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Context of 'June 1, 2005: Rumsfeld: Helping al-Zarqawi Would Be Helping al-Qaeda'

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A wanted poster for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted by the US military in Iraq.A wanted poster for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted by the US military in Iraq. [Source: US Department of Defense]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims the US government has “bulletproof” confirmation of ties between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda members, including “solid evidence” that al-Qaeda maintains a presence in Iraq. The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan (see December 2001-Mid-2002). Rumsfeld’s statement is based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives. But Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that, according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002) Two years later, Rumsfeld will back away from his allegation after it is disproven (see October 4, 2004).

Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/4/2004) The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).

The London Times reports that according to a senior insurgent commander in Iraq, injured Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has fled Iraq, possibly to Iran. Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for numerous bombings, assassination, and beheadings across Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in March 2003. According to the insurgent commander, al-Zarqawi’s convoy was attacked as they were escaping an American offensive near the town of al-Qaim in northwestern Iraq in early April. (Jaber and Allen-Mills 5/29/2005) Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi dismisses the report as “amateur newsmaking.” (Associated Press 5/29/2005)

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warns governments in Middle East not to help Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, recently reported to have been seriously injured in Iraq. “Were a neighboring country to take him in and provide medical assistance or haven for him, they, obviously, would be associating themselves with a major linkage in the al-Qaeda network and a person who has a great deal of blood on his hands.” (US Department of Defense 6/1/2005) Zarqawi is rumored to have fled to Iran for treatment (see May 29, 2005).


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