Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-83)



Mr David Chidgey

  80. Mr Simon, I have read your article that was produced in spring 2000. I note the chilling accuracy of your comments then, some time before the events of September 11, and it is on this issue that you have been debating here now. You mentioned in your paper the added complication of a bulge in population of Arab youth, and in a general sense Muslim youth, which adds to the problems we might face in terms of potential recruits to the terrorist cause. That brings me to the heart of the question. How much do you believe the economic and social conditions in Muslim and Arab countries has an impact in terms of poverty on the creating of frustration amongst those peoples with their forms of government and that being directed against the West; or is it totally motivated by a particular form of religious fanaticism?
  (Mr Simon) Let me weasel out of this one, if I may, by saying that the underlying concerns are indeed socio-economic in nature. They are also political, in the sense that the socio-economic complaints are aggravated by what we might call a very low grade of popular political participation in the systems that might be in a position to do something about these socio-economic conditions. The problem is that these concerns, for reasons having to do with the political systems in these countries, find expression in religious terms. Once that happens, the issues become transformed into religious issues and are therefore not subject to negotiation or bargaining. Once this process takes place, the result biases outcomes in the direction of violence.

  81. It is a pretty grim prospect, then.
  (Mr Simon) It is a very bleak prospect actually.

Sir John Stanley

  82. Can I turn to the issue of the linkage or not between al-Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime. As you are aware, British ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, in front of this Committee have so far been very cautious about indicating any firm evidence of linkage between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. However, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, in his open public letter of 7 October to Senator Bob Graham, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went far further than British ministers have been willing to do so far in public. I will give you four key bullet points from Mr Tenet's letter to Senator Graham: "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade; credible information indicates that Iraq and al-Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression; since operation Enduring Freedom we have solid evidence of the presence of Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad; we have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities; and the reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs." From your position, would you endorse the comments made by George Tenet, or would you take the much more cautious position so far adopted by the British Government?
  (Mr Simon) There is no question that there are many al-Qaeda personnel in Iraq. Many Iraqis went to Afghanistan and many Iraqis returned. These have mostly settled in the north, in the areas under Kurdish control. They have established or strengthened links with the regime in Baghdad that seeks to use them to destabilise anti-regime Kurdish parties in Kurdistan; so there is a bit of a marriage of convenience. I have no doubt that al-Qaeda representatives have tried to get chemical and biological weapons out of the Iraqis. This group, al-Qaeda, has been all over the world trying to find material like this. They have not been very successful over the past decade, but they have been very assiduous in their efforts. I also do not have a hard time believing that there have been various—as the DCI was saying—senior al-Qaeda people circulating through Baghdad over the years. Baghdad is an entrepot of many nasty characters of many different stripes. I will stop there.
  (Dr Chipman) Certainly, IISS publications have analysed the presence of people with known connections to al-Qaeda in northern Iraq in the Kurdish areas,to which Steve Simon referred. This is pure speculation, but I expect the reticence of the British Government on this point derives from questions they have about the degree of collaboration that might sometimes be asserted between al-Qaeda and Iraq, as opposed to the intensity or otherwise of occasional contact between al-Qaeda individuals and the government of Iraq.


  83. In short, you therefore incline to the more cautious interpretation.
  (Dr Samore) I agree with my colleagues; the more conservative view makes sense to me. I would also add that it seems to me that if Saddam wanted to deliver chemical or biological weapons through unconventional means, he might very well choose his own intelligence apparatus, rather than run the risk of giving it to some group that he does not have complete control over.

  Chairman: Time is up, alas, but if there are matters that you would like to comment on further, it would be of great assistance to the Committee if you were to write. Thank you very much indeed.

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