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US Commander Appeals to Iraqis to Help Root Out Terrorism - 2003-09-18

The commander of U.S. troops in Iraq has appealed to Iraqi citizens to help the coalition root out suspected terrorists linked to attacks on American forces. Army General Ricardo Sanchez spoke with reporters as a U.S. military convoy was attacked west of Baghdad, with reports of several American casualties.

American military officials say Iraq may not have played a role in the attacks against the United States two years ago, but radical Islamic terrorist groups were definitely active in Iraq before the U.S. invasion last March.

President Bush on Wednesday said his administration had never linked Iraq to the September 11, 2001, attacks, though polls show a majority of Americans think Iraq was involved.

The American military commander in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, was asked about the issue at a Baghdad news conference Thursday.

This is another battlefield in the global war on terrorism," he said. "I do not believe that there is any question that, in fact, there was terrorism being harbored here. There was terrorism being conducted here in the country against their own people. And the danger of exporting terrorism was present, as we saw during the conduct of major combat operations, where terrorist camps were destroyed. The linkage to 9-11 specifically is something that has never been stated, that I am aware of, by any coalition spokesman here in the country."

General Sanchez said the U.S. military knows the Ansar al-Islam group is operating in Iraq, and he suspects the al-Qaida terrorist network also could be there.

He is urging Iraqis to give the coalition any information they have on terrorists before more people die.

"We have got to work together," said General Sanchez. "Clearly, with the help of the Iraqi people, we can identify these people and defeat them, capture them and ensure that they do not kill any more people here in the country."

In another development, a U.S. military convoy came under attack in the town of Khaldiyah, about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad. Details were sketchy, but witnesses said there were several American casualties. Journalists on the scene saw two U.S. military vehicles ablaze.

Khaldiyah is near Fallujah, where American troops killed eight Iraqi policemen last week in an incident that remains under U.S. military investigation.

Elsewhere, an oil pipeline was burning outside the northern city of Kirkuk. General Sanchez said it was not yet clear if it was sabotage or an accidental fire caused by spilled oil.