Qaeda Ties to Iran, Iraq Still Murky

Published July 22, 2004

| Associated Press

The Sept. 11 commission's final report cites Al Qaeda (search) contacts with Iran and Iraq but does not conclude either of the "axis of evil" countries developed a close working relationship with the terror network.

The report notes that Usama bin Laden (search) began exploring a possible alliance with Iraq in the early 1990s. For example, it says an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan in July 1998 to meet with the ruling Taliban and with bin Laden.

However, the report says, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (search) never had an Islamist agenda, and bin Laden had been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. A collaborative relationship never developed, the report found.

Still, five days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sent a memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and wrote that if there was "even a 10 percent chance" that Saddam had a role in the attacks, "maximum priority should be placed on eliminating that threat."

The Wolfowitz memo also cited theories that Ramzi Yousef (search), mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was an Iraqi agent. The commission concluded there was no credible evidence to support this claim.

Despite Wolfowitz's arguments, on Sept. 19 Rumsfeld issued a memo to Pentagon commanders that addressed only Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Now-retired Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the commission that Bush turned down his post-Sept. 11 request to plan immediately for action against Iraq. Franks, according to the report, said he personally believed Iraq and Al Qaeda were "engaged in some form of collusion" and Saddam might do something to take advantage of the situation.

Bin Laden's relationship with Iraq has been the subject of intense political debate, with critics saying Bush exaggerated the links to justify the U.S. invasion.

The commission also looked at Al Qaeda's contacts with Iraq's neighbor. It said intelligence points to contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al Qaeda figures after bin Laden's return to Afghanistan. It also found the conservative Muslim state allowed eight to 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers to pass through Iran on their way from Afghanistan and other countries, without stamping their passports.

Still, the report said, "We have found no evidence that Iran ... was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the Al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.

"We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government," the report found.

Bush called Iran and Iraq members of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea, in his State of the Union address in January 2002.

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