Did Saddam Use Oil-for-Food to Bankroll bin Laden?

Saddam Hussein may have used a portion of the $10 billion he skimmed from the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program to bankroll Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, including the plot to attack America on Sept. 11, 2001.

That's the scenario outlined by the Oil-for-Food reporter of record, Claudia Rosett, who laid out the evidence for a U.N.-Saddam-9/11 connection in this week's Weekly Standard.

Rosett begins by noting that, according to the 9/11 Commission report, after bin Laden was kicked out of Sudan in 1996 he arrived in Afghanistan "pretty much bankrupt."

"His family inheritance was gone, his allowance had been cut off, and Sudan had confiscated his local assets."

Yet, just two years later, the al-Qaida terror chief was back on his feet financially - and issuing fatwahs against the U.S. that urged "death to Americans." Suddenly he had the cash to begin financing terror plots against U.S. embassies in East Africa, the attack on the USS Cole and the 9/11 plot itself.

Where did the al-Qaida mastermind get the financial wherewithal for such extensive operations?

Notes Rosett, in his February 1998 fatwa against the U.S., bin Laden railed against "the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people" as well as "the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance."

He also slammed U.S. sanctions against Iraq, calling them "the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war."

According to the 9/11 Commission, a month after bin Laden's fatwa declaration of war on America, two al-Qaida members visited Baghdad. And in July 1998, "an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with bin Laden."

The Commission doesn't have much to say about how bin Laden financed 9/11, except to cite unnamed Gulf states as possible facilitators and then conclude, "To date, we have not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attack."

But Rosett makes a compelling case that bin Laden had his financial problems solved by Saddam, thanks to Oil-for-Food.

"From about 1998 on, Oil-for-Food became Saddam's financial network, a system he gamed to produce huge amounts of illicit income, in partnership with folks who helped him hide and spend it. ...

"Both Saddam and bin Laden ... had a taste for war. Both hated America. By the late 1990s, Saddam, despite continuing sanctions, was solidly back in business, socking away his purloined billions in secret accounts. ...

"Whatever the differences between Saddam and bin Laden, their circumstances by the late 1990s had all the makings of a deal. Pocket change for Saddam, financial security for bin Laden, and satisfaction for both death to Americans."

The Iraqi dictator, however pinned down by U.S. air patrols and hamstrung by U.N. weapons inspectors had no way to attack the United States directly. Bin Laden, on the other hand, was operating under no such constraints.

Concludes Rosett:

"For such a deal, both Saddam and bin Laden had motive and opportunity. And if you read bin Laden's 1998 fatwa with just a little bit of imagination, those mentions of Iraq, at that particular moment, in those particular ways, carry a strong whiff of what is known in our own society as product placement: a message from a sponsor."
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