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Thursday, July 22, 2004

SignOnSanDiego.com > In Iraq -- Questions over al-Qaeda connections to Iran and Iraq remain murky

SignOnSanDiego.com > In Iraq -- Questions over al-Qaeda connections to Iran and Iraq remain murky: "Questions over al-Qaeda connections to Iran and Iraq remain murky

WASHINGTON – The Sept. 11 commission's report touches on – but won't put an end to – questions about whether al-Qaeda has had ties with Iran and Iraq, two countries President Bush branded as part of an "axis of evil."
The report released Thursday outlines details about contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, noting that Osama bin Laden began exploring a possible alliance in the early 1990s. For example, it says an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan in July 1998 to meet with the ruling Taliban and with bin Laden.

However, the report says, Saddam never had an Islamist agenda, and bin Laden had been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. A collaborative relationship was never developed, the report found.

Bin Laden's alleged relationship with Iraq has been the subject of intense political debate, with critics saying Bush exaggerated the links to justify the U.S. invasion. Bush, and especially Vice President Dick Cheney, insist those links were real and dangerous.

Critics also say Bush isn't paying enough attention to Iran, which is suspected of developing a nuclear program. The commission said intelligence points to contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures after bin Laden's return to Afghanistan. It also found the conservative Muslim state allowed eight to 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers to pass through Iran on their way from Afghanistan and other countries, without stamping their passports.

Still, the report said, "We have found no evidence that Iran ... was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al-Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation."

"We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government," the report found.

Bush called Iran and Iraq members of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea, in his State of the Union address in January 2002."