Report rejects prewar link of Iraq, Al Qaeda
By Stephen J. Hedges of the Washington Bureau
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 9, 2006
WASHINGTON -- A Senate report on the Bush administration's use of intelligence that led to the American invasion of Iraq debunks White House claims that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had operational ties to Al Qaeda before the war began in March 2003.
The report, released Friday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, provides details to support the committee's earlier, July 2004 conclusion that much of the intelligence that led up to the Iraq war was flawed, and the report did not turn up any new evidence to support the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the committee's chairman, sought to minimize the political fallout of his committee's findings by noting that doubts about intelligence on Iraq are nothing new.
"The long-known fact is that the prewar intelligence was wrong," Roberts said. "That flawed intelligence was used by policymakers, both in the administration and in Congress, as one of numerous justifications to go to war in Iraq."
But committee Democrats, presaging a certain campaign theme this fall, said the new report substantiates suspicions that the White House trumped up the case against Iraq.
"The Bush administration's case for war in Iraq was fundamentally misleading," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat. "The administration pursued a deceptive strategy of using intelligence reporting that the intelligence community had already warned was uncorroborated, unreliable and, in critical instances, fabricated."
Since the invasion of Iraq, the conflict has devolved into an extended battle among anti-American Iraqi insurgents and U.S. and British forces, and, increasingly, fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias and death squads, according to a recent Pentagon assessment.
As of midmorning Friday, 2,662 Americans have died in Iraq operations, and more than 19,945 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon.
No weapons of mass destruction have been found by U.S. forces in Iraq, with the exception of some older chemical weapons shells. After the U.S. invasion, the CIA and Pentagon dispatched a substantial team of experts to search for such weapons.
The Senate report reflects bureaucratic infighting and incompetence at the CIA. The agency frequently clashed over its conclusions on Iraq with other U.S. government departments.
The report describes how the CIA insisted that special aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq could be used for enrichment of nuclear material, though U.S. Departments of Energy and State insisted otherwise. So did the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.
Nonetheless, the CIA noted on Dec. 26, 2002, that, "We judge that Iraq would use any suitable tubes rather than try to procure perfect ones."
Iraq maintained, and the atomic energy agency later agreed, that the tubes were for use in Iraq's rocket program.
The report also reveals a tortured discourse in 2002 and 2003 over an apparently fabricated report that Iraq tried to buy uranium, known as yellowcake, from the African nation of Niger.
Despite strong dissenting voices within the U.S. government, and even an October 2002 dissent from then-CIA Director George Tenet, the belief that Iraq had tried to strike a uranium deal with Niger persisted within the CIA and the administration.
Tenet, in fact, suggested in October 2002 that a planned reference to the deal by Bush in a Cincinnati speech be removed because of doubts about the deal, the Senate panel's report states.
The Niger-Iraq connection, which the Senate report concluded did not exist, is important for two reasons.
First, it was mentioned by Bush during his 2003 State of the Union speech, though the president did not mention Niger specifically, referring instead to an African nation.
Second, the Niger connection proved to be the launching point for one of Washington's more intriguing recent scandals. Ambassador Joseph Wilson was tasked by the CIA to visit Niger to examine the claims of a uranium deal. After his visit, Wilson reported that there was no evidence of a deal. The CIA did more intelligence gathering and largely confirmed Wilson's conclusion.
When Bush mentioned the deal in his speech and administration officials kept discussing it, Wilson wrote a New York Times opinion piece disputing the claim. Shortly afterward, the name of his wife, who was a clandestine CIA operative, was revealed in print by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak.
Wilson has since suggested that the White House deliberately leaked his wife's name, Valerie Plame, in reprisal for his article criticizing Bush.
It is a felony to disclose the name of an undercover CIA operative. A special prosecutor, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, was appointed to investigate the case. The investigation has resulted in the perjury indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
On Thursday, Richard Armitage, a former top State Department official, admitted he told Novak that Plame worked for the CIA. Armitage has not been charged.
The Senate panel's report also found that claims and reports of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link before the war "did not add up to an established formal relationship."
The new report included information from interviews with Hussein, now imprisoned in Iraq. Hussein, the Senate committee found, "did not trust Al Qaeda or any other radical Islamist group and did not want to cooperate with them. Hussein reportedly believed, however, that Al Qaeda was an effective organization because of its ability to successfully attack U.S. interests."
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Al Qaeda-Iraq connection?
`Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Iraq could decide on any given day' to give a dangerous weapon `to a terrorist group.'
`Osama bin Laden has proclaimed the third world war is raging in Iraq. Al Qaeda leaders have declared that Baghdad will be the capital of the new caliphate that they wish to establish across the Middle East.'
`Postwar findings indicate that 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.'
--Senate Intelligence Committee report