sought Islamic Caliphate.
As the United States, with its Mid-East allies the Turks and Saudis, continues to funnel material support to the “moderate” anti-Assad rebels in Syria, they fund and back precisely the same people they claim to oppose in Iraq. The anti-Assad rebels and the pro-caliphate jihadists are, in many cases, the very same militant groups. Considering these issues, it is long, long, overdue that the American people and, less likely, the politicians who make US policy, reexamine the issue of the Middle East, and the long-standing practice of US foreign intervention in general. If 50 years of failed policy, the colossal waste of money and resources, as well as the resulting blowback can’t teach us this lesson, I do not know what ever would.
At least encouraging was the strong majority stance of the American people to absolutely reject the notion of US military involvement in Syria around September of last year. But for any hope to avoid future bloodshed and destruction, it is vital that we internalize the lessons of the past. We must abandon the idea that history began last week, and always return to the past in order to inform our knowledge of the present and the future. For that reason, after the anniversary of the most horrific example of blowback this country has ever seen, let us never forget Iraq.
*A special thank you is reserved for independent researcher, author, and filmmaker Ryan Dawson. Both his film “War by Deception” and his personal correspondence were invaluable. Another huge thanks to radio show host Scott Horton, who took the time to go over this essay and offer many needed resources and corrections.