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There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number
of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported
to have received a significant response.According to one report, Saddam Hus-
sein's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle
Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.
In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the ini-
tiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States,
two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelli-
gence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with
the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps
both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egypt-
ian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was
under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air
attacks in December.
Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have
occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban.
According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq.
Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan
remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe
friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of
the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the ear-
lier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor
have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in devel-
oping or carrying out any attacks against the United States.
Bin Ladin eventually enjoyed a strong financial position in Afghanistan,
thanks to Saudi and other financiers associated with the Golden Chain.
Through his relationship with Mullah Omar--and the monetary and other
benefits that it brought the Taliban--Bin Ladin was able to circumvent restric-
tions; Mullah Omar would stand by him even when other Taliban leaders raised
objections. Bin Ladin appeared to have in Afghanistan a freedom of move-
ment that he had lacked in Sudan.Al Qaeda members could travel freely within
the country, enter and exit it without visas or any immigration procedures, pur-
chase and import vehicles and weapons, and enjoy the use of official Afghan
Ministry of Defense license plates.Al Qaeda also used the Afghan state-owned
Ariana Airlines to courier money into the country.
The Taliban seemed to open the doors to all who wanted to come to
Afghanistan to train in the camps.The alliance with the Taliban provided al Qaeda
a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import
weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff ter-
rorist schemes.While Bin Ladin maintained his own al Qaeda guesthouses and
camps for vetting and training recruits, he also provided support to and bene-
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