911 Commission: “No al Qaeda, Iraq cooperation.”
The panel said it found "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
The report contradicts statements from the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda.
In response, a senior administration official traveling with President Bush in Tampa, Florida, said, "We stand by what Powell and Tenet have said," referring to previous statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet that described such links.
In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that Iraq was harboring Zarqawi, a "collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants," and he said Iraq's denials of ties to al Qaeda "are simply not credible."
In September, Cheney said Iraq had been "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
Bush, responding to criticism of Cheney's comment, said there was no evidence Saddam's government was linked to the September 11 attacks.
Just this week Bush and Cheney have made comments alleging ties between al Qaeda and Iraq. (Full story http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/06/15/bush.alqaeda/index.html
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry said, "the administration misled America." The administration reached too far, he told Detroit radio station WDET. "They did not tell the truth to Americans about what was happening or their own intentions."
The commission's report says bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to [Saddam] Hussein's secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda."
A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994.
Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded.
"There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship," the report said.
"Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied" any relationship, the report said.
The panel also dismissed reports that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic on April 9, 2000. "We do not believe that such a meeting occurred."
The report also found that there was no "convincing evidence that any government financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11" other than the limited support provided by the Taliban when bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan.
The toppling of the Taliban regime "fundamentally changed" al Qaeda, leaving it decentralized and altering bin Laden's role.
Prior to the attacks, bin Laden approved all al Qaeda operations and often chose targets and the operatives himself, the report said.
"After al Qaeda lost Afghanistan after 9/11, it fundamentally changed. The organization is far more decentralized. Bin Laden's seclusion forced operational commanders and cell leaders to assume greater authority; they are now making the command decisions previously made by him," the report said.