Panel: No Conflict on al - Qaida - Iraq Ties

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The New York Times

June 20, 2004

Filed at 12:59 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Leaders of the Sept. 11 commission said Sunday they do not regard differences with the Bush administration over the question of al-Qaida's relationship with Iraq under Saddam Hussein as a major point of contention.

Saddam's alleged link with terrorists was a central justification of the Bush administration for toppling the former Iraqi government.

A commission staff report says that while there were contacts between Osama bin Laden's network and the Iraqi government, they did not appear to have produced a collaborative relationship.

Al-Qaida had ``a lot more active contacts'' with Iran and Pakistan than it did with Iraq, but ``we don't see serious conflicts'' with the White House over the issue, said the commission chairman, former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey.

Vice President Dick Cheney has said Iraq responded to some of bin Laden's overtures for assistance. That led the commission's vice chairman, former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, to again ask that the vice president provide evidence.

``We asked the vice president if he had information we did not have,'' said Hamilton, who appeared with Kean on ABC's ``This Week.''

Kean said, ``Obviously, if there is some information, we need it.''

Hamilton said the White House and the commission agree on the central point: There is no evidence of a collaborative relationship between al-Qaida and Iraq in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Hamilton said the commission's mandate does not extend to the Iraq war and Kean said the staff report containing the finding is an interim document the commission will consider in compiling its final report.

The commission's report is due July 26. The actual release will depend on when the White House declassifies its contents.

Commissioners are reviewing that initial draft of the report, which is several hundred pages long, and say they hope to reach agreement by mid-July.