March 16, 2006

US releases confiscated prewar Iraqi documents

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Thursday
released prewar Iraqi government documents confiscated by U.S.
forces, including some it said showed Saddam Hussein's regime
suspected an al Qaeda presence in the country.

Nine sets of documents, released by the office of U.S.
intelligence chief John Negroponte and posted to an Army Web
site, are the first to be publicly released from a huge cache
of materials confiscated by U.S. forces in Iraq.

The collection is comprised of 48,000 boxes of papers and
tape-recorded conversations, including many involving Saddam
himself, officials said.

Also released were 29 sets of al Qaeda-related documents
that were the subject of a separate study by the U.S. Military
Academy at West Point, officials said.

Negroponte's office, under pressure from conservatives
including Republican lawmakers, decided in recent days to set
up a process for the material's release, which is expected to
take months.

The material, housed in Qatar, has already been examined by
the CIA's Iraq Survey Group and continues to be scrutinized by
the U.S. military for intelligence that could be acted upon.

Republican lawmakers say the data could still address U.S.
claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) and had ties with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda
network, which carried out the September 11 attacks.

Both allegations helped justify a war that has become
increasingly unpopular in a mid-term election year that has
Republicans in Congress feeling vulnerable.

But no WMD have been located in Iraq and independent
investigators have found no evidence that Saddam had a
collaborative relationship with al Qaeda.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Pete Hoekstra
of Michigan, Republicans who lobbied for the data's release,
said it was important that the information be made available
quickly to the public, including political "blogs."

"We're hoping to unleash the power of the Internet, unleash
the power of the blogosphere, to get through these documents
and give us a better understanding of what was going on in Iraq
before the war," said Hoekstra, chairman of the House of
Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Hoekstra said the U.S. government would have linguists and
intelligence analysts comb through the material to determine
what information could be released.

The Web site, said the
government had not determined the authenticity of the
documents, their accuracy or the quality of any translations.

Many documents had not been translated from Arabic, but the
release included English-language synopses.

One synopsis described a series of Iraqi documents as
"Iraqi intelligence correspondence concerning the presence of
al Qaeda members in Iraq," adding there were exchanges between
intelligence service members about a suspicion that was later
confirmed of the presence of an al Qaeda group in the country.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Dubai)