It was Saddam Hussein's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, often referred to in the Western press as "Baghdad Bob," who approached an official of the African nation of Niger in 1999 to discuss trade -- an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium.
That's according to a new book Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had been trying to buy enriched "yellowcake" uranium. Wilson wrote that he did not learn the identity of the Iraqi official until this January, when he talked again with his Niger source.
That knowledge has not altered Wilson's much-expressed view that the Bush administration distorted intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities to help make the case for going to war. Wilson maintains that someone in the administration retaliated against him by disclosing to columnist Robert D. Novak that his wife was a CIA operative, a leak now the subject of a grand jury investigation. The revelation about Sahhaf, contained in "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity," adds an odd bit of detail to the uranium saga.
Sahhaf was dubbed "Baghdad Bob" and "Comical Ali" by the Western news media for his often farcical televised pronouncements about how Iraq was winning the war last April even as U.S. troops were rolling into Baghdad. "Those Iraqi fighters are slapping those gangsters on the face, and then when they flee, they will kick their backsides," he asserted at one point.
Sahhaf, now a broadcast correspondent in Abu Dhabi, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He was interviewed when the U.S. military took control if Iraq but was not held. "He wasn't wanted for anything. Unfortunately, being a bad spokesman is not a crime," a U.S. official said.
Sahhaf's role casts more light on an aspect of Wilson's report to the CIA that was publicly disclosed last summer. On the heels of Wilson's public criticism that intelligence was exaggerated and his statement that his trip to Niger had turned up no uranium sales to Iraq, agency Director George J. Tenet took the blame for allowing President Bush to make assertions about the Iraqi quest for nuclear material in his 2003 State of the Union address. Tenet said the intelligence had been too "fragmentary" to merit inclusion in the speech.
Tenet's statement noted that Wilson had reported back to the CIA that a former Niger official told him that "in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss 'expanding commercial relations' between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales."
In his book, Wilson recounts his encounter with the unnamed Niger official in 2002, saying, he "hesitated and looked up to the sky as if plumbing the depths of his memory, then offered that perhaps the Iraqi might have wanted to talk about uranium." Wilson did not get the Iraqi's name in 2002, but he writes that he talked to his source again four months ago, and that the former official said he saw Sahhaf on television before the start of the war and recognized him as the person he talked to in 1999.
Much of Wilson's book recounts the events surrounding the disclosure that his wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. A grand jury investigating the disclosure has been highly active in the past seven weeks, suggesting that it may have reached a new stage, people familiar with the probe said. Plame was a covert operative. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is illegal to knowingly disclose the name of a covert CIA employee.
FBI agents and prosecutors have interviewed some current and former White House officials repeatedly, people involved in the case said. Several administration officials testified before the grand jury in recent weeks
#2 Posted on 30.4.04 1532.55 Reposted on: 30.4.11 1533.15
"an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium"
"the Iraqi might have wanted to talk about uranium"
Did you bother to read the article? The only thing that has changed in Wilson's report is that the 'unidentified Iraqi' has now been identified. Nowhere has it been reported that they even actually talked about the uranium. Only that the official from Niger thought the trade talks MAY have been a mask for uranium sales.
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