WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's claim
that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ties
to Al Qaeda -- one of the main arguments for
a preemptive war -- appears to have been based
on even less solid intelligence than the administration's
claims that Iraq had hidden stocks of chemical
and biological weapons.
a year after U.S. and British troops invaded
Iraq, no evidence has turned up to verify
allegations of Hussein's links with Al Qaeda,
and key parts of the Bush administration's
case have either proven false or seem increasingly
U.S. officials now say that there never was
any evidence that Hussein's secular police
state and Osama bin Laden's Islamic terror
network were in league. At most, there were
the U.S. intelligence community never concluded
those meetings produced an operational relationship
between the two, U.S. officials said. And
that verdict was reached before the war began.
It was contained in a secret report by the
CIA's Directorate of Intelligence which was
updated in January 2003, on the eve of the
could find no provable connection between
Hussein and Al Qaeda," a senior U.S. official
acknowledged. He and others spoke on condition
of anonymity because the information involved
is classified and could prove embarrassing
to the White House.
administration's allegations that Hussein
still had weapons of mass destruction have
been the subject of much greater public and
were based on the Iraqi leader's long history
of duplicity regarding weapons of mass destruction,
which appeared to be confirmed by spy satellite
photographs, defectors and electronic eavesdropping.
evidence of Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda was always
sketchy, based largely on testimony of Iraqi
defectors and prisoners, supplemented with
reports from foreign agents and eavesdropping.
of the evidence that's now available indicates
that Iraq and Al Qaeda had no close ties,
despite repeated contacts between the two;
that the terrorists whom administration officials
claimed were links between the two had no
direct links to either Hussein or bin Laden;
and that a key meeting between an Iraqi intelligence
officer and one of the leaders of the 9/11
terrorist attacks probably never happened.
review of the Bush administration statements
on Iraq's ties to terrorism and what's now
known about the classified intelligence has
found that administration advocates of a preemptive
invasion frequently hyped sketchy and sometimes
false information to help make their case.
On two occasions, they neglected to report
information that painted a less sinister picture,
according to the review made by the Free Press
Bush administration has defended its prewar
descriptions of Hussein and is calling Iraq
"the central front in the war on terrorism,"
as the president told U.S. troops two weeks
before the war and since, Bush and his aides
made rhetorical links that now appear to have
Vice President Dick Cheney told National Public
Radio in January that there was "overwhelming
evidence" of a relationship between Hussein
and Al Qaeda. Among the evidence he cited
was Iraq's harboring of Abdul Rahman Yasin,
a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
didn't mention that Iraq had offered to turn
Yasin over to the FBI in 1998, in return for
a U.S. statement acknowledging that Iraq had
no role in the 1993 attack. The Clinton administration
refused the offer, because it was unwilling
to reward Iraq for returning a fugitive.
Administration officials reported that Farouk
Hijazi, a top Iraqi intelligence officer,
had met with bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan,
in 1998 and offered him safe haven in Iraq.
Laden said he'd consider the offer, U.S. intelligence
officials said. But according to a report
later made available to the CIA, the Al Qaeda
leader told an aide afterward that he had
no intention of accepting Hussein's offer
because "if we go there, it would be his agenda,
The administration tied Hussein to a terrorism
network run by Palestinian Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
That network may be behind the latest violence
in Iraq that killed at least 143 people on
U.S. officials say the evidence that Zarqawi
had close operational ties to Al Qaeda also
appears increasingly doubtful.
for Cheney's views on Iraq and terrorism,
vice presidential spokesman Kevin Kellems
referred reporters to the vice president's
TV interviews Tuesday.
in an interview with CNN, said Zarqawi ran
an "Al Qaeda-affiliated" group. He cited an
intercepted letter Zarqawi wrote to Al Qaeda
leaders. But U.S. officials say that the letter
contained a plea for help that Al Qaeda rebuffed.
The structure of the letter, experts said,
suggested Zarqawi considered himself an independent
operator and not a part of bin Laden's organization.
Iraqi defectors alleged that Hussein's regime
was helping to train Iraqi and non-Iraqi Arab
terrorists. The allegation made it into a
September 2002 report the White House issued.
U.S. military has found no evidence of such
The allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed
Atta met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence
officer is now contradicted by FBI evidence
that Atta was taking flight training in Florida
at the time. The Iraqi, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim
Samir al Ani, is now in U.S. custody and told
interrogators that he never met Atta.
Director George Tenet told the Senate intelligence
committee last month there is no evidence
to support the allegation.
Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin
Powell made much of occasional contacts between
Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda, dating back
to the early 1990s when bin Laden was based
in the Sudan. But intelligence indicates that
nothing ever came of the contacts.
postwar poll last July by PIPA-Knowledge Networks
found that 7 in 10 Americans thought the Bush
administration had implied that Hussein was
involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
WARREN STROBEL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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