CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson stated that Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "was dubbed the Al Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein" in 2003, but failed to note that this "link," which the Bush administration has perpetuated, has been thoroughly discredited. In the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi has emerged as a leader of the Iraqi insurgency. But Zarqawi's pre-war connections to both Saddam and Al Qaeda do not indicate cooperation or coordination.
The Bush administration has repeatedly attempted to link Saddam and Al Qaeda through Zarqawi as part of its justification for the Iraq war. In June 2004, President Bush said that "Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection" between Iraq and al Qaeda. Similarly, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell also cited Zarqawi in his prewar speech to the United Nations. But there is little evidence of meaningful association between Zarqawi and Saddam. A Central Intelligence Agency assessment found no conclusive evidence that Saddam harbored Zarqawi or gave him aid, according to Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi apparently led a terrorist group unaffiliated with Al Qaeda, which reportedly competed with Al Qaeda for recruits. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, has said that Zarqawi's training camp in Afghanistan operated "as much in competition as it was in cooperation" with Al Qaeda. Similarly, Newsweek reported in June 2003 that "Zarqawi competed with bin Laden for trainees and members," according to interrogations of Zarqawi associate Shadi Abdallah. The Washington Post reported that by the time Bush referenced Zarqawi in an October 2002 speech urging Congress to authorize war in Iraq, "U.S. intelligence already had concluded that Zarqawi was not an al Qaeda member but the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al Qaeda adherents."
In October 2004, long after he had become a leader of the Iraqi insurgency, Zarqawi swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, but The New York Times noted: "The vow of allegiance to Al Qaeda would be something of a break for Mr. Zarqawi, who, according to some evidence, regards himself as a rival of Mr. bin Laden."
From the May 25 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports:
ROBERTSON: Following the September 11th attacks, Zarqawi's camp was bombed. He fled west. According to U.S. officials, he turned up in a jihadi camp belonging to a group called Ansar al-Islam, located in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
By late 2002, he was on the attack. Jordanian officials linked Zarqawi to the assassination in Amman of USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] official Lawrence Foley. In 2003, Zarqawi was dubbed the Al Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein.