- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Iraq-al Qaeda ties

Eric Edelman, the undersecretary of defense for policy, has written a harsh critique of a recently declassified Pentagon inspector general report. The rebuttal is contained in the appendix of the IG report that criticized the alternative, pre-Iraq war intelligence assessment done by a Pentagon policy group on ties between Iraq and al Qaeda as “inappropriate.”

Mr. Edelman stated that the policy group’s work on the issue was not only appropriate and legal, but directed by both former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

“Apart from the numerous factual inaccuracies, omissions and mischaracterizations identified throughout these comments, the [IG] report suffers from a basic analytical flaw in attempting to paint the work under review as ‘inappropriate’ even though no laws were broken, no DoD directives were violated and no applicable policies were disregarded,” Mr. Edelman wrote in his counter to the February IG report made public April 5.

The IG report “concedes that the activities reviewed were lawful. It concedes that the activities were authorized — indeed requested — by the deputy secretary of defense and secretary of defense,” he stated.

Mr. Edelman’s rebuttal also highlighted the known links between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda terrorists that, while indirect, are indisputable — and which were omitted by the IG in his report.

They include the CIA judgment of June 21, 2002, of the “murky” ties, and the CIA memo of Aug. 20, 2002, that stated, “Saddam and bin Laden are not natural partners, but have maintained cautious contacts and some shared training.”

One footnote in the report updates the conclusion of indirect links. It stated that postwar questioning of Saddam, his foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, intelligence chief Barazan Ibrahim and senior al Qaeda captive Abu Faraj confirmed that “Iraq and al Qaeda did not cooperate in all categories,” but supports the policy group’s conclusion of cooperation in some areas.

Mr. Edelman also quoted former CIA Director George J. Tenet telling Congress in 2002 and 2003 that “we have solid reporting of senior-level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade,” and that “credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.” That reporting, Mr. Tenet said, “also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases, and making conventional bombs.”

The report also provides some new information on the purported meeting between lead September 11 hijackerMohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmad al-Ani in March 2001 in Prague.

It stated that Atta used a vehicle for one Prague meeting that was registered to an agent of the Baghdad-based Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). The link is significant because in 1998, bin Laden met with the head of the ANO and agreed to provide financial assistance to the group “in return for unspecified assistance to al Qaeda.”

The report said the ANO responded “expeditiously and fully” to Iraqi government directives and that the link “suggests ANO functions to serve Iraqi objectives and that Iraq is aware of ANO ties to al Qaeda.”

Doubts by U.S. intelligence reports on the Atta-al-Ani meeting were contrasted by Mr. Edelman, who noted that “the Czech intelligence service firmly stood by its report” that the Iraqi met the al Qaeda plotter.

The IG report was released by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who defense officials say for years has quietly recruited agents within the Pentagon inspector general’s office to produce reports and audits sympathetic to the liberal Michigan Democrat’s views.

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