Senate Finds Saddam Had No Links To Al-Qaeda


As violence continues in Iraq, it is revealed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was no friend of Saddam Hussein despite claims by George Bush.
by Jonathan Weisman

There is no evidence of formal links between former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda leaders before the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, a long-awaited declassified US Senate report has revealed.

The finding, contained in a 2005 CIA report released by the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, is a major embarrassment for President George Bush and casts more doubt on the reasons why the so-called “Coalition of the willing” went to war.

President Bush has said the presence of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, before the war was evidence of a link. But the report revealed that US intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush Administration officials were publicly asserting them to justify invasion.

Far from aligning himself with al-Qaeda and Jordanian terrorist Zarqawi, Saddam repeatedly rebuffed al-Qaeda’s overtures and tried to capture Zarqawi, the report said. Tariq Aziz, the detained former deputy prime minister, has told the FBI that Saddam “only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden”…


The report also said that exiles from the Iraqi National Congress tried to influence US policy by providing, through defectors, false information on Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capabilities. After sceptical analysts warned that the group had been penetrated by hostile intelligence services, including Iran’s, a 2002 White House directive ordered that US funding for the INC be continued.

The newly declassified intelligence report provided Administration critics with fresh ammunition less than two months before mid-term elections and in the middle of President Bush’s campaign to refocus the public’s attention away from Iraq and towards the threat of terrorism.

Senior Senate Democrats immediately seized on the findings, using some of their strongest language yet to say that the President continues to wilfully and falsely connect Saddam to al-Qaeda.

As recently as August 21, Mr Bush suggested a link between Saddam and Zarqawi, who was killed by US forces in June. A CIA assessment in October 2005 concluded that Saddam’s government “did not have a relationship, harbour, or turn a blind eye towards Zarqawi and his associates”, according to the report. “The President is still distorting. He’s still making statements which are false,” said Senator Carl Levin, an intelligence committee member.

The partial release of the report came after nearly three years of partisan wrangling over what is to be a five-chapter analysis of the use of pre-war intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The heart of the report a detailed comparison of Administration statements with the intelligence then available is still far from release. But the committee voted on Thursday to release two chapters: one on the role that Iraqi exiles played in shaping pre-war intelligence; the other on the accuracy of the pre-war analyses of Saddam’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capabilities and his suspected links to al-Qaeda and the September 11, 2001, attacks.

White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissed the findings as old news. “If we have people who want to re-litigate that, that’s fine,” he said.

But Republican attempts to paint the findings as a partisan rehash were undercut by intelligence committee members. The committee report’s conclusions are based on the Democrats’ findings because two Republicans senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska supported those findings.

“After reviewing thousands of pages of evidence, I voted for the conclusions that most closely reflect the facts in the report,” Senator Snowe said in a written statement. “Policy-makers seemingly discounted or dismissed warnings about the veracity of critical intelligence reports that may have served as a basis for going to war.”

Committee chairman Pat Roberts was emphatic last week that Iraqi exiles did not fundamentally shape the critical assessment of the Iraqi threat in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

But, as Senator Snowe emphasised in her statement, the report concluded that information provided by an INC source was cited in that estimate and in then secretary of state Colin Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations as corroborating evidence about Iraq’s mobile biological weapons program. Those citations came despite two April 2002 CIA assessments, a May 2002 Defence Intelligence Agency fabrication notice, and a July 2002 National Intelligence Council warning all saying that the INC source may have been coached by the exile group into fabricating the information.

Democrats and Republicans agree that analysts and politicians of all political stripes were wrong about the pre-war assessments of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. But the committee report indicates that intelligence analysts were substantially right about his lack of operational links to al-Qaeda.

And Democrats compared the Administration’s public statements with newly declassified intelligence assessments to build their case that efforts to link Iraq to al-Qaeda were wilfully misleading. In a classified January 2003 report, for instance, the CIA concluded that Saddam “viewed Islamic extremists operating inside Iraq as a threat”. But one day after that conclusion was published, Senator Levin noted, Vice-President Dick Cheney said the Iraqi government “aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda”.

Intelligence reports in June, July and September 2002 all cast doubts on a reported meeting in Prague between Iraqi intelligence agents and September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.

Yet, in a September 8, 2002, appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, Mr Cheney said the CIA considered the reports on the meeting credible, Senator Levin said.

The Democrats were unequivocal in asserting that the chapters chronicle an indisputable pattern of deception.


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