No Evidence Connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda, 9/11 Panel Says
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; 1:32 PM
There is "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq collaborated with the al Qaeda terrorist network on any attacks on the United States, according to a new staff report released this morning by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Although Osama bin Laden briefly explored the idea of forging ties with Iraq in the mid-1990s, the terrorist leader was hostile to Hussein's secular government, and Iraq never responded to requests for help in providing training camps or weapons, the panel found in the first of two reports issued today.
The findings come in the wake of statements Monday by Vice President Cheney that Iraq had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda, and comments by President Bush yesterday backing up that assertion.
The commission issued its report on al Qaeda's history at the start of a two-day round of hearings this morning. In a separate report on the planning and deliberations for the Sept. 11 plot, the panel cited numerous pieces of FBI evidence in concluding that ringleader Mohamed Atta never met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 9, 2001, as Cheney and some other Bush administration officials have alleged.
"Based on the evidence available -- including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting -- we do not believe that such a meeting occurred," the second report said.
The report on al Qaeda's history said the government of Sudan, which gave sanctuary to al Qaeda from 1991 to 1996, persuaded bin Laden to cease supporting anti-Hussein forces and "arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda." But the contacts did not result in any cooperation, the panel said.
"There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan [in 1996], but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship," the report says. "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
The conclusions provide the latest example of how the Sept. 11 commission has become a political irritant for the Bush administration. The 10-member bipartisan commission, initially opposed by the White House, has frequently feuded with the government over access to documents and witnesses and has issued findings sharply critical of the Bush administration's focus on terrorism prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
In testimony before the commission, CIA and FBI officials said they agreed with the staff report's assessment of the abortive relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq.
A CIA counterterrorism analyst who testified using the pseudonym Ted Davis said, "We’re in full agreement with the staff statement," which he said did "an excellent job" of representing the agency’s current understanding of the al Qaeda-Iraq relationship.
John Pistole, the FBI's executive assistant director for counter-terrorism, concurred.
Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company