Rumsfeld Speaks on Link Between Iraq, al Qaeda
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2004 The United States' understanding of the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network has changed over time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Oct. 4. But, he added, U.S. officials have repeatedly said such ties did exist.
"I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over the period of a year in the most amazing way," Rumsfeld said during a question-and-answer session following a speech in New York before the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Second," he continued, "there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was."
While Rumsfeld said he has not seen any strong evidence that direct ties existed, he stressed that he does not work in the intelligence field and that then-CIA Director George Tenet had presented solid evidence of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.
The secretary reviewed some facts: Iraq under Saddam's regime was on the U.S. State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. And Saddam paid $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. "So this is not the Little Sisters of the Poor," he noted.
To clarify his position on the Iraq-al Qaeda issue, Rumsfeld released a statement late Oct. 4 in which he reiterated conclusions presented in a 2002 CIA paper:
- The United States had solid evidence of the presence of al Qaeda members in Iraq, including some that had been in Baghdad.
- U.S. intelligence assets had "very reliable reporting" of senior-level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade and of possible chemical- and biological-agent training.
- U.S. officials had what they believe to be "credible information" that Iraq and al Qaeda discussed safe-haven opportunities in Iraq.
- Officials had what they consider to be credible evidence that al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons- of-mass-destruction capabilities.
- U.S. officials had one report indicating Iraq provided unspecified training relating to chemical and/or biological matters for al Qaeda members.
In his statement, the secretary also noted that the 9/11 Commission report described linkages between Iraq and al Qaeda.
Speaking in New York, Rumsfeld said relationships among terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism are complicated. "They evolve and change over time. In many cases, these different networks have common funders. In many cases, they cooperate not in a chain of command but in a loose affiliation, a franchising arrangement almost," he said.
He explained that, to his knowledge, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be behind the terrorist network in Iraq, has never sworn fealty to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But that doesn't mean they don't cooperate on some level. "They're just two peas in a pod in terms of what they're doing," Rumsfeld said.