A key arrest goes unnoticed

The arrest last week in Pakistan of a man dubbed the Defense Minister of the Taliban, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund has received far too little attention. Not only is he the highest ranking Taliban commander in custody, he may well be able to supply intelligence linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks planned in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. While it is far too soon to know, there are some very interesting indicators which remain invisible to those who get their information from the mainstream media.

But as is always the case when dealing with terrorists, the story is complicated.

Although Obaidullah is widely reported to be the Defense Minister of the Taliban, there is another man who has alternately held that position. That man, Mullah Abdul Razzaq has been noted in the Southwest Asia media, but mostly left alone in the western media. The western media has labeled him the Taliban Interior Minister, and with such an innocuous sounding title, he seems hardly noteworthy. Not to mention that his personal name, Mullah (title) Abdul Razzaq (alternate spelling Razzak, Razaq) seems to be the Afghani equivalent to ‘John Smith' and thus hard to follow through media reports. However, there is definitive media reporting that says he was the Defense Minister of the Taliban.

Or at least, that is what the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) called Razzaq, when he was meeting with Saddam's Vice President in Iraq in 1999. As part of my research investigating the documents captured in Iraq, I did an expose on a notebook kept by an IIS agent. In that notebook, as published at the Fox News website, we provided this fragmentary translation from the notebook:
"The Taliban defense minister is Abdul Razzak (unclear) Association of Muslim Clerics."
At the time the article was published, the fragment did not seem particularly noteworthy. But with further research, I discovered why this entry was in the notebook. The first translation of the series contained a meeting between Taha Yassin Ramadan, one of two of Saddam's Vice Presidents and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a major terrorism supporter called the Father of the Taliban in Pakistan. At the time the article ran, I mentioned that I had not identified the other men listed as being present at this meeting. It was a major oversight on my part not to put the two references together, but now I can do so.

One of the men listed at the meeting with Ramadan was Abdul Razzaq, the same man the IIS agent calls the Taliban Defense Minister. Therefore, the Defense Minister of the Taliban was meeting with the highest officials in Saddam's government. Of course, this is a nasty thing to discover for those so fond of pointing to the picture of Donald Rumsfeld, our own "Defense Minister" at the time, meeting with Saddam as proof of our culpability for Saddam's actions. Will they now apply the same standard of logic to determine that Saddam was therefore responsible for the Taliban's actions and therefore complicit in 9/11?

As far as I can tell through media reports, it seems Obaidullah and Razzaq, both responsible for the Taliban's defense, are strongly associated with each other. It would be likely that Obaidullah has specific knowledge about why his counterpart was meeting with Saddam's officials (and most likely Saddam himself). We know from the notebook that they established relations between the two regimes and entered into security and secret intelligence cooperation. But it seems a good bet that Obaidullah could tell us more details. After all, Saddam is dead and Obaidullah might be willing to make a deal. Perhaps he can even tell us where Razzaq is located, although some reporting from Southwest Asia has said that the US was already working with Razzaq to establish a splinter group of Taliban leadership and thus make Mullah Omar obsolete.

Whatever the case, the location of many of these Taliban commanders appears to have been an open secret in Pakistan, as their media often reports them living openly in places like Quetta. It seems that a visit by Dick Cheney caused Pakistani officials to immediately discover where Obaidullah was hiding, although of course, the official story is that they were already on the job at arresting him.

So now maybe, somebody in D.C. can put some more pressure on the Pakistanis to bring in Razzaq, so we might find out exactly what the Taliban got from Saddam Hussein. In the mean time, ask Obaidullah.

Ray Robison is proprietor of the blog Ray Robison