Republicans and Democrats in Congress argued Thursday over the latest conclusions of a commission investigating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, as one key lawmaker reiterated the finding of an earlier joint congressional probe that no collaborative links existed between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
Jane Harman, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says the findings of the joint investigation with the Senate never supported a notion that there was any actual cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida.
She adds, however, that in her view Iraq has since become a center for terrorist activity.
"There was no operational relationship pre-war between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein," said Jane Harman. "Sadly, post-war because of poor planning, I would say Iraq has become flypaper, and every terrorist organization in the world probably has a piece of real estate there, and a calling card." Congresswoman Harman's comments came as the Bush administration again found itself on the defensive on the question of Iraqi links with al-Qaida.
Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan argued with reporters who suggested the White House position on pre-Iraq war links with al-Qaida was contradicted by the independent September 11 commission.
"Look at the facts, yes, he [the president] stands by saying Saddam Hussein's regime had ties to terrorism, including al-Qaida, and the basis of that is what I pointed out in Secretary [of State] Powell's remarks, and Director Tenet's remarks, and that is consistent with what the September 11 commission said. The relationship and contact go back over the last decade," he said.
Many Republicans in Congress joined the Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, in challenging media reports describing the September 11 commission conclusion as establishing no al-Qaida connection with Saddam Hussein.
On the Democrat's side, minority leader Nancy Pelosi challenged President Bush to, in her words, clear the air to remove all doubt about the reasons the United States went to war in Iraq.
Democrats also say the latest information from the September 11 commission demonstrates the need for greater oversight of intelligence activities.
But they accuse Republicans of blocking efforts to provide enough funding for intelligence, and proposals for reforming the intelligence system.
Congressman Collin Peterson appeared with Mrs. Harman and other Democrats at a news conference after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted down several Democratic amendments to a bill to fund U.S. government intelligence activities.
"We need, in my opinion, an authorization bill that fully funds the intelligence community's requirements to fight this war on terrorism," said Collin Peterson. "And this bill doesn't do it, it doesn't even come close."
The House and Senate will eventually have to work out differences between separate but similar intelligence funding measures once they are approved by both chambers.