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Dossier reveals France briefed Iraq on US plans

The Sunday Times ^ | April 27, 2003 | Matthew Campbell

FRANCE gave Saddam Hussein's regime regular reports on its dealings with American officials, documents unearthed in the wreckage of the Iraqi foreign ministry have revealed.

The first Iraqi files to emerge documenting French help for the regime show that Paris shared with Baghdad the contents of private transatlantic meetings and diplomatic traffic from Washington.

The information, said in the files to have come partly from "friends of Iraq" at the French foreign ministry, kept Saddam abreast of every development in American planning and may have helped him to prepare for war. One report warned of an American "attempt to involve Iraq with terrorism" as "cover for an attack on Iraq".

Another, dated September 25, 2001 from Naji Sabri, the Iraqi foreign minister, to Saddam's palace, was based on a briefing from the French ambassador in Baghdad and covered talks between presidents Jacques Chirac and George W Bush.

Chirac was said to have been told that America was "100% certain Osama Bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks and that the answer of the United States would be decisive".

The report also gave a detailed account of American attitudes towards Saddam amid anxiety in Iraq that the country might soon become a target of American reprisals.

"Information available to the French embassy in Washington suggests that there is no intention on the part of the Americans to attack Iraq, but that matters might change quickly," said the document from folders marked France 2001 found by The Sunday Times.

"According to French information, a discussion about Iraq is going on in Washington between [secretary of state] Colin Powell and the Zionist [Paul] Wolfowitz [the deputy defence secretary]. Powell was against a military attack on Iraq whereas Wolfowitz was in favour of a strong military operation against Iraq."

The report noted that "the Israelis have informed the French ambassador in Washington that they have no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the attacks".

An account of a meeting between Hubert Vedrine, the former Socialist foreign minister of France, and Powell after September 11 also made its way into the Baghdad archives. Powell was said to have disclosed that he would raise with Russia the subject of its "co-operation" with Iraq.

Powell, the report said, "is going to ask the Russian foreign minister how Russia could co-operate with a country that had expressed satisfaction at America being subjected to such attacks. He is going to ask for a new draft resolution from the United Nations security council on Iraq".

Bernard Jenkin, shadow defence secretary, said the briefings went beyond diplomatic courtesies and pointed to French "duplicitousness".

A report last night claimed documents found in the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi security service, showed that a representative of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network had visited Baghdad in 1998. However, a western intelligence source said: "There have been contacts between Bin Laden's people and Iraq's people in the past, but fleeting contacts and we have never seen that as a strong institutional link. Even if there was a visit it does not amount to an ongoing institutional relationship."

At least 12 Iraqis died yesterday when unknown attackers threw an incendiary device into a Baghdad arms dump.

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