- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

Post-Iraq invasion intelligence concluded there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, casting doubt on President Bush’s statements as recently as last month that there was a link.

A report released yesterday by the Senate intelligence committee said the CIA concluded last year that the Zarqawi-Saddam nexus did not exist.

“Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi,” the bipartisan report concluded. It focused on comparing prewar intelligence on Iraq with post-invasion information from seized documents and interrogations of Saddam regime figures.

Democrats pounced on the conclusion as proof that Mr. Bush and his administration are misleading the American people about their justifications for going to war in March 2003 to oust Saddam.

Mr. Bush said at an Aug. 21 press conference, when asked to defend the invasion, “I square it because 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.”

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and intelligence committee member, said yesterday: “To this day, these statements haven’t stopped. Just two weeks ago, the president said in a press conference that Saddam Hussein had relations with Zarqawi. The intelligence committee’s report demonstrates that statement to be false. … The president’s statement, made just two weeks ago, is flat out false.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow told The Washington Times last night that Mr. Bush was referring to the fact that Zarqawi was in Iraq receiving medical care and lodging during Saddam’s rule.

“The president knows there was no operational relationship and he did not assert there was an operational relationship,” Mr. Snow said.

The Senate report also said there is no evidence that Saddam’s regime participated in or aided the September 11 attacks. Mr. Snow said the president has never asserted otherwise.

“There have been repeated insinuations that the president had somehow said Saddam was involved in September 11,” Mr. Snow said. “He has never said that. He has taken great pains from the very beginning to assure people that was not the case.”

The Senate report did confirm prewar intelligence that the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, who had links to al Qaeda and fought in Afghanistan, did enter Iraq in the spring of 2002 and stayed in Baghdad until November of that year. Some Bush officials said publicly before the war that the Saddam regime would not have allowed the jihadist to remain in Baghdad if it did not condone his presence.

But post-invasion intelligence collection showed that Saddam considered Zarqawi an outlaw and sent his intelligence service to capture him. “The [Iraqi Intelligence Service] formed a special committee and actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success, contradicting prewar assessments that the IIS almost certainly possessed the capability to track him,” the Senate report said.

Zarqawi returned to Iraq in 2003 and formed the deadly al Qaeda in Iraq terror group. A U.S. air strike killed him in June.

The report also said post-invasion intelligence can only confirm one meeting (in the Sudan) between a Saddam regime official and an al Qaeda operative. Saddam refused two other meeting requests from al Qaeda. An al Qaeda detainee recanted a statement to the CIA that Iraq helped train al Qaeda terrorists in explosives and chemical weapons.

The report reaffirmed an early committee report in 2004, and a presidential commission finding in 2004, that the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on which the war decision was based was wrong in its major conclusions.

Republicans accused Democrats of rehashing the same findings and noted virtually all intelligence agencies worldwide estimated that Saddam still possessed stocks of chemical weapons. Mr. Bush has acknowledged the report was wrong. Neither the committee nor the bipartisan commission found that the Bush administration pressured the intelligence community on the 2002 NIE, which was generally in line with intelligence findings in the Clinton administration.

“The long-known fact is that the prewar intelligence was wrong,” said committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. “That flawed intelligence was used by policy-makers, both in the administration and in Congress, as one of numerous justifications to go to war in Iraq. The same intelligence was collectively believed and used, leading to the same assertive public statements regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.”

The Iraq Survey Group, which spent two years in Iraq hunting for weapons of mass destruction, found no stockpiles, but said Saddam planned to resume WMD programs after the United Nations lifted economic sanctions.



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