'Exhaustive' Pentagon-sponsored study finds no Saddam-Qaeda link
After reviewing hundreds of thousands of captured Iraqi documents, a Pentagon-sponsored review has found no evidence of operational links between Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terror network, a McClatchy article reports.
The "exhaustive" study found that Saddam Hussein did provide some support to other terrorist groups but, as Warren Strobel writes for McClatchy, "his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime."
Strobel reiterates that the new study "found no documents indicating a 'direct operational link' between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion," according to an unnamed US official. The study is due to Congress and for general release by midweek.
As is well known, President George W. Bush and his administration freely connected Saddam and al-Qaeda as a key pretense for the invasion of Iraq after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Polls indicated that a large majority of Americans believed the president's assertion.
In the time since then, the Saddam/al-Qaeda tie has been criticized and deconstructed in the press and blogosphere and by study panels, but the upcoming Pentagon report promises to be a particularly stark and thorough refutation of one of the primary Bush administration arguments for the invasion of Iraq. The subsequent war has come at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, nearly 4,000 US troop deaths, and some half a trillion US dollars and counting.
Bush and his staff still tie Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda, despite previously released documents and reports indicating the same findings as the forthcoming extensive review. As recently as last April, Vice President Dick Cheney again asserted a link between the Iraqi dictator and the terror network.
Further excerpts from Strobel's article for McClatchy, available in full at this link, follow...
Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had "bulletproof" evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam's secular dictatorship.
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.
The new study, entitled "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents", was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one U.S. intelligence official described as a "painful" declassification review.
The issue of al Qaida in Iraq already has played a role in the 2008 presidential campaign. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, mocked Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, recently for saying that he'd keep some U.S. troops in Iraq if al Qaida established a base there. "I have some news. Al Qaida is in Iraq," McCain told supporters. Obama retorted that, "There was no such thing as al Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade." (In fact, al Qaida in Iraq didn't emerge until 2004, a year after the invasion.)