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Iraq: the phantom threat

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At this very moment, US intelligence personnel are poring over documents, uncovering the depth of the anti-American plotting of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

Al Qaeda prisoners are being interrogated in an effort to unlock past secrets and interdict future threats to the United States and the world. As this investigation proceeds, the web of terrorist networks forged by Mr. bin Laden in his struggle against the West is becoming clear.

Some of the exposed links are not surprising - including Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Notably absent is Iraq. Given the spate of post-Sept. 11 media reports linking Iraq with bin Laden, one would expect a flood of evidence coming from Afghanistan confirming such a relationship.

Even the alleged meetings between Mohammed Atta - a suspected leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers - and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague are inconclusive. The Czech government has sent conflicting reports concerning this meeting and, even if the meeting took place, the supposed topic of discussion - an attack on a Radio Free Europe radio transmitter used to broadcast anti-Hussein programming - is a far cry from the 9/11 attacks.

The lack of documentation of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection in this intelligence trove should lead to the questioning of the original source of such speculation, as well as the motivations of those who continue to peddle the "Iraqi connection" theory. Foremost among them are opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and his American sponsors, in particular Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former Undersecretary of State Richard Perle.

During my service as a UN weapons inspector, I had responsibility for liaison with Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress to gather "intelligence information" derived from Chalabi's erstwhile network of defectors and in-country sources. This information turned out to be more flash than substance. For example, there was the "engineer" who allegedly worked on Saddam Hussein's palaces who spoke of a network of underground tunnels where crates of documents were allegedly hidden during inspections. Inspectors did find a drainage tunnel. However, despite the fact that no documents were discovered, Chalabi took the tunnel's existence as confirmation that documents also existed, and spoke as if they were an established fact.


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