WASHINGTON -- An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 US invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.
The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East , US officials told McClatchy . However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.
In this photo released by the Department of Defense, US Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff greets 4th Infantry Division soldiers training at Fort Carson, Colo. for an upcoming deployment to Iraq, Monday March 10, 2008. [Agencies]
The new study of the Iraqi regime's archives found no documents indicating a "direct operational link" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a US official familiar with the report.
He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn't due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.
President Bush and his aides used Saddam's alleged relationship with al Qaida, along with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, as arguments for invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had "bulletproof" evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam's secular dictatorship.
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.
As recently as last July, Bush tried to tie al Qaida to the ongoing violence in Iraq . "The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims," he said.
The new study, entitled "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents", was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one US intelligence official described as a "painful" declassification review.