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Saudi nationals helped Saddam Hussein recruit and finance al-Qaida insurgents as part of preparations to confront U.S. troops in Iraq.

Iraqi officers who have been interrogated by the United States and coalition officials reported the Saudi role in recruiting and training of al-Qaida units in Iraq. The officers said Saddam, through Saudi contacts, had invited al-Qaida insurgents to form suicide and other units to stop the U.S. military in March.

Saddam’s contacts with al-Qaida, the officers told interrogators, preceded the group’s Sept. 11, 2001 strikes on New York and Washington. They said Saudi envoys arranged for al-Qaida insurgents to enter Iraq and begin training in camps around Baghdad.

The al-Qaida insurgents were trained at two camps – Nahrawan and Salman Pak – under the supervision of the Fedayeen Saddam.

One officer who completed his interrogation was allowed to reveal details of the Saudi role in al-Qaida’s operations in Iraq. The officer, identified as “L,” told the independent Iraqi weekly Al Yawm Al Aakher that he saw al-Qaida members arrive in Iraq as early as July 2001 for what he described as a secret mission.

“L” said 100 trainees arrived, many of them from Saudi Arabia, led by a cleric named Mohammed. The officer said the Saudi cleric, himself a skilled fighter, remained in Iraq for the war against the U.S.

Officers said the Salman Pak training included ways to hijack airplanes. Training was conducted under the supervision of an unidentified Iraqi general who is currently a police commander. They said many of the al-Qaida insurgents left Iraq after their training stint.

Most of the al-Qaida insurgents, however, returned on the eve of the war to fight the U.S. The officers said the al-Qaida members volunteered and fought in the battle for Baghdad.

The officers’ testimony disputed assertions by Western intelligence agencies that the U.S. failed to establish a link between al-Qaida and Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001. The CIA was said to have disputed a Czech intelligence report of a meeting between Mohammed Atta, who led the suicide hijackers, and a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague.

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