IRAQ Senate: Al-Qaida daunted Saddam
Democrats are accusing President Bush of using faulty intelligence.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, a Senate report says, contradicting assertions President Bush has used to build support for the war in Iraq.
Released Friday, the report discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that before the war, Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.
Saddam told U.S. officials after his capture that he had not cooperated with Osama bin Laden even though he acknowledged that officials in his government had met with the al-Qaida leader, according to FBI summaries cited in the Senate report.
"Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden," Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi leader's top aide, told the FBI.
The report also faults intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.
As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."
Faulty intelligence alleged
Democrats contended that the administration continues to use faulty intelligence, including assertions of a link between Saddam's government and the recently killed al-Zarqawi, to justify the war in Iraq.
They also said, in remarks attached to Friday's Senate Intelligence Committee document, that former CIA Director George Tenet had modified his position on the terrorist link at the request of administration policymakers.
Republicans said the document, which compares prewar intelligence with post-invasion findings on Iraq's weapons and on terrorist groups, broke little new ground. And they said Democrats were distorting it for political purposes.
A previous report in 2004 made clear the intelligence agencies' "massive failures," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., a member of the committee. "Yet to make a giant leap in logic to claim that the Bush administration intentionally misled the nation or manipulated intelligence is simply not warranted." White House press secretary Tony Snow said the report was "nothing new."
A second part of the report concluded that false information from the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Saddam group led by then-exile Ahmed Chalabi, was used to support key U.S. intelligence assessments on Iraq.
It said U.S. intelligence agents put out red flags about the reliability of INC sources but the intelligence community made a "serious error" and used one source who concocted a story that Iraq was building mobile biological weapons laboratories.
The report also said that in 2002 the National Security Council directed that funding for the INC should continue "despite warnings from both the CIA, which terminated its relationship with the INC in December 1996, and the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], that the INC was penetrated by hostile intelligence services, including the Iranians."
According to the report, postwar findings indicate that Saddam "was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat."
It said al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad from May until late November 2002. But "postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."
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