A top Defense Department official has recanted remarks claiming al-Qaida terrorists
are actively operating in Iraq, collaborating with forces loyal to ousted Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein in a bid to kill Americans.
Before this year's war in Iraq, U.S. officials charged Saddam Hussein with
harboring terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.
But since the war, military commanders have made little mention of Osama
bin Laden's terrorist group and its alleged presence in Iraq.
Instead, they have blamed recent bombings and other attacks on unspecified "foreign
fighters" and members of an al-Qaida affiliated Iraqi-based terror group, Ansar
But this week, in a series of interviews tied to the anniversary of the September
11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
said al-Qaida was actively involved in Iraq.
In one interview, with ABC's Good Morning America program, Mr. Wolfowitz
suggested senior al-Qaida personnel, not just ordinary fighters, were involved
"We know a great many of Bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize
in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq," he
Mr. Wolfowitz gave no details. And when asked about the new claims, Pentagon
officials indicated at first that Mr. Wolfowitz was referring to sensitive
new intelligence information. Intelligence officials contacted by VOA said
they were unable to corroborate his comments.
Late Friday, Mr. Wolfowitz spoke to a reporter from the Associated Press
and acknowledged he had misspoken. The bin Laden lieutenants he mentioned were
in fact just one man, Abu Mussab Zarkawi, who was reported to have gone to
Baghdad for medical treatment before the war.
As for the alleged al-Qaida fighters in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz indicated he
was actually referring to unspecified foreign fighters and members of Ansar
al-Islam, the Iraqi terrorist group linked to al-Qaida.
Defense officials declined comment when asked if they thought Mr. Wolfowitz
had intentionally used interviews with national and international media to
underscore the Bush administration's contention that Iraq is the central front
in the war on terrorism.
The administration has been accused in the past of exaggerating claims about
contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida in a bid to justify U.S.
military action against Iraq.