At a press conference in the Rose Garden that just ended, President Bush was asked about Dick Cheney's remarks yesterday in Orlando that linked Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Bush responded with one word: Zarqawi.
The Bush administration had several opportunities -- as early as 2002 -- to take out Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who is blamed for hundreds of killings in Iraq, but as NBC News reported in March, the White House never did. Why? "The administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."
Translation: They didn't want to eliminate Zarqawi before the Iraq war, because after the Iraq war, they wouldn't be able to cite Zarqawi as a reason for going to war.
Zarqawi was in Kurdish territory during Saddam's regime, and there have been no proven ties between Zarqawi and Hussein. Further, Zarqawi's alleged ties to al-Qaida are weak at best. As Knight-Ridder reported in March, Cheney has previously cited an intercepted letter that Zarqawi is believed to have written to al-Qaida leaders as proof of his link to bin Laden's network. "But U.S. officials say the Zarqawi letter contained a plea for help that al-Qaida rebuffed. Linguistic analysis of the letter indicates it was written from one equal to another, not from a subordinate to a superior, suggesting that Zarqawi considered himself an independent operator and not a part of bin Laden's organization."
That same article pointed out that in general, the U.S. intelligence community never found "an operational relationship" between al-Qaida and Saddam. "That verdict was in a secret report by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence that was updated in January 2003, on the eve of the war. 'We could find no provable connection between Saddam and al-Qaida,' a senior U.S. official acknowledged. He and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the information involved is classified and could prove embarrassing to the White House."