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US releases confiscated prewar Iraq documents

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 17 (Reuters) The Bush administration released prewar Iraqi government documents confiscated by US 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 US 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 US forces in Iraq.

The collection encompasses 48,000 boxes of papers and tape-recorded conversations, including many involving Saddam himself, officials said. In recent days, Negroponte's office chose to set up a process for the material's release, which is expected to take months.

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

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration portrayed Iraq as a threat because of links it said Baghdad had with al Qaeda, links that have been never been proven to the satisfaction of critics of the administration.

The Web site, http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/products-docex.htm, said the US government has not determined the authenticity of the documents, their factual accuracy or the quality of any translations.

Officials said the material from prewar Iraq has already been reviewed by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group and continues to be scrutinized by the U.S. military for intelligence that could be acted on.

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

AL QAEDA SUSPICION 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.

One of the attached documents showed a letter in Arabic which said ''We received a letter ... about the presence of elements of al Qaeda organization in the territory (Iraq).'' It was was unclear who the letter was from and for whom it was intended.

US Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has strongly urged the administration to release the material. He has suggested some of the information could shed light on prewar US intelligence reports that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The WMD allegation provided President George W Bush with a central justification for the war in Iraq. But no such weapons have been found, and the Iraq Survey Group discovered no new evidence of WMD in its review of the prewar material.

REUTERS SK RAI0621

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