Saddam Hussein had no ties with Al-Qaeda or slain operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before the Iraq war, according to a US Senate report, contradicting repeated claims by President George W. Bush.
“Saddam Hussein was distrustful of Al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from Al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support,” said the report, which ignited a new political row.
The assessment, by the Senate Intelligence Select Committee, also dismissed administration claims that Saddam had links with Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi, killed in a US raid on June 7 after unleashing a string of attacks.
“Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted unsuccessfully to locate and capture Zarqawi, and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi,” the report said.
Saddam had also repeatedly rebuffed requests for meetings from Al-Qaeda operatives, the report said.
Before, and after the 2003 invasion Bush administration leaders used purported ties between Iraq and terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda, as partial justification for the war.
On June 14, 2004, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney said : “Saddam Hussein was in power, overseeing one of the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century … he had long-established ties with Al-Qaeda.”
A day later, Bush was asked at the White House to name the best evidence for a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.
“Zarqawi. Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda,” Bush said.
On August 21, this year, Bush said: “Imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, … who had relations with Zarqawi.”
The report also found that Iraq ended its nuclear program in 1991, and its ability to reconstitute it progressively declined after that date. The administration had claimed before the invasion of Iraq that the program had been restarted.
A second committee report released Friday probed the role of the exiled Iraqi National Congress in providing intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs, which was later discredited.
The Senate assessments immediately stoked a new row over the US drive to war with Iraq, ahead of November’s crucial congressional elections.
“Todays reports show that the administrations 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 Democratic Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller in a statement.
“The administration sought and succeeded in creating the false impression that al-Qaeda and Iraq presented a single unified threat to the United States,” he said.
Another Democrat, Senator Carl Levin, said the report was “a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration’s unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts to convince the American people that Saddam Hussein was linked with Al-Qaeda.”
But White House spokesman Tony Snow, speaking before the report was released, said it contained “nothing new.”
“It’s, again, kind of re-litigating things that happened three years ago,” he said.
“The president’s stated concern this week, as you’ve seen, is to think, ‘okay, we’ll let people quibble over three years ago. The important thing to do is to figure out what you’re doing tomorrow and the day after and the month after and the year after to make sure that this war on terror is won.'”
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