WASHINGTON (AFP) — A detailed Pentagon study confirms there was no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network, debunking a claim President George W. Bush's administration used to justify invading Iraq.
Coming five years after the start of the war in Iraq, the study of 600,000 official Iraqi documents and thousands of hours of interrogations of former Saddam Hussein colleagues "found no smoking gun (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and Al-Qaeda," said the study, quoted in US media Thursday.
The US administration appeared to bury the release of the study, making it available only at individual request and by mail -- instead of posting it on the Internet or handing it out to reporters.
A Pentagon spokesman on Thursday said they did not know why the Joint Forces Command was not posting the report online, but denied that it was an attempt to limit its distribution.
"We don't have a reason to do so. I think when you see the report it will show a Nazi-esque cataloque of Saddam's ties to terror, both within his own country and elsewhere in the Middle East," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Previous reports by the blue-ribbon September 11 commission and the Pentagon's inspector general in 2007 reached the same conclusion that there were no ties between Saddam and Al-Qaeda but none had access to as much information.
"The Iraqi Perspective Project review of captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism," said a summary of the Pentagon study to which ABC News provided a link on its website Wednesday.
"State terrorism became a routine tool of State power" but "the predominant target of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens," the summary said.
ABC reported the study initially was to be posted on the US military's website accompanied by a background briefing with the study's authors. But the Pentagon scrapped those plans and took the unusual step of offering only to send the report by mail to those who asked for it.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and top aides have insisted there were links between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, citing the alleged ties as a rationale for going to war in Iraq.
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al-Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al-Qaeda," Bush told reporters in June 2004.
The study says Saddam Hussein's regime did not have clear ties to Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but had associations with other terror groups including Palestinian militants.
The regime "often cooperated directly, albeit cautiously, with terrorist groups when they believed such groups could help advance Iraq's long-term goals," it said.
"The regime carefully recorded its connections to Palestinian terror organizations in numerous government memos.
"One such example documents Iraqi financial support to families of suicide bombers in Gaza and the West Bank," the study said.
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