With the release of the September 11 Commission report, some media outlets may ignore or mischaracterize the fact that the report offers more confirmation of Iraq-al Qaeda ties. It is especially noteworthy, however, that the previous staff report's finding of no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda has been significantly modified. While the commission found no evidence of a "collaborative operational relationship" for "carrying out attacks against the United States," they did find that the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda to be more extensive than many critics of the administration have been willing to admit. And, as the CIA's Counterterrorism Center previously remarked: "any indication of a relationship between these two hostile elements could carry great dangers to the United States."
According to the September 11 report:
* With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Laden himself met with senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. Bin Laden is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded to this request . . . [but] the ensuing years saw additional efforts to establish connections. (p.61)
* In March 1998, after Bin Laden's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Laden. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. (p.66)
* Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Laden or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Laden a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Laden declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States. (p.66)
In addition, two other recent accounts have shed more light on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. A June 25, 2004 New York Times article, "Iraqis, Seeking Foes of Saudis, Contacted bin Laden, File Says," reported on the contents of a mid-1990s Iraqi intelligence document believed to be authentic. According to the article,
* bin Laden "had some reservations about being labeled an Iraqi operative."
* the Iraqi regime agreed to bin Laden's request to rebroadcast anti-Saudi propaganda.
* bin Laden "requested joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. had a strong troop presence in Saudi Arabia at the time.
* following bin Laden's departure from Sudan, Iraq intelligence began "seeking other channels through which to handle the relationship."
* the Iraqi Intelligence service believed "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."
* a Sudanese official in 1994 told Uday Hussein and the director of Iraqi Intelligence that bin Laden was willing to meet in Sudan.
And, on July 7, 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported:
* That George Tenet provided the Senate Intelligence Committee this assessment in a closed session on September 17, 2002: "There is evidence that Iraq provided al Qaeda with various kinds of training--combat, bomb-making, [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] CBRN. Although Saddam did not endorse al Qaeda's overall agenda and was suspicious of Islamist movements in general, he was apparently not averse, under certain circumstances, to enhancing bin Laden's operational capabilities. As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training are [redacted] from sources of varying reliability."
* That according to a CIA report called Iraqi Support for Terrorism, "the general pattern that emerges is one of al Qaeda's enduring interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) expertise from Iraq."
* That the Iraqi regime 'certainly' had knowledge that Abu Musab al Zarqawi -- described in Iraqi Support for Terrorism as "a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner" -- was operating in Baghdad and northern Iraq.