Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Good Thing His Name Wasn't John Smith


An allegation that a high-ranking al Qaeda member was an officer in Saddam Hussein's private militia may have resulted from confusion over Iraqi names, a senior administration official said yesterday.

Former Navy secretary John Lehman, a Republican member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Sunday that documents found in Iraq "indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda." Although he said the identity "still has to be confirmed," Lehman introduced the information on NBC's "Meet the Press" to counter a commission staff report that said there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no "collaborative relationship."

Yesterday, the senior administration official said Lehman had probably confused two people who have similar-sounding names.