Pentagon Questions Cheney Claim on al Qaeda in Iraq

Vice-President Dick Cheney defended the Bush administration’s pre-war intelligence yesterday and repeated claims that Iraq had been a haven and a training ground for al Qaeda before the US-led invasion, a claim discounted by a declassified Pentagon report also released yesterday. Meanwhile, violence in Iraq continues unabated with 27 Iraqis killed in the latest chemical bomb attack and twelve Coalition troops killed this week.

On Thursday, Mr Cheney told radio host Rush Limbaugh, “… after we went into Afghanistan and shut [Abu Musab al Zarqawi] down there, he went to Baghdad, took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene. And then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June. He’s the guy who arranged the bombing of the Samarra Mosque that precipitated the sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni. This is al Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq.”

Yet the Pentagon report released yesterday provides evidence that discounts the claim that Mr Hussein’s government collaborated with al Qaeda or allowed the group to operate in Iraq. The report, first released in summary form in February, concluded that the ‘alternative intelligence assessments’ prepared for the Bush administration by former Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith contained statements that had been rejected by the US Intelligence Community, including the finding that Mr Hussein had a ‘mature and symbiotic relationship’ with al Qaeda. This was one of the major claims used by the Bush administration to make the case for invading Iraq.

It has been reported over the course of the war that al Qaeda arrived in Iraq after the US-led invasion and filled the political vacuum left by Mr Hussein’s deposed regime. The stronghold for al Qaeda in Iraq is Anbar province, where it annexed and radicalized local Sunni insurgent groups. There has recently been a campaign against al Qaeda by the Sunni tribal chiefs of Anbar, who have encouraged young men to join the Iraqi police and security forces in order to drive al Qaeda out of their province.

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