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Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects for the war in Iraq, admitted for the first time that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks, contradicting public statements made by senior White House and Pentagon officials whose attempt to link Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization al-Qaeda was cited by the Bush administration as one of the main reasons for launching a preemptive strike in March against Iraq.
In an interview with conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham, Wolfowitz was asked when he first came to believe that Iraq was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
"I’m not sure even now that I would say Iraq had something to do with it," Wolfowitz said in the interview, aired Friday.
Wolfowitz’s answer confirms doubts long held by critics of the Iraq war that the Bush administration had no evidence linking Iraq to 9-11 or al-Qaeda, but simply used the horrific terrorist attacks as a reason to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime.
"I think what the realization to me is — the fundamental point was that terrorism had reached the scale completely different from what we had thought of it up until then. And that it would only get worse when these people got access to weapons of mass destruction which would be only a matter of time," Wolfowitz said in the interview. "…What you really got to do is, eliminate terrorist networks and eliminate terrorism as a problem. And clearly Iraq was one of the country — you know top of the list of countries actively using terrorism as an instrument of national policy."
Since the United States invaded Iraq 111 days ago, no chemical or biological weapons have been found in the country.
A spokesman for Wolfowitz would not return repeated calls for comment.
During the buildup to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration successfully convinced the public and members of Congress that Iraq had played some role in the 9-11 terrorist attacks, according to numerous polls that showed a majority of the American public believe Iraq was involved in 9-11 attacks, despite the absence of evidence to support the allegations.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last year boasted that the Pentagon and CIA had "bulletproof" evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaeda, although Rumsfeld refused to declassify any of the intelligence he had to support his claims. Shortly after the attacks, however, the administration claimed that Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the 9-11 attacks, met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in early 2001, suggesting a possible connection with Saddam Hussein.
Reports of the meeting were based primarily on accounts of Czech officials like Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who discussed it with officials in Washington in November. But
Federal law-enforcement officials concluded in May that no such meeting took place.
Since Bush declared in May an end to major combat in Iraq, Wolfowitz has given numerous interviews contradicting the administrations rationale for starting the war. Most notably, Wolfowitz told a reporter for Vanity Fair a few months ago that: "the decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for bureaucratic reasons…."
But despite the obvious contradictions about the reasons cited for war and unanswered questions as to whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to build a stronger case for striking Iraq, the president and his senior staff maintains that the war was justified.
But Democrats in Congress, a majority of who supported a resolution authorizing the use of military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein, said they are particularly interested in questioning Wolfowitz and other Pentagon officials about its use of intelligence information that critics claim the Pentagon hyped to show Iraq not only played a part in 9-11, but that the country had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons that it planned to use against the U.S.
Republican lawmakers, however, in an attempt to protect the White House from further embarrassment about the accuracy of its use of prewar intelligence, are thwarting efforts by Democrats to launch such a probe.
At issue is a secret Pentagon committee headed by Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, that is widely believed to be responsible for gathering much of the erroneous intelligence information used by President Bush and senior White House officials on the so-called Iraqi threat, specifically, its ties to al-Qaeda.
The Pentagon unit, called the Office of Special Plans, was formed, according to published reports, after the 9-11 terrorist attacks to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It was disbanded late last year, Feith said during a briefing with reporters in May. About a dozen former CIA intelligence officials have been quoted as saying that the Office of Special Plans cherry-picked intelligence, much of which was gathered by unreliable Iraqi defectors, to make a stronger case for war and delivered directly to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice without first being vetted by the CIA.
Congressman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, is planning on writing a letter to the General Accounting Office sometime this week urging the agency to immediately launch an inquiry into the group to find out if Wolfowitz and his underlings in the Special Plans Office knowingly manipulated intelligence to help the White House win support for a war in Iraq.
JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org