Iraq Pre-War Intel Being Ignored, Says Top Republican

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - The Republican chairman of the U.S. House committee with jurisdiction over foreign intelligence, conceded Tuesday that the many documents discovered by the U.S. military in Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime are no longer a priority for most intelligence experts.

Those documents, as Cybercast News Service previously reported, included memos containing the letterhead of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and revealing Saddam's purchase of mustard gas and anthrax - both considered weapons of mass destruction - as recently as the summer of 2000 and his extensive ties to al Qaeda.

"I believe there is still a tremendous amount of stuff on pre-war Iraq that we do not know and that we do not understand," said U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Hoekstra said many intelligence experts consider the information irrelevant. "Everything that I'm working on within the intelligence community on pre-war Iraq and better understanding pre-war Iraq, tells me it is no longer a priority for the intelligence community," he said.

Last month Hoekstra and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) cited the declassified portion of an intelligence report as evidence that approximately 500 weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed by American-led coalition forces since 2003 and that the U.S. and its allies were in a race against terrorist groups trying to control the remaining weapons.

In February Hoekstra's committee began examining 48,000 boxes of Iraqi documents that had not yet been translated or catalogued. The search reveals that "Saddam Hussein was not only trying to hide his illegal weapons program from the world, but was also interested in aiding international terrorists," Hoekstra said Tuesday.

"Information collected after Saddam's fall indicates that he may have been looking to build a terror network to take down America and our allies," he added. "One document in particular is an Iraqi Intelligence Service memo discussing a period from 1994 to 1997 when the Iraqi intelligence official made repeated attempts to build a relationship with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda."

The Cybercast News Service report from Oct. 4, 2004, cited 42 pages of Iraqi Intelligence Service memos detailing the numerous relationships that Saddam's regime had cultivated with the world's most notorious terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.

On Tuesday, Hoekstra said he was realistic about any future revelations from the Iraqi documents. "I recognize the limitations of what we may find in these documents," he said. "I believe that the really good stuff -- that would have given us the most information -- has probably been destroyed."

He noted that Saddam's regime had a policy of destroying documents. "There was a standing order to destroy documents relating to special weapons since 1992," Hoekstra said.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, believes that Saddam Hussein did not possess any weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

/sa240 She also dismissed the claims made by Hoekstra and Santorum during their news conference last month. "There is nothing new here. Nothing in this report -- classified or otherwise -- contradicts the Duelfer Report, which assessed that we would find degraded pre-1991 weaponry in Iraq," Harman stated.

The Duelfer report of 2004, named for its author, Charles Duelfer, is widely recognized for declaring that no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Other details of the report, however, provided what some Iraq experts said was Saddam Hussein's attempt to continue to wage war against the U.S. after the first Persian Gulf War ended in 1991.

In her June 21 statement, Harman also accused the Bush administration of selectively declassifying documents to suit its purposes, especially its rationale for invading Iraq in 2003.

"When the intelligence community disseminated classified intelligence conclusively establishing that one of the Vice President's much-touted justifications for war was blatantly wrong, my request to declassify that information was denied," Harman stated.

"When the request comes from Republicans and can be spun in an attempt to support a Republican position, however, the answer is markedly different," she added.

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