Newly Released Document Calls into Question Saddam-Zarqawi Link

by Kevin Jon Heller

One of the Bush administration’s central justifications for invading Iraq was the supposed “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. The link, according to the administration, was Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Iraq, from the bombing of the UN’s headquarters to the beheading of Nicholas Berg. Recall Colin Powell’s speech to the UN a month before the invasion (as summarized by CNN):

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) — The regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for years has consorted with the al Qaeda terrorist network, often using as a go-between a shadowy figure who set up a training camp in northeast Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.

Speaking to the U.N. Security Council, Powell offered the most detailed explanation yet of possible links between Baghdad and associates of Osama bin Laden. At its center, he said, is Abu Mussab Zarqawi, a bin Laden associate who has traveled in Iraq.

[snip]

Zarqawi also has been sighted in Baghdad, Powell said. He traveled to Baghdad for medical treatment last May, staying there for two months “while he recuperated to fight another day,” Powell said.

During Zarqawi’s stay in Baghdad, nearly two dozen of his associates set up a base of operations in the capital to move people, money and supplies throughout the country, said Powell. “They’ve now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months,” Powell said.

The 9/11 Commission and the CIA have both rejected the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam and al-Qaeda worked together. And now a document found in Iraq and released yesterday by the Pentagon further weaken the administration’s position:

Iraqi documents collected by US intelligence during the Iraq war and released by the Bush administration show Saddam Hussein’s regime was investigating “rumours” that 3,000 Iraqis and Saudis had travelled unofficially to Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks to fight US troops.

The documents, the first of thousands expected to be declassified over the next several months, were released last night via a Pentagon website at the direction of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Many were in Arabic – with no English translation – including one the administration said showed that Iraqi intelligence officials suspected al Qaida members were inside Iraq in 2002.

However, one of the documents, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated August 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached.

As Juan Cole, a leading expert on Iraq points out, the document’s meaning could not be more clear: “Saddam had put out an APB for Zarqawi and was trying to have him arrested as a danger to the Baath regime!”

The Pentagon’s own synopses of the released documents are available here.

http://opiniojuris.org/2006/03/17/newly-released-document-calls-into-question-saddam-zarqawi-link/

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