Friday, March 14, 2008

Iraq: 600,000 documents later, reports says no direct Saddam/al-qaeda link

The U.S. Defense Department has released a study of 600,000 documents from Saddam Hussein's archives concluding that while he supported many terrorist groups he did not have a "direct connection" with al-Qaida. But the department's spokesman says that is not a new conclusion. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

According to the executive summary of the Iraqi Perspectives Project report, Saddam Hussein was concerned that terrorist groups, particularly those with an Islamic viewpoint, could threaten his regime. But the report says he cooperated with them anyway because they attacked his enemy, the United States.

It says under Saddam, Iraq's involvement in terrorism focused on his enemies both inside and outside Iraq, but also extended to support for the families of Palestinian terrorists and a program to develop and build car bombs and to train people on how to use them. The report says, "State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training and resourcing of terrorists."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the report shows "a Nazi-esque cataloging of Saddam's ties with terror."

Still, according to the report, researchers have not found any "direct connection" between Saddam and al-Qaida, which carried out the September 11 attacks in 2001 and several other significant attacks on U.S. targets. Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says U.S. military researchers have reached the same 'no-connection' conclusion in at least two previous analyses of the captured documents.

"This is part of a huge database, which, as it gets translated is being released," said Bryan Whitman. "It came to the same type of conclusion."

Other reports have also reached the same conclusion, including the U.S. September 11th Commission and the Pentagon's Inspector General.

The point is important because an alleged connection between Saddam and al-Qaida was one of the Bush administration's justifications for the invasion of Iraq five years ago, and the toppling of Saddam's regime.

Foreign Policy Analyst Olga Oliker at the Rand Corporation research organization says it would not have made sense for Saddam to support groups like al-Qaida that were dedicated to overthrowing secular governments like his own. And she says many other reports, both before and after the U.S.-led invasion, have come to the conclusion that he didn't support those groups.

"I think what's news about it or what's interesting about it is that it is an additional report by a U.S. government agency that refutes an assertion that was made by people in the Bush administration," said Olga Oliker. "It would be really hard to find something that does support what members of the administration had said."

The Pentagon released the three-page executive summary of the Iraqi Perspectives Project on Thursday after reporters complained that the full report's release was being delayed. The Pentagon said the delay is a matter of logistics because the report includes several volumes of material.

By Al Pessin Pentagon, 13 March 2008
Published with the permission of Voice of America