Hussein cautioned fighters against joining Arab troops

January 14, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle U.S. troops, according to a document found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured, administration officials said yesterday.

The document appears to be a directive, written after he lost power, from Hussein to leaders of the Iraqi resistance, counseling caution against getting too close to Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arabs coming into occupied Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

The document provides a second piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration's contention of close cooperation between Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. CIA interrogators have already elicited from top al-Qaida officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Hussein.

Officials said that Hussein apparently believed that the foreign Arabs, eager for a holy war against the West, had a different agenda than the Baathists, who were eager for their own return to power in Baghdad. As a result, he wanted his supporters to be careful about becoming close allies with the jihadists, officials familiar with the document said. A new, classified intelligence report circulating within the U.N. government describes the document and its contents, according to administration officials who asked not to be identified. The officials said that they had no evidence that the document found with Hussein was a fabrication.

The role of foreign Arab fighters in the Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led occupation has been a source of debate within the U.S. government ever since the fall of Baghdad in April. Initially, U.S. analysts feared that thousands of fighters would flood into Iraq, seeking an Islamic jihad.

Yet military and intelligence officials now believe that the number of foreign fighters who have entered Iraq is relatively small, and U.S. military units posted along the border have reported that they have seen few signs of foreign fighters trying to cross the border.

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