'Operational Relationship' With Al Qaeda Discounted
Bush did, however, order the Pentagon on Sept. 17 to be ready to occupy the Iraqi oil fields if the country acted against U.S. interests, the commission states. Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who eventually directed the war in Iraq, is depicted by the commission as lobbying immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks for authority to plan for military action there. In his commission interview last April, Franks said he personally believed that Iraq and al Qaeda might be colluding.
Still, the commission found no evidence of significant dealings between Iraq and al Qaeda.
It says, for example, that bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in 1994 or 1995, at the encouragement of Hassan Turabi, then a radical Islamic party leader in Sudan; Turabi was arrested and accused of plotting a coup in 2001. Bin Laden "is said to have asked for space to establish training camps" and help in procuring weapons, but no evidence exists that Iraq responded.
This information was in any event not learned until late May 2003, according to the report, weeks after Bush declared major combat in Iraq successfully finished.
In 1997, after bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan, he "sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation," the report states. But Iraq was trying then to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, which officially disapproved of bin Laden. Iraq made no significant reply.
A year later, Iraq's position reversed. Impressed by bin Laden's declaration of holy war against the United States, Iraqi intelligence officials reportedly hosted a visit by two al Qaeda members; follow-up meetings took place in 1998 and possibly in 1999, the report states. But bin Laden declined an Iraqi offer of haven.
The commission repeated intelligence claims that "there are indications" of Iraqi tolerance of and potential assistance in the late 1990s to an extremist Islamic group in northeastern Iraq known as Ansar al-Islam, which was an al Qaeda ally and fighting Kurdish groups opposed to Hussein. But recent U.S. military intelligence from Iraq, not cited in the commission's report, has suggested that Ansar's membership is distinct from al Qaeda's.
The commission also says "the available evidence does not support" a claim by many top administration officials, including at one point Vice President Cheney, that Mohamed Atta, who flew one of the jetliners into the World Trade Center, met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001.
Czech authorities discount the report, which was based on a single source, and say the Iraqi intelligence agent, who is in jail, was not in Prague at the time. The FBI meanwhile has found evidence that Atta was in the United States at the time, and al Qaeda officials in U.S. custody have denied the meeting occurred.
A Defense Intelligence Agency report dated July 2002 was titled "Special Analysis: Iraq's Inconclusive Ties to Al-Qaida," the commission's report says.
Al Qaeda ties to Iran appear to have been much more substantial, according to information disclosed by the commission. An agreement brokered by Sudan in 1991 or 1992 led to Iranian training of senior al Qaeda operatives in explosives, for example. Iran also repeatedly assisted the transit of al Qaeda figures into and out of Iran by agreeing not to stamp their passports. No similar evidence of cooperation between al Qaeda and Iraq was cited by the panel.
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
9/11 Panel Chronicles U.S. Failures (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
The 567-Page Story Of a Humbled America (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
New Details Revealed on 9/11 Plans (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
U.S. Warning Systems 'Were Not Really Tried' (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
For the Bush Camp, a Well-Cushioned Blow (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
CIA-Like Counterterror Center Urged (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
Overhaul of Congressional Panels Urged (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
Relatives Praise Commission and Push for Changes (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
Air Security 'Seriously Flawed' (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
Tracking 'Terrorist Travel' Is a Key Defense (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
War on Terror Criticized for Lack of Focus (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)