WASHINGTON – Iraqi documents collected by U.S. intelligence during the Iraq war and released by the Bush administration show Saddam Hussein's regime was investigating "rumors" that 3,000 Iraqis and Saudis had traveled unofficially to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight U.S. troops.
The documents, the first of thousands expected to be declassified over the next several months, were released late Wednesday via a Pentagon Web site at the direction of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
Many were in Arabic — with no English translation — including one the administration said showed that Iraqi intelligence officials suspected Al Qaeda members were inside Iraq in 2002.
The Pentagon Web site described that document this way: "2002 Iraqi Intelligence Correspondence concerning the presence of Al Qaeda Members in Iraq. Correspondence between IRS members on a suspicion, later confirmed, of the presence of an Al Qaeda terrorist group. Moreover, it includes photos and names."
However, one of the documents translated by The Associated Press, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated Aug. 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached.
The letter said there were reports the two could be in Iraq and directed Iraqi security officials to be on the alert as a matter of "top priority."
Attached were three responses in which agents said there was no evidence al-Zarqawi or the other man were in Iraq.
The release of the documents, expected to continue for months, is designed to allow lawmakers and the public to investigate what documents from Saddam's regime said about such controversial issues as weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda in the period before the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.
The Web site cautioned that the U.S. government "has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available."
A handful of prewar Iraq government documents released Wednesday had been translated into English.
They included one Iraqi intelligence document indicating Saddam's feared Fedayeen paramilitary forces were investigating rumors in the fall of 2001 that as many as 3,000 Iraqis and Saudis were going to fight in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion.
"In the report on the status of rumors for November of 2001 regarding Fedayeen Saddam in al-Anbar, there is an entry that indicates that there is a group of Iraqi and Saudi Arabians numbering around 3,000 who have gone in an unofficial capacity to Afghanistan and have joined the mujahidin (mujahedeen, or holy warriors) to fight with and aid them in defeating the American Zionist Imperialist attack," the translated document stated.
"After presenting the matter to the Supervisor of Fedayeen Saddam, he ordered that the matter should be looked into for verification of the truth of the rumor," the translation said.
House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., requested the release of millions pages of documents and audio recordings captured during current and previous U.S. military operations in Iraq. Most have sat untranslated for years.
Last weekend, Negroponte agreed to set aside money and establish a system to make the documents available to the media, academics and other researchers.
In a statement, Hoekstra welcomed the chance to answer questions about prewar Iraq. "Whether Saddam Hussein destroyed Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or hid or transferred them, the most important thing is we discover the truth of what was happening in the country prior to the war," he said.