A CIA report has found no conclusive evidence that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which the Bush administration asserted before the invasion of Iraq.
“There’s no conclusive evidence the Saddam Hussein regime had harbored Zarqawi,” a U.S. official said on Tuesday about the CIA findings.
But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that the report, which was a mix of new information and a look at some older information, did not make any final judgments or come to any definitive conclusions.
“To suggest the case is closed on this would not be correct,” the official said in confirming an ABC News story about the CIA report that the network said was delivered to the White House last week.
ABC quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying that the CIA document raises “serious questions” about Bush administration assertions that Zarqawi found sanctuary in pre-war Baghdad.
“The official says there is no clear cut evidence that Saddam Hussein even knew Zarqawi was in Baghdad,” ABC reported.
Medical trip doubted
The CIA report concludes Zarqawi was in and out of Baghdad, but cast doubt on reports that Zarqawi had been given official approval for medical treatment there as President Bush said this summer, ABC said.
Earlier on Tuesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan reasserted that there was a relationship between Saddam and Zarqawi.
“He was in contact from Baghdad with Ansar al-Islam in the northeastern part of Iraq. He had a cell operating from Baghdad during that period, as well. So there are clearly ties between Iraq and — between the regime, Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaida,” McClellan told reporters.
Before last year’s invasion to topple Saddam, the Bush administration portrayed Zarqawi as al- Qaida’s link to Baghdad.
Following Saddam’s capture in December and waves of suicide attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces which followed, Zarqawi quickly became America’s top enemy in Iraq. The United States placed a $25 million bounty on his head.
The Jordanian-born Zarqawi and his militant Tawhid and Jihad group have claimed responsibility for a string of suicide bombings, kidnappings and hostage beheadings.