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Old 03-21-2003, 11:03 PM   #1
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Wide Angle

I just saw a very interesting program on PBS, an episode of “Wide Angle” that deals with Saddam and chemical weapons. This was originally broadcast on July 11, 2002. Here is a link to the Winde Angle website, followed by an article which sums up some of the info presented.


Documentary Says Al Qaeda Gunmen in Northern Iraq Reuters
By David Storey
July 11, 2002
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Islamic guerrillas with al Qaeda links are fomenting unrest in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, whose support could be critical in Washington's efforts to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to a television documentary being shown on Thursday.
The film, being aired in the United States on the Public Broadcasting System, portrays an intensifying campaign of attacks and assassination by the group, which it says has taken over nine villages since crossing into Iraq from Iran three years ago.
In the film, Dr. Barham Salih, a top Kurdish politician who survived an assassination attempt in April, said 70-80 fighters are in the villages.
"These are non-Kurdish members of al Qaeda," says Salih, prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government in an area run by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main factions that dominate in the rugged, mountainous region.
The film, to be aired on the "Wide Angle" weekly program on PBS, was put together by British film-maker Gwynne Roberts, who has been reporting on the region for nearly 20 years.
The al Qaeda-linked group, which calls itself Ansar al Islam -- the Companions of Islam -- has engaged in several battles with the PUK and "is spreading terror throughout Kurdistan," Roberts said in the film.
An unidentified Iraqi intelligence agent captured by the PUK said in a interview in prison in Suleimaniyeh that he had been sent by Baghdad to make contact with a senior Iraqi secret service member who was operating with Ansar al Islam.
Advocates of U.S. military action against Iraq are trying to establish evidence of ties between Saddam and Osama bin Laden's international al Qaeda movement, which is believed to have carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the united States.
President Bush, who has named Iraq a member of an "axis of evil" with Iran and North Korea for developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorism, said this week he would use all available means to oust Saddam.
The documentary also quotes Iraqi defectors as alleging that top al Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden, visited Iraq during the 1990s and that the group's militants were trained to use chemical and biological weapons in Iraqi camps.
U.S. officials who declined to be identified said despite a welter of clandestine information gleaned from the region they had not seen evidence of any visit by bin Laden to Iraq or of any major training program for foreign militants.
They also have found no evidence linking Iraq with the Sept. 11 attacks.
But they did say it was "quite plausible" that al Qaeda operatives were working with Ansar al Islam, although there was no definitive evidence.
Such reports, however, have contributed to a deep concern in Washington over Saddam's intentions and accusations that he is involved with international terrorism.
James Rubin, a former State Department spokesman now hosting the "Wide Angle" series, said the film made clear it was not presenting proof but that "this is a sufficiently compelling allegation that deserves more investigation."
If the link between Saddam and training foreigners to use weapons of mass destruction were proved, he told CNN, then it would highlight the danger "not so much that (Saddam) would use his weapons of mass destruction directly against us but that some day, some way they would fall into the wrong hands."
U.S. analysts say there are sharply differing opinions inside the administration on how to move against Saddam and that if U.S. military action were taken it would not be likely before next year.
In Roberts' film, an Iraqi defector who claimed to have worked at a secret chemical weapons factory and later became a colonel in Saddam's Fedayeen militia spoke of the training of foreigners at a camp called Unit 999, north of Baghdad.
"There was training in the use of biological and chemical weapons in camp 999. But they were not Iraqis doing it, they were foreigners," said the colonel, who spoke in an interview in Turkey and whose identity was protected.
The conclusions in Roberts' film match many of those of an extensive New Yorker article in April, which quoted Kurdish leaders as saying that Ansar al Islam was shielding al-Qaeda members and doing so with the approval of Saddam's agents.
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