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Saddam Provided Chemical Weapons Training to al-Qaida, Says Top Bush Official - 2002-09-26

President Bush's national security advisor says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has provided chemical weapons training to al-Qaida terrorists and refuge to members of the terror group. The latest allegations from the Bush administration come amid a growing debate about U.S. policy toward the Iraqi leader.

The President's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, says there have been what she called "important contacts" between the Iraqi government and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

In an interview with U.S. television Wednesday (PBS), Ms. Rice said the contacts have been going on for a substantial period. "There have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaida going back for, actually, quite a long time," she said.

The president's national security advisor says Iraq has also been providing the terror group with chemical weapons training. She says some of the information about the contacts comes from terror suspects who have been detained by the United States. "We know too, that the detainees, in particular some high ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaida in chemical weapons development," Ms. Rice said.

The national security advisor's comments mark the first time the administration has said it has information that Iraq has provided al Qaida operatives sanctuary and training with weapons of mass destruction.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has alleged there are links between Iraq and the terror group.

The latest administration allegations about Iraq come amid growing debate over President's Bush's policy of dealing with Saddam Hussein. In the U.S. Congress Wednesday, Democratic leaders accused the President of using the national security issue for political advantage.

But some Democrats are clearly concerned about what they consider the dangers posed by Iraq.

Democratic congressman Dick Gephardt, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, says he believes Iraq is a potential threat. "There are terrorists in the world and we know there are, and the first place they would look to get very dangerous weapons is Iraq, so that is why I've said, and many people have said that Iraq is a problem we have got to deal with, diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must," Mr. Gephardt said.

Many lawmakers have predicted the U.S. Congress will pass a resolution in the next two weeks that authorizes the president to use military force against Iraq to force him to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding the elimination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

At the United Nations, the Bush administration faces an uphill battle in its effort to get a new Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force to get Iraq to comply with resolutions passed a decade ago, following the Gulf War.