The claim has been refuted every time it’s appeared in the news.
Most recently Jim Lobe revisited the charge here.
Another story seized on by the hawks appeared in the New Yorker in spring 2002. The author, Jeffrey Goldberg, had traveled to northern Iraq, where he was given access to prisoners from Ansar al-Islam, a small group of Islamist guerrillas around Halabja. On the basis of one interview with a former drug-runner, Goldberg made Ansar appear to be a part of al Qaeda with close ties to Saddam’s intelligence services. Ansar soon became the key link, not only to al Qaeda but to chemical warfare as well. The group was said to be developing poisons – in other words, weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Woolsey called the story proof positive; Cheney called it “devastating.”
It was indeed a great story, but nothing has since turned up to sustain its key elements. What evidence has emerged about Ansar’s external links suggests the group may have been far more closely tied to an Iranian security faction than to Baghdad. Its headquarters were obliterated in the opening stages of the war, and no traces of poisons turned up in the debris. The man reported to be the link between the group and Saddam is nowhere to be found. While the CIA was excoriated by Woolsey, Perle and others for not taking Goldberg’s account more seriously, the Ansar lead appears to have collapsed on its own.
Yet General John Abizaid, in a Pentagon press briefing yesterday, kept the al Qaeda/Iraq link alive when responding to questions about the current opposition.
Q: Who are they? And who’s supporting them?
Abizaid: Ansar al-Islam, which is a terrorist group that we hit very hard in the very opening stages in the war up in the area of northern Iraq and northeast of Sulimaniyah, is coming back. We don’t know exactly how they’re infiltrating. There’s some impression that they could be infiltrating through Iran. There’s also possibility that there were people that instead of moving away from the center of Iraq after they were hit, moved down into Baghdad. So it’s clear that Ansar al-Islam is reforming and is presenting a threat to us.
And then it’s unclear, but it’s troubling that al Qaeda either look-alikes or al Qaeda people are making an opportunity to move against us.
And then I think you all know about the terrorist camp we hit several weeks ago at Ar Rahwah, and that was not necessarily a group that I could describe to you. But it did have external support in a way that’s similar to what we’ve seen in al Qaeda.
Q: Do you put any credence then in this recent claim, I believe last weekend, in a taped message that al Qaeda is in fact responsible for some of these attacks against American forces?
Abizaid: I don’t know that I would say that Osama bin Laden has made an order that has been conveyed to people that has caused them to move into Iraq to kill us, but I do know that there are those that would sympathize with him that have moved into Iraq and are trying to kill us.
Responding to a question on low troop morale and whether those who’ve been quoted criticising the administration would be punished Abizaid stated;
Look, it — none of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of Defense or the president of the United States. We’re not free to do that. It’s our professional code. Whatever action may be taken, whether it’s a verbal reprimand or something more stringent, is up the commanders on the scene, and it’s not for me to comment. I’m too far removed from the chain of command.
Unfortunately no mention was made of the information found in Tim Reid’s Times Online article yesterday, describing an e-mail sent to wives of troops in the US 3rd Infantry Division from the office of Ft. Stewart, Georgia’s rear detachment commander;
It warned wives not to write to politicians “or speak to the media in a negative manner” about the postponement, otherwise they risked “tarnishing the image” of their husbands.
The women stated they receive daily e-mails from husbands who are physically and emotionally spent, some near suicidal and intend to “organise a protest march near the base and run a mass letter-writing campaign to Capitol Hill.”
Rumsfeld and Abizaid remain vague about when these troops will be coming home.
Until the Bush administration decides the UN should be granted a greater role in the administration of occupied Iraq, reinforcements will be difficult to come by.
No amount of censorship will obscure that fact.
Update: The LA Times reports the administration is in the preliminary stages of granting the UN a greater role.