Was There Ever Any Doubt

Senate Panel Finds No Prewar Iraq-Qaeda Link

Saddam Hussein had no relationship with al Qaeda, including Iraq-based guerrilla Abu Musab al Zarqawi, despite claims by President George W. Bush and other administration officials, a Senate report released on Friday said.

The report, one of two newly declassified reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, drew on a previously undisclosed October 2005 CIA assessment as Americans prepared to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

The reports quickly became part of a political battle on Capitol Hill where Democrats and Republicans are wrestling over national security issues before congressional elections in November.

The other report said the administration chose to provide funding to the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, exile group in 2002 over a warning by the Defense Intelligence Agency that the INC had been penetrated by “hostile intelligence services” and was intent on influencing U.S. policy toward Saddam.

The documents, part of the Senate panel’s probe of prewar Iraq intelligence, were issued as Bush seeks to address flagging public support for the Iraq war he views as a central front in the U.S. war on terrorism. They were the latest in a series of investigations into the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Bush launched to counter a threat of weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Democrats said the data showed that top administration officials, including Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, misled the public to drum up support for war in Iraq by alleging a link between Saddam and the militant network.

“Today’s reports show that the administration’s repeated allegations of a past, present and future relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq were wrong and intended to exploit the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks,” said Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

‘UNFOUNDED ALLEGATIONS’

The committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, accused Democrats of presenting their own misleading views.

“The additional views of the Committee’s Democrats are little more than a rehashing of the same unfounded allegations they’ve used for over three years,” he said in a statement.

Roberts also expressed misgivings about the 208-page INC report, saying its conclusions were not always supported by underlying fact.

Critics of the 2003 Iraq invasion have long argued the administration used flawed information from the INC to bolster their case for war, while ignoring contradictory intelligence.

Roberts said there was no evidence the INC knowingly provided false information to the administration and described the exile group as having “a minimal role” in prewar U.S. judgments.

Another Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, used the report to accuse Bush himself of making a false statement about ties between Saddam and Zarqawi, the one-time al Qaeda leader in Iraq who was killed by U.S. forces in June.

Bush asserted as recently as an August 21 news conference that Saddam had links with Zarqawi.

“The president’s statement, made just two weeks ago, is flat-out false,” Levin said.
Bush administration officials pointed to supposed links between Saddam and al Qaeda to help justify their case for war before the war.

The CIA report’s assessment was similar to the conclusion reached by the bipartisan 9/11 commission, which found in 2004 there had been no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam and al Qaeda.

David Morgan
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)
Reuters

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~ by r7fel on September 8, 2006.

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