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U.S. Links Top Hussein Official to Iraq Attacks

October 30, 2003|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Intelligence reports have concluded that a senior official in Saddam Hussein's toppled government is recruiting foreign fighters and funding recent attacks on coalition troops, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

The reports identify Izzat Ibrahim, the sixth-most-wanted former Iraqi official, as the man behind recent attacks, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Ibrahim is the "king of clubs" in the U.S. Central Command's deck of cards of the most-wanted members of Hussein's regime.

The finding marks the most solid indication to date that former regime officials are tied to foreign fighters, defense officials said. That would buttress the recent assertion of Bush administration officials that U.S. and allied troops face not only former Baathist soldiers, but also Islamic radicals from outside Iraq. Although the alleged tie does not prove a prewar link between Hussein's secular regime and Islamic terror groups -- a suggestion that some administration officials say merits including Iraq in the larger war on terror -- it could indicate that the two have since united in antipathy toward the occupying forces.

The senior official disclosed the intelligence report after the capture early this month of a senior associate of Ibrahim in the town of Baqubah, north of Baghdad, within the "Sunni Triangle" -- an area in central Iraq in which a series of attacks have targeted U.S. troops. Supporters of Hussein's regime, which was dominated by members of the Sunni Muslim sect, have been blamed for many of these attacks.

The reports suggest that funding has been exchanged between Ibrahim and Ansar al Islam, a group that has launched a series of terror raids in the north. Bush administration officials have linked Ansar al Islam to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization.

Defense officials emphasized that it remains unclear if Ibrahim arranged the bloody series of recent bombings, including attacks on Baghdad police stations, a Red Cross facility and the Rashid Hotel, where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was staying.

Separately, two brothers with the last name Hamadi, linked to Ansar al Islam, were captured on Tuesday, the defense official said. They "were funneling money to people to carry out attacks on the coalition," the official said.

One of Hussein's closest advisors, Ibrahim met the former Iraqi president in the early days of the Baath Party and wielded control of its ruling council when Hussein seized power in 1979.

Ibrahim is one of three original plotters who carried out the 1968 coup that brought the Baath Party to power to survive Hussein's repeated purges in the quasi- socialist party's early days. His daughter was briefly married to Hussein's son Uday.

Ibrahim, believed to be in his 60s, is said to have overseen Hussein's chemical weapons in northern Iraq when they were used against Kurdish dissidents in 1988.

As vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Ibrahim played a role in the wars against Iran and Kuwait and the brutal repression -- marked by mass executions, torture and extensive destruction -- of the 1991 uprising that followed the Persian Gulf War.

Ibrahim's whereabouts were not immediately known.

In May, however, the British newspaper the Telegraph said that Ibrahim was then believed to be among the thousands of regime figures who reportedly slipped into Syria before Damascus sealed the border.

Ibrahim was described then as being under the protection of Syria's Republican Guard at a decrepit military base.

If the reports of his involvement in the attacks on U.S. forces are true, the information on Ibrahim, which presumably came from his recently captured associate, would mark a significant advance in intelligence for the U.S.-led coalition, following what even defense officials describe as an inadequate intelligence-gathering process in Iraq.

Although Hussein's sons Uday and Qusai were killed in a raid in Mosul in July and other top officials have been captured, the coalition has failed to locate Hussein or the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration cited as a reason for launching the war.

"The fundamental issue with counterinsurgency warfare is intelligence. Intelligence is what matters, and it is 90% of the battle," said Gordon Adams, a former associate director for national security and international affairs at the federal Office of Management and Budget, who is now director of security policy studies at George Washington University.

"It's knowing who they are, where they are, and when they act. If we know anything from Vietnam and the various things that have gone on in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that our humint [human intelligence] is terrible.... We know that we were woefully under-prepared in general."

Andrew Bacevich, a foreign policy and national security analyst at Boston University, agreed.

"Their intelligence -- and here think of the Rashid Hotel -- seems to be remarkably good," Bacevich said.

"And, by comparison, ours is remarkably bad. I think intelligence at this stage is the critical failing."

Defense officials and analysts consider intelligence critical in curbing an escalating series of attacks on American troops that have risen from 12 a day in July to as many as 33 daily now, said Col. William Darley, a U.S. military spokesman.

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