On March 20th, President George Bush said in Cleveland: “If I might correct a misperception, I don’t think we ever said, at least I know I didn’t say that there was a direct connection between September 11th and Saddam Hussein.”

 

To help judge the accuracy of this statement we reprint below a section from WMD in Iraq:  Evidence and Implications, by Joseph Cirincione, Jessica Mathews and George Perkovich (Carnegie Endowment, January 2004).  It begins with a selection of official statements on the connection, then examines the evidence supporting these statements before and after the invasion.  Since publication of the report the evidence that there was no operational connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq has only grown stronger.

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Administration Statements

Administration officials said that Iraq had operational ties to Al Qaeda, would give terrorists weapons of mass destruction to use against the United States, and implied that Saddam Hussein was linked to the September 11 attacks.

  •       “[T]here clearly are contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq . . . there clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts and that there’s a relationship here.” (National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, PBS “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 25 September 2002)
  •       “Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” (President Bush, State of the Union, 28 January 2003)
  •       “Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an Al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases. We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior Al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad.” (President Bush, Radio Address, 8 February 2003)
  •             “Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of Osama bin Laden. We know Zarqawi’s network was behind the poison plots in Europe, and . . . the assassination of a U.S. State Department employee in Jordan. Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to Al Qaeda. It has also provided training in poisons and gases to two Al Qaeda associates. One of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.” (Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Press Statement, 11 February 2003)

Intelligence Assessment

The NIE concluded that it was unlikely that Saddam would cooperate with, or give WMD to, terrorists. Previous assessments did not mention this possibility.

The NIE said “Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” because Saddam feared U.S. retaliation. However, “Iraq probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US Homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” Even then, he was more likely to carry out the attacks with his own “special forces or intelligence operatives” not by contracting with or engaging independent terrorist groups. The NIE judged that an Iraqi-Al Qaeda alliance was most likely if Saddam was “engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the United States.” Then, he might decide that the “extreme step of assisting the Islamist terrorists in conducting a CBW attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.”[i]

Evidence Since March 2003

There is no new evidence that Iraq actively aided Al Qaeda. There is some new evidence that there were no operational links.

U.S. troops have captured dozens of alleged Al Qaeda members, but these arrests have so far failed to bring new evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda cooperation.

The New York Times reported in June that two of the highest-ranking leaders of Al Qaeda in custody, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, both told interrogators that Iraq and Al Qaeda did not carry out operations together.[ii] In July, it was reported that U.S. authorities captured Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the Iraqi intelligence officer alleged to have met with Al Qaeda mastermind Mohamed Atta in April 2001 in Prague, but the results of his interrogation were not reported.[iii]

The UN Monitoring Group on Al Qaeda released a draft report in June that found no link between Iraq and the terrorist group. The committee’s chief investigator said, “Nothing has come to our notice that would indicate links . . . That doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t exist. But from what we’ve seen the answer is no.”[iv]

Since September, some administration officials reiterated that they never directly linked Iraq with the 9/11 attacks. President Bush said on September 17, “No, we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th . . . Now, what the vice president said was is that he has been involved with Al Qaeda . . . And al-Zarqawi, an Al Qaeda operative, was in Baghdad. He’s the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat . . . There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties.”[v] The administration continued to insist that the potential combination of Iraq, WMD and terrorism posed an unacceptable threat. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said on October 8, “We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11th attacks. Yet the possibility remained that he might use his weapons of mass destruction or that terrorists might acquire such weapons from his regime, to mount a future attack far beyond the scale of 9/11. This terrible prospect could not be ignored or wished away.”[vi]

The president and the vice president, however, continue to assert the links by implication. Vice President Dick Cheney said in October: “Saddam Hussein had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. He cultivated ties to terror—hosting the Abu Nidal organization, supporting terrorists, and making payments to the families of suicide bombers in Israel. He also had an established relationship with Al Qaeda, providing training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional bombs.”[vii]

In November, The Weekly Standard published excerpts from a classified annex to a memo dated 27 October 2003 by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.[viii] The article claimed that Feith’s list of 50 incidents of alleged Iraq-al Qaeda contacts proved “an operational relationship from the early 1990s,” and that “there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to plot against Americans.”[ix]

The Department of Defense issued a statement saying the memo had been misinterpreted, saying that the items were raw intelligence previously considered and did not represent new information. “The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.”[x]



[i] 2002 NIE. Please note that the section on terrorism was not included in the NIE summary release in October 2002 and was only declassified in July 2003. For NIE excerpts, see Appendix #1.

[ii] James Risen, “Captives Deny Qaeda Worked with Baghdad,” New York Times, 9 June 2003, sec. A, p. 1.

[iii] Vernon Loeb and John Mintz, “Iraqi Who Might Have Met with 9/11 Hijacker is Captured,” Washington Post, 9 July 2003, sec. A, p. 11.

[iv] “Iraq ‘Had No Links to al-Qaeda,’” BBC News Online, 27 June 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3027234.stm (accessed 28 October 2003).

[v] David Sanger, “Bush Reports No Evidence of Hussein Tie to 9/11,” New York Times, 18 September 2003, sec. A, p. 22.

[vi] Condoleezza Rice, “Remarks to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations,” Chicago, 8 October 2003, available at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/10/20031008-4.html (accessed 21 October 2003).

[vii] Dick Cheney, “Remarks to the Heritage Foundation,” Washington D.C., 10 October 2003, available at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/10/20031010-1.html (accessed 22 October 2003).

[viii] Stephen F. Hayes, “Case Closed,” The Weekly Standard, 24 November 2003, p. 20.

[ix] Ibid., pp. 20 and 25.

[x] Department of Defense News Release, “DOD Statement on News Reports of al-Qaeda and Iraq Connections,” 15 November 2003, available at www.defenselink.mil/releases/2003/nr20031115-0642.html (accessed 4 December 2003).