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July 15, 2004
More Iraqi-AQ Connections In Butler Report

The Washington Times' Bill Gertz reports that the Butler Report of the British investigation into its pre-war intelligence shows previously undisclosed connections between Iraqi intelligence services and Al-Qaeda, including in chemical arms and training (via Memeorandum):

A British government report made public yesterday provides new information showing that al Qaeda terrorists had contacts with Iraqi intelligence in developing chemical arms and that the group worked with a Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist.

The special report by former top civil servant Robin Butler on British prewar intelligence found gaps in reporting on Iraq's weapons and also disclosed new details of terrorist activities of al Qaeda associate Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is leading attacks in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

I noted the Zarqawi connection earlier, from a Washington Post article. Gertz has more specific details about the chemical-arms trade between Iraq, Pakistan, and AQ:

British intelligence assessments of connections between al Qaeda and Saddam's government were similar to U.S. intelligence assessments, the report said, adding that there were "contacts between al Qaeda and the Iraqi Directorate General of Intelligence since 1998."

"Those reports described al Qaeda seeking toxic chemicals as well as other conventional terrorist equipment," the report said. "Some accounts suggested that Iraqi chemical experts may have been in Afghanistan during 2000."

The British concluded that the contacts did not lead to "practical cooperation" because of mutual distrust.

"Intelligence nonetheless indicates that ... meetings have taken place between senior Iraqi representatives and senior al Qaeda operatives," the report said. "Some reports also suggest that Iraq may have trained some al Qaeda terrorists since 1998. Al Qaeda has shown interest in gaining chemical and biological expertise from Iraq, but we do not know whether any such training was provided."

So now we have British intelligence that the connections between Saddam and AQ continued past the 1995 timeline that the CIA established, and that those contacts were at a "senior level". This means it wasn't just a couple of agents getting together over iced tea in Niger; the contacts were between people who could actually have fashioned a strategic alliance between the two organizations. AQ felt comfortable enough to push for WMD training from Iraq in 1998, belying the notion that Saddam was out of the unconventional-arms market by that time.

Post-9/11, it's clear why the British and the US executives, looking at this data, understood Iraq to have significant connections to AQ. After ejecting the Taliban, Saddam's government would have been the next likely resource for bin Laden, as Saddam was skimming billions from the UN Oil-For-Food program and could have used AQ as a proxy for attacking the West. In fact, only an idiot could have seen all of this and concluded that Saddam presented no specific danger to Western security in regards to Islamofascist terrorists.

All of the weapons inspectors in the world would not have gotten to the bottom of this relationship between the terror network and the defiant tyrant. Only his removal would have cut the ties, and any extension of the twelve-year delay in dealing with Saddam only increased the likelihood of a successful, coordinated attack on the West by the combination. The media can't spin this one away, so again, I expect they'll ignore it again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 15, 2004 11:45 AM

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