Democrat politicans have said that the report – issued on Friday – contradicts claims made by the US government in the lead up to its invasion of Iraq.
The report has been issued to mark the fifth anniversary of 9-11. It draws on previous undisclosed CIA assessments of Saddam’s relationship with Al-Qaeda.
“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,” the report said.
Democrats said the report showed the Bush’s government had deliberately distorted the intelligence findings to boost public support for invading Iraq.
“Today’s reports show that the administration’s repeated allegations of a past, present and future relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq were wrong and intended to exploit the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks,” John Rockefeller, the senator for West Virginia and the panel’s ranking Democrat, said.
Saddam opposed al-Qaeda
“Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted unsuccessfully to locate and capture Zarqawi, and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi,” the report said, citing CIA intelligence.
In response, Pat Roberts, the committee’s Republican chairman and the senator for Kansas, accused Democrats of presenting a misleading version of the committee’s findings.
“The additional views of the committee’s Democrats are little more than a rehashing of the same unfounded allegations they’ve used for over three years,” he said.
Carl Levin, the Democrat senator for Michigan, said the report showed that Bush had made false statements about ties between Saddam and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the one-time al-Qaeda in Iraq leader killed in action by US forces.
“The CIA’s October 2005 assessment [found] that Saddam’s regime did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates,” he said.
President Bush has always said that, while he was Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein had contacts with Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who had attended Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.
Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi was member of Ansar Al-Islam, an armed Islamist group then based in Iraqi Kurdistan – an area not under the control of the Iraqi government.
Levin said that despite the CIA’s findings, only two weeks ago Bush repeated his claim that Hussein had links to Zarqawi.
“The president’s statement, made just two weeks ago, is flat-out false,” Levin said. “A devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration’s unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts to convince the American people that Saddam Hussein was linked with al-Qaeda.”
In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush’s government had pointed to the supposed links between Saddam and al-Qaeda to justify the war to remove the Iraqi leader.
The assessment in the CIA report was similar to the conclusion reached by the bi-partisan 9-11 Commission, which found that there had been no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
Top US officials also told Americans that Saddam posed a threat to his neighbors and US interests because he possessed large WMD stockpiles.
No such weapons were found.