Joe Conason's Journal

One of the foremost experts on Islamic movements dismisses Colin Powell's allegations of connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

Published February 13, 2003 4:00PM (EST)

A powerful reason to doubt Powell
Ahmed Rashid may well be the single most knowledgeable English-speaking journalist covering the world's Islamic movements. He has spent two decades reporting in the Middle East, Afghanistan and his native Pakistan (where he continues to reside in the city of Lahore). He is also the author of "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," and he is currently in the United States to promote the paperback release of his most recent book, "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia."

Having risked his safety on many occasions to investigate the Taliban, al-Qaida, Pakistani intelligence and other Islamist organizations -- whose extremism and terrorism he courageously opposes -- Rashid cannot be dismissed as any kind of apologist. (Years ago he was sentenced to death by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Islamist warlord and former CIA employee now fighting allied troops and the new government in Afghanistan.) His reporting appears regularly in some of the world's best publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review, and is obviously considered highly credible by their editors. His analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan appeared Tuesday on the Journal's ultrahawkish editorial page.

Yesterday Terry Gross interviewed Rashid on NPR's "Fresh Air" about Iraq, al-Qaida and the prospect of war. He expressed deep uneasiness about the Bush administration's unilateral approach to "regime change" as divisive in the West and certain to "sharpen the conflict with the Muslim world."

Rashid brushed aside Colin Powell's allegations of connections between al-Qaida and Saddam as exaggerated. "I don't think the al-Qaida link [with Iraq] is significant," he said. "I don't think Saddam Hussein is about to give chemical weapons to them ... I think the linkages with al-Qaida are very tenuous." He gave credence to Powell's accusations about chemical and biological weapons hidden by Iraq, and he also believes that multilateral pressure on Saddam Hussein should be maintained and increased. But he added, "I think the linkage with al-Qaida is far more doubtful."

Unlike many of the instant experts on these topics, Rashid knows what he's talking about. At a moment of intense official deception, his informed dissent deserves close attention.
[9:32 a.m. PST, Feb. 13, 2003]

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