President Bush says al-Qaida terrorist leaders tried to turn Iraq into a launch pad for attacks on the United States. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports Mr. Bush outlined details of the plan in a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The president says there is hard evidence that al-Qaida operatives in Iraq were told in 2005 to start planning for attacks on U.S. targets outside the country.
In a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy, Mr. Bush spoke of the link between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his followers in Iraq. He said newly released U.S. intelligence information shows bin Laden's intent is clear.
"He believes that if al-Qaida can drive us out, they can establish Iraq as a new terror sanctuary," he said.
The president said a number of terrorist plots have been foiled, and several of bin Laden's allies in Iraq have been captured or killed.
"Successes like these are blows to al-Qaida," he said. "They are testaments to the steps we have taken to strengthen our intelligence, work closely with our partners overseas and keep the pressure on the enemy."
Mr. Bush went on to stress that al-Qaida remains extremely dangerous, and determined. He said Osama bin Laden sees a democratic Iraq as a threat to the group's very existence, indicating the al-Qaida chief will do everything possible to undermine the fragile Iraqi government.
"Victory in Iraq is important for Osama bin Laden. And victory in Iraq is vital for the United States of America," said Mr. Bush.
This is not the first time the Bush administration has released previously classified information about al-Qaida to help buttress its case for continued military operations.
Critics charge Mr. Bush is trying to draw attention away from the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. Former Senator John Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, says the president refuses to acknowledge his war policy is a failure.
Edwards told a foreign policy group in New York that Mr. Bush is ignoring the message sent by American voters last November when they elected a Democratic congressional majority.
"The president has played political brinksmanship over the war in Iraq, and he has done it over and over and over."
White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend defended the decision to release the new information at a time of heated debate on the president's Iraq policy. Townsend told reporters the information was released when investigators felt it was safe to do so, and the timing was not politically motivated.