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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Iraq war justifications laid bare
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington

The Senate Intelligence Committee has found no evidence of links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Composite image of Saddam Hussein at his trial in Aug 2006 and an undated US Department of Defense handout photo of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in June
No allies: Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
In a report issued on Friday, it also found that was little or no evidence to support a raft of claims made by the US intelligence community concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The 400-page report was three years in the making, and is probably the definitive public account of the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

One starting point is this:

In a poll conducted this month by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN, a sample of American adults was asked: "Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 11 September terrorist attacks, or not?"

Forty-three percent of those polled answered yes, they believed Saddam was personally involved.

Even though it is well-established that Saddam Hussein was no ally of al-Qaeda, nor did he possess weapons of mass destruction, the original justifications for the invasion for Iraq linger on, often in ways that have strangely mutated on their journey through politics and media.

Cheney claims 'untrue'

In fact, the intelligence agencies had been extremely cautious in suggesting links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

George W Bush and Dick Cheney at the 2002 State of the Union address
Mr Bush and Mr Cheney have been making the link for years
It was Vice-President Dick Cheney who asserted most strongly in public that Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship.

In a television interview in September 2003, he said there was "a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s... al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained... the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organisation."

It was "clearly official policy" on the part of Iraq, he said.

Friday's report, issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, provides another definitive statement that that assertion is simply not true.

It says that debriefings conducted since the invasion of Iraq "indicate that Saddam issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with al-Qaeda. No post-war information suggests that the Iraqi regime attempted to facilitate a relationship with [Osama] Bin Laden.

"Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaeda... refusing all requests from al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support."

Administration confusion

The report supports the intelligence community's finding that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the man who was al-Qaeda's chief operative in Iraq between the invasion and his death in June this year - was indeed in Baghdad in 2002.

Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support
Senate report
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Was this an Iraqi link to al-Qaeda?

No, says the report. Far from harbouring him, Saddam's regime was trying to find and capture him.

But the Bush administration has a way, still, of confusing this issue.

As recently as 21 August this year, President Bush said that Saddam "had relations with Zarqawi".

The Senate report is scathing of the intelligence community's product concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"Post-war findings", it reads, "do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate judgement that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

Nor do "post-war findings" support the 2002 NIE's assertions that Iraq had chemical or biological weapons.

Political fallout

It remains to be seen if the Democrats can use the Senate report to damage the Republican Party in the run-up to Congressional elections in November by reminding the American public of the intelligence debacle that preceded the invasion of Iraq, and ascribing that failure to the leadership of the Bush administration.

Senator Carl Levin
Sen Carl Levin said the report was damning

It is far from clear they'll be able to do so.

The president has been extremely active in the last week, selling his successes in the "war on terror" in a series of speeches; demanding Congress give him greater powers to fight it; and announcing that the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will be brought to trial.

The Democratic Party still seems unable to find a concerted critique of President Bush's handling of the "war on terrorism" and the conflict in Iraq, without themselves appearing defeatist.

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