25/11/2009

"No Serious" Iraq/Bin Laden Links

There was no "serious collaboration" between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda proceeding the US-led invasion of Iraq, a former top UK diplomat has said.

The disposed Iraqi government was not "natural allies" with terror cells linked to Osama bin Laden, according to one-time Foreign Office director Tim Dowse.

He was speaking at the second day of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.

Communications between Hussein's administration and al-Qaeda during the 1990s was described by Mr Dowse as "sporadic".

Ex-defence director Sir William Ehrman told the panel it was "surprise" that UK and US forces failed to find weapons of mass destructions following the invasion of Iraq.

"It was not what we had expected," he said.

Sir William claimed a "great deal" of intelligence to suggest the existence of such weaponry was later withdrawn.

Asked to explain how the UK authorities got it wrong, Sir William suggested Hussein's secrecy regarding capabilities had complicated matters.

The government's controversial claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be detonated within 45 minutes was a major argument for pursuing the invasion.

Mr Dowse said the Foreign Office believed the Iraqi regime has lent its support to Hezbollah and Hamas terror cells prior to the war.

He said the UK government has looked at this matter "very carefully" after the 11 September attacks in New York.

Despite meeting between Hussein and al-Qaeda in the 90s, Mr Dowse said: "After 9/11 we concluded that Iraq had stepped further back and they did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda.

"They were not natural allies," he said.

Sir William, Foreign Office's director general for defence and intelligence between 2002 and 2004, supported this view.

He said: "Our view was that there was no evidence to suggest serious collaboration of any sort between Iraq and al-Qaeda."

The inquiry continues.

(PR/BMcC)

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