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[casi] Allies Find No Links Between Iraq, Al Qaeda

I wish if this article had come out a month earlier.
Although no one, who reads this mailing list, needs to be
taught about the following, I posted this article on
several U.S. based message boards. Many (American) people
still didn't accept it, as they're so deeply convinced by
what Bush/Cheney have inculcated them about Saddam
Hussein. It was incredible.,0,4538810.story

Allies Find No Links Between Iraq, Al Qaeda

 Evidence isn't there, officials in Europe say, adding
that an attack on Hussein would worsen the threat of
terrorism by Islamic radicals.

By Sebastian Rotella, Times Staff Writer

PARIS -- As the Bush administration prepares for a
possible military attack on Iraq that it describes as the
next logical step in its war on terror, some of its
strongest front-line allies in that war dispute
Washington's allegations that the Baghdad regime has
significant ties to Al Qaeda.

In recent interviews, top investigative magistrates,
prosecutors, police and intelligence officials who have
been fighting Al Qaeda in Europe said they are concerned
about attempts by President Bush and his aides to link
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden's terror

"We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al
Qaeda," said Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the French judge who is
the dean of the region's investigators after two decades
fighting Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorists. "And we
are working on 50 cases involving Al Qaeda or radical
Islamic cells. I think if there were such links, we would
have found them. But we have found no serious connections

Even in Britain, a loyal U.S. partner in the campaign
against Iraq, it's hard to find anyone in the government
making the case that Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime are
close allies. In fact, European counter-terrorist veterans
who are working with American counterparts worry that an
attack on Iraq, especially a unilateral U.S. invasion,
would worsen the threat of radical Islamic terrorism
worldwide and impede their work.

"A war on Iraq will not diminish the terrorist threat. It
will probably increase it," said Baltasar Garzon, Spain's
best-known investigative magistrate, who is prosecuting Al
Qaeda suspects in Madrid as alleged accomplices in the
Sept. 11 attacks. "It could radicalize the situation in
the Middle East.... As for the investigations of Sept. 11,
doors would close in the Arab world that have helped in
the fight against Al Qaeda. And a war would do nothing to
bolster the investigation into the attacks in the United

The European critics aren't limited to the usual suspects:
instinctively anti-American, pro-Arab politicians and
pundits whose voices are often the loudest in the Iraq
debate here. On the contrary, Bruguiere, Garzon and other
investigators have won praise from U.S. officials for
their tough tactics and proven willingness to lock up
suspected terrorists during the past year.

Even before Sept. 11, long-running cases in Europe were
valuable resources for U.S. investigators working to learn
more about Islamic networks. Investigations in France,
Spain and elsewhere have helped build cases against
Zacarias Moussaoui, an alleged accomplice of the hijackers
who awaits trial in Virginia, and other suspects.

The criticism in Europe reinforces the misgivings of some
U.S. congressional leaders and intelligence officials
about hawks in the Bush administration who allege that
Iraq could have even played a role in the Sept. 11
attacks. Critics say that the evidence is weak and that
intelligence agencies are feeling political pressure to
implicate Iraq in terrorism.

In the last two months, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney,
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have
periodically revived and expanded on the allegations.

On Friday, Bush specifically linked Hussein to the
terrorist network. "We know he's got ties with Al Qaeda,"
Bush said during an election rally in New Hampshire. "A
nightmare scenario, of course, is that he becomes the
arsenal for a terrorist network, where they could attack
America and he'd leave no fingerprints behind. He is a

The U.S. leaders have made much of a supposed meeting
between Mohamed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11
hijackers, and an Iraqi spy in Prague, the Czech capital,
last year. They have cited "bulletproof evidence," in
Rumsfeld's words, of the recent presence of Al Qaeda
members in Iraq and of contacts between senior Al Qaeda
figures and the Baghdad regime that allegedly go back
years. They have accused Iraq of training Al Qaeda
terrorists in the use of chemical weapons.

Premise Called Flawed

European experts say they haven't seen U.S. proof or been
able to confirm the accusations independently. The
Europeans say the premise is flawed because Hussein
embodies the kind of secular Arab dictators whom Bin Laden
has sworn to bring down.

Talk of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection is "nonsense," said a
high-ranking source in the German intelligence community.
"Not even the Americans believe it anymore."

The German government has resolutely opposed a potential
war on Iraq, partly out of domestic electoral
calculations. And it has angered Washington in the
process. France has pursued a diplomatic offensive to tone
down a proposed U.S. resolution at the United Nations
mandating aggressive weapons inspections in Iraq, while
asserting that it could accept military action approved by
the U.N.

In contrast, Britain, Spain and Italy have indicated that
they would support a U.S.-led attack even if the U.N.
process breaks down.

Yet Spain's Garzon breaks ranks with his government when
it comes to Iraq. The famously independent judge considers
himself a leftist and has criticized the indefinite
imprisonment of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, although his anti-corruption probes and battle
against Basque separatist terrorists have made him enemies
on the left as well.

"I have seen no link to Al Qaeda. No one has demonstrated
it to me," Garzon said. "And therefore we have to be very
careful not to confuse the citizens. One thing is that you
don't like the Iraqi regime, that Saddam Hussein is a
dictator. But there are many terrible dictators. That's
not a reason to start a war with all the consequences it
could have for millions of innocents."

Of all the intelligence services in the world, British
agencies probably work the closest with U.S. spies. The
sharing of sensitive information appeared evident in a
British government dossier in September that laid out
charges about Hussein's program to develop weapons of mass
destruction. The report closely resembled Washington's
accounts of Iraq's arsenal.

The British have been much quieter when it comes to any
alliance between Iraq and Al Qaeda, however. Asked about
the matter Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sounded

"It could well be the case that there were links, active
links, between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime before Sept.
11," Straw said. "What I'm asked is if I've seen any
evidence of that. And the answer is: I haven't."

No Prague Meeting

Straw said there is some evidence of such links during the
past year but did not elaborate. And on a crucial point,
he and his aides made it clear that the allegations of a
meeting in Prague between Atta and an Iraqi intelligence
・Exhibit A for U.S. hawks who accuse Hussein of having a
hand in the Sept. 11 plot
・have been disproved.

In other countries with considerable expertise,
investigators said they have come across scattered
examples of limited connections: An Iraqi member of Al
Qaeda turned up in an Italian case. There are signs of Al
Qaeda suspects moving through Iraq en route to other
countries before and after Sept. 11, according to Spanish
and French law enforcement.

But European investigators said the Al Qaeda presence is
stronger in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Iran than it is in
Iraq. Since the war in Afghanistan, Iran in particular has
become a busy refuge for Bin Laden's operatives, according
to French investigators.

And Saudi Arabia, officially a U.S. ally, has been deeply
involved in the worldwide funding mechanism that helps
sustain Al Qaeda operations as well as fundamentalist
ideologues active in recruitment of terrorists and the
theology of violence, European investigators said.

"If connections to a country are going to be the
rationale, the Americans would have to bomb Saudi Arabia,"
a Spanish official said sarcastically.

Bruguiere, the French judge, took issue with the idea that
an invasion of Iraq would make the world safer from

The main thing that Iraq and Al Qaeda have in common is
enmity toward the United States, according to Bruguiere
and others. That is not enough to create an alliance, but
it could cause a resurgent Al Qaeda to exploit a U.S.
military operation that produced civilian casualties and
an extended occupation of Iraq, the same way Al Qaeda uses
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to whip up resentment of
the West.

A U.S. military intervention in Iraq could "globalize
anti-American and anti-Western sentiment," Bruguiere said.
"Attacking Iraq would intensify Islamic terrorism, not
reduce it."

Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Washington and
special correspondent Dirk Laabs in Hamburg, Germany,
contributed to this report.

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