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World Cannot Afford to Ignore Iraq-Terrorist Link, says White House - 2003-02-12

The White House says the international community cannot "afford to be in denial" about the seriousness of what the the White House says is Iraqi support for terrorists. U.S. officials have said an audio tape released Tuesday shows the cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida terrorists.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said "this is the nightmare" the Bush Administration has been warning about - the linking of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Fleischer said U.S. officials are still analyzing an audio tape released Tuesday that is believed to be the al-Qaida leader. Assuming that it is Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Fleischer said the tape shows the seriousness of the threat that Iraq could help terrorists use weapons of mass destruction.

The tape urged Muslims to support Iraq in the event of a war with the United States and called on Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks and conduct urban warfare against U.S. troops.

The voice on the tape does not support the Iraqi president. It denounces as "infidels" those in the ruling Baath Party, but says the interests of Muslims meet with Iraq's secular government in what he calls "the war against the crusaders."

Mr. Fleischer dismissed suggestions that the tape appears to show Mr. bin Laden's efforts to rally the Iraqi people and is not proof of an existing relationship with the government in Baghdad.

He says the tape is a strong statement of partnership with Iraqis who would fight the United States. Taken together with Secretary of State Colin Powell's allegation that Iraqi-sponsored, al-Qaida terrorists assassinated a U.S. official in Jordan, Mr. Fleischer says the tape is further proof of the groups linking up.

The Bush Administration hopes to use the tape to help its push for U.N. action against Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not cooperate with inspectors searching for suspected weapons of mass destruction.

China, Russia, and France currently oppose military action and want to give weapons inspectors more time and a stronger mandate.