Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US Defense report confirms no Saddam, al-Qaeda link

AFP , WASHINGTON

Interrogations of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and documents seized after the 2003 US-led invasion confirmed that his regime had not been cooperating with al-Qaeda, the Washington Post reported on its Web site yesterday.

The report contradicted a strong argument for the invasion made by the administration of US President George W. Bush that Baghdad had a working relationship with al-Qaeda, the Afghanistan-based group led by Osama bin Laden blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

The Post reported that a newly released declassified Department of Defense report said information obtained after the fall of Saddam confirmed the prewar position of CIA and Pentagon intelligence that the Iraqi government had no substantial contacts with al-Qaeda.

This position was shored up by interrogations of Saddam and other top officials captured by the US-led coalition forces in Iraq, said the report, obtained by the Post.

The report said that the office of then-undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith -- one of the foremost advocates for invading Iraq after the 2001 attacks -- had deliberately ignored the CIA's position and characterized the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda as "mature" and "symbiotic" in a September 2002 briefing to the chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Feith briefing alleged that the two cooperated in 10 areas, including training, financing and logistics.

But the new report, the Post said, demonstrated that the US intelligence community had concluded at the time that there were "no conclusive signs" of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda and that "direct cooperation ... has not been established" between the two.

Prior to the war there was little public dispute inside the US over the Bush administration's linking Iraq and bin Laden's group.

But since the invasion, a number of intelligence officials have said that the White House and its backers ignored their intelligence and "cherry picked" information that supported their campaign to persuade the US of the need for war.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Cheney insisted on a prewar link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, saying that the group was working in Iraq "before we even arrived on the scene."

"As I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq," Cheney told a conservative radio talk-show host.

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