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Buried Lede Dept: Saddam Wanted Zarqawi Arrested

03/21/2006 08:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Remember how one of the Administration's "proofs" that Iraq was a haven for al-Qaeda was the cushy relationship between Saddam Hussein and "terrorist mastermind" Abu Musab Zarqawi? It wasn't until I was catching up with Juan Cole's ultra-valuable Informed Comment that I realized the importance of a story widely circulated last week but blandly headlined First Iraqi Documents Declassified. The AP story about the seized stash of Saddam's secrets (sorry, can't help myself) starts with

Iraqi documents collected by U.S. intelligence during the Iraq war and released by the Bush administration show Saddam Hussein's regime was investigating "rumors" that 3,000 Iraqis and Saudis had traveled unofficially to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight U.S. troops.

It's not until we get to, oh, grafs 5-7 that we find

However, one of the documents translated by The Associated Press, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated Aug. 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached.

The letter said there were reports the two could be in Iraq and directed Iraqi security officials to be on the alert as a matter of "top priority."

Attached were three responses in which agents said there was no evidence al-Zarqawi or the other man were in Iraq.

Nobody's claiming that Saddam Hussein was or is a nice guy. But any evidence that he was hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda and/or Zarqawi is growing more elusive, while evidence to the contrary piles up. And what does that do to the claim that invading Iraq was a response to 9/11?