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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Powell speech will not focus on Qaeda-Iraq linking

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — U.S. intelligence on alleged links between al Qaeda and Iraq is fragmentary and open to interpretation and will only be a small part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

“It’s not the centerpiece,” one official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

President Bush and Powell have hinted at evidence connecting Iraq to al Qaeda as the administration prepares to make a high-stakes bid to convince allies and the public that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses a grave danger.


The United States is amassing military forces in the Gulf in preparation for a possible war if Iraq does not disarm suspected biological and chemical weapons. Iraq says it does not have such weapons and has no link to al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America that killed about 3,000 people, so a convincing tie between Osama bin Laden’s network and the Iraqi government could sway opinion toward the U.S. viewpoint.

But a solid link has not materialized.

The pieces on which the United States is trying to build a case for an al Qaeda-Iraq link include information that Abu Musab Zarqawi, a suspected bin Laden lieutenant, received medical treatment in Baghdad last summer.

While there is no evidence that Zarqawi was connected with any top official in the Iraqi regime, Powell will talk about the Jordanian’s alleged ties to “poison networks” throughout Europe, a U.S. official told Reuters.

Those groups include one in Britain discovered with the ricin poison and others in Spain and several other countries linked to other poisons, the official said.

Ansar al-Islam, which operates from Kurdish-held northern Iraq, is also suspected of having ties to al Qaeda, but it is unclear whether Saddam has control over the group.

Beyond Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam, “there are little snippets of information here and there. What one makes of it is open to interpretation,” another U.S. official said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have not found proof of an Iraqi tie to the Sept. 11 attacks, nor evidence indicating Saddam gave financial support or weapons to al Qaeda, officials said.

U.S. spy agencies have also been unable to verify a rumored meeting between Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001, months before the attacks.

“You have fragmentary, sketchy, often ambiguous reporting. And if one is motivated to take it in different directions, one could take it in different directions,” one official said.

“I think it’s already established that there have been contacts; the question is how far, how deep does this go? And then what kind of pieces could you draw from that in terms of how much more might take place from that in the future? That’s really the issue here,” the official said.

“And as is often the case, the intelligence itself doesn’t take you to any grand conclusion like that,” the official said.

Powell, accompanied to the United Nations by CIA Director George Tenet, will mainly focus on what the United States believes are Iraq’s attempts to hide weapons of mass destruction and deceive weapons inspectors, officials said.

He was expected to use newly declassified satellite photos and play recordings of intercepted conversations among Iraqi officials to make a case that Baghdad was not forthcoming as required by U.N. resolutions, U.S. officials said.

But Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, again disputed U.S. assertions that Iraq was trying to foil inspectors by moving around equipment before they arrived.

Blix said he had reports but no evidence of mobile laboratories. “We have never found one,” he told reporters.

Stanley Bedlington, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, said al Qaeda and Saddam are not natural bedfellows and he has seen no evidence linking the two.

“There is ample evidence that the two don’t like each other,” Bedlington said. “Osama bin Laden wants to lead the Muslim world, Saddam Hussein wants to lead the Arab world.”

Daniel Benjamin, co-author of “The Age of Sacred Terror” and senior fellow at The Center for Strategic and International Studies, also dismissed assertions of an Iraq-al Qaeda link.

“The administration has tapped back and forth on this issue several times, playing it up, playing it down and never delivering the information. It’s a somewhat mystifying exercise,” he said.

There were more cases of al Qaeda members transiting Iran than transiting Iraq after the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, Benjamin said. “Neither government to my knowledge was substantively cooperating with al Qaeda.”

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