Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States has solid evidence of contacts between the al-Qaida terrorist group and Iraq, going back as far as a decade. Mr. Rumsfeld says some of the dealings involved weapons of mass destruction.
It is the most explicit information yet revealed publicly by the Bush administration, about links between the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group that carried out last September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says al-Qaida members have been in Baghdad as well as other locations in Iraq and some may be in the country now. He says there have been senior level contacts going back a decade and it is possible Iraq has given al-Qaida members chemical and biological weapons training.
"We have what we believe to be credible information that Iraq and al-Qaida have discussed safe haven opportunities in Iraq [and] reciprocal non-aggression discussions," he said. "We have what we consider to be credible evidence that al-Qaida leaders have sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities. We do have one report indicating that Iraq provided unspecified training related to chemical and or biological matters for al-Qaida members."
Mr. Rumsfeld declines to give any further details. But he denies suggestions that by suddenly disclosing some details about alleged Iraqi collaboration with al-Qaida, the Bush administration is launching a new phase in its campaign for international action to topple the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Still, the U.S. defense secretary says he does not believe the latest evidence will improve Baghdad's global image.
"I certainly do not think it recommends somebody very highly, a country very highly, if they're providing haven for al-Qaida," he said. "It is not something you'd want on your background sheet."
Answering questions from reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld also used the occasion to denounce Iraq for what he characterizes as lying about U.S. air strikes in the no-fly zones, imposed after the 1991 Gulf war. He says Baghdad often claims civilian casualties when there are none.
In the latest strike Wednesday, coalition aircraft hit a military mobile targeting radar located at an airport in the southern town of Basra. Iraq claimed the main civilian passenger terminal at the facility was damaged. Mr. Rumsfeld says that is wrong.
"It's not true. It isn't true," he said.
In addition to his comments on Iraq and its contacts with al-Qaida, Mr. Rumsfeld again criticized Iran for its links to the terrorist group. He says there are, in his words, "a lot of al-Qaida" in Iran and he says Tehran is lying about it.