17 June 2004

Official verdict: White House misled world over Saddam September attacks

President George Bush 1 May 2003
The liberation of Iraq removed... an ally of al-Qa'ida

Vice-President Cheney 22 January 2004
There's overwhelming evidence... of a connection between al-Qa'ida and Iraq

Donald Rumsfeld 14 November 2002
Within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qa'ida

Condoleezza Rice 17 September 2003
Saddam was a danger in the region where the 9/11 threat emerged

The Bush administration's credibility was dealt a devastating blow yesterday when the commission investigating the attacks of 11 September said there was no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had assisted al-Qa'ida - something repeatedly suggested by the President and his senior officials and held up as a reason for the invasion of Iraq.

A report by the independent commission said while there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida operatives in the 1990s, it appeared Osama bin Laden's requests for a partnership were rebuffed. 'We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qa'ida co-operated on attacks against the United States,' the commission said. It also discounted widespread claims that Mohamed Atta, the hijackers' ringleader, met an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

The report forced the Bush administration on to the defensive, as it appeared to undermine one of its key justifications for the invasion of Iraq.

While Mr Bush has been forced to admit there was no specific evidence to link Saddam to 11 September, his deputy, Dick Cheney, claimed on Monday that the former Iraqi leader was 'a patron of terrorism [with] long-established ties with al-Qa'ida''.

Last autumn Mr Cheney referred to the disputed meeting between Atta and an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic.

Critics of the White House say there was a deliberate policy to manipulate public opinion and create an association between Saddam and the attacks on New York and Washington. If true, such a plan has certainly been successful: a poll taken last September by the Washington Post newspaper found 69 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam was involved in the 11 September attacks.

The Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry seized on the commission's report last night. 'The administration misled America and the administration reached too far,' he told Michigan National Public Radio.

Read the staff report. When Kaye told us in December that no WMDs had been found or were likely to be, Bush's standings began collapsing. Worth watching to see if this revelation does similar damage.

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