On the November 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, host Chris Matthews falsely claimed that, prior to his overthrow by U.S.-led forces, Saddam Hussein allowed Islamic terrorists to train for chemical warfare in northern Iraq. When guest Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer, asserted that "Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies" in the war on terror because "[h]e was not going to permit Iraq to become a base, as it is today, for Sunni fundamentalists," Matthews asked, "Why did he let them come in for that training, that chemical training, whatever the hell they did up north?" Scheuer corrected Matthews, pointing out that "[Hussein] didn't control the area. ... [The terrorists] were in an area that was in Kurdistan."
Media Matters for America has previously debunked similar statements by conservatives who claimed Hussein allowed terrorists to train in Iraq, although these previous claims did not specifically reference chemical warfare. The claim that Hussein allowed Islamic terrorists to train in Iraq apparently originated with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, remarks to the United Nations Security Council, in which he laid out a case for military action against Iraq. Powell alleged that Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "helped establish [a] poison and explosive training center camp ... located in northeastern Iraq."
But as the Los Angeles Times noted on June 15, 2003, the training camp, operated by Kurdish Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar al-Islam, "was in an autonomous Kurdish region not ruled by Hussein."
Although Hussein did not "let" Sunni fundamentalists "come in for ... chemical training" at the Ansar al-Islam camp as Matthews suggested, The Christian Science Monitor reported on October 16, 2003, that Ansar al-Islam did have "tenuous links to Saddam Hussein." The Monitor noted that the terrorist group was "manipulated by ... Iraq," which used "smugglers and middlemen to provide dirt-cheap weapons to Ansar." Iraq then stopped the aid and demanded concessions from the group, which was at the time "locked in stalemate with far superior Kurdish forces [the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a group hostile to Hussein]," the Monitor reported. But Ansar al-Islam was hardly an ally of the Iraqi dictator. The New York Times reported on October 10, 2004, that Ansar al-Islam "was formed to attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein," and the 9-11 Commission report characterized the group as "anti-Saddam Islamists."
From the November 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Michael, just to think outside the box, would we be better off with Saddam Hussein still running tyrannically that country of Iraq, right next door to Jordan? Would Jordan be more secure in that environment?
SCHEUER: No doubt about it, sir.
MATTHEWS: No doubt?
SCHEUER: There'd be many more dead -- many fewer dead Americans, and we would have many more resources available to annihilate Al Qaeda, which is what we have to do. Without a doubt, in the war against Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies.
MATTHEWS: How so?
SCHEUER: He was not going to permit Iraq to become a base, as it is today, for Sunni fundamentalists.
MATTHEWS: Why did he let them come in for that training, that chemical training, whatever the hell they did up north?
SCHEUER: They didn't control the area, so that was in the no-fly zone. They were in an area that was in Kurdistan.