The Saddam = Osama "smoking gun" doesn't look all that smoky to me. Here's how Stephen Hayes reported it in The Weekly Standard earlier this month:
In late February 2004, Christopher Carney made an astonishing discovery. Carney, a political science professor from Pennsylvania on leave to work at the Pentagon, was poring over a list of officers in Saddam Hussein's much-feared security force, the Fedayeen Saddam. One name stood out: Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. The name was not spelled exactly as Carney had seen it before, but such discrepancies are common....
An Iraqi of that name, Carney knew, had been present at an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on January 5-8, 2000. U.S. intelligence officials believe this was a chief planning meeting for the September 11 attacks.
Now there's this in today's Washington Post:
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." ...
Yesterday, [a] senior administration official said Lehman had probably confused two people who have similar-sounding names.
One of them is Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, identified as an al Qaeda "fixer" in Malaysia. Officials say he served as an airport greeter for al Qaeda in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, at a gathering for members who were to be involved in the attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Iraqi military documents, found last year, listed a similar name, Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad, on a roster of Hussein's militia, Saddam's Fedayeen.
"By most reckoning that would be someone else" other than the airport greeter, said the administration official, who would speak only anonymously because of the matter's sensitivity.
Look, I don't know much about the rendering of names in that part of the world, but Hayes led me to expect a minor difference in spelling -- maybe a discrepancy of one or two letters -- not something like this. Hell, there was a 9/11 hijacker named Mohammed Atta and an Afghan warlord named Atta Mohammed, who fought with the U.S. against the Taliban. This a greater difference.
(For that matter, there also seems to be a competitive bodybuilder named Atta Mohammad.)
By the way, Dick Cheney smugly said on TV that he "probably" knew more about Iraq-Al Qaeda connections than the 9/11 Commission, after which the commission was told about Shakir. But if Cheney thought this information was important, why didn't he mention it to the commission when he gave testimony? He appeared before the commision on April 29; Hayes wrote about Shakir for the Standard last October and then again in November. As you'll see at the top of the November link, Cheney publicly cited the Hayes article in January:
Editor's Note, 1/27/04: In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank reported that "Vice President Cheney ... in an interview this month with the Rocky Mountain News, recommended as the 'best source of information' an article in The Weekly Standard magazine detailing a relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda based on leaked classified information."
If Cheney thought it was so damn important, why didn't he mention it to the 9/11 panel three months later?