- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that al Qaeda terrorists are inside Iraq almost certainly with the support of the government in Baghdad.

"In a vicious, repressive dictatorship that exercises near-total control over its population, it's very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what's taking place in the country," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

He was asked about intelligence reports indicating that Arab terrorists linked to the al Qaeda network have tested chemical or biological weapons at a facility in northern Iraq.

Bush administration national security officials said that military action against the facility was being considered based on the reports. However, any decision to attack has been called off temporarily.

Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment on the reports, emphasizing instead the presence of al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.

"I have said repeatedly that there are al Qaeda in Iraq," he said. "There are. They have left Afghanistan, they have left other locations, and they've landed in a variety of countries, one of which is Iraq."

Administration officials said a radical Islamic group known as Ansar al-Islam conducted chemical or biological weapons tests in an area of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish separatists.

The group has raised concerns among U.S. intelligence officials because of its links to al Qaeda, which has been blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Ansar al-Islam is said to be active in several Kurdish villages close to Iraq's border with Iran.

In an interview on CBS News last night, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said no al Qaeda elements exist in parts of Iraq controlled by Baghdad. He pointed out the location of the site, and questioned why U.S. officials have not publicly raised al Qaeda concerns with the Kurdish dissident leaders it has been courting in efforts to overthrow Saddam.

Meanwhile, American fighter bombers attacked an air-defense facility in southern Iraq near the city of al-Amarah, about 120 miles southeast of Baghdad, according to U.S. officials.

The bombing was in response to "hostile threats and acts" by Iraqi air-defense units, the officials said.

The flight of al Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan to Iraq was first reported by The Washington Times on June 21. Bush administration officials said the fighters were staying in Iraq while looking for new bases of operations.

Officials said it is not known whether the Iraqi government has created a safe zone for the terrorists. Neighboring Iran also has provided a haven for al Qaeda remnants, U.S. officials have said.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Times last week that activity was detected recently at an Iraqi biological weapons facility near Baghdad.

The administration has made clear that one of its top foreign policy goals is the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke to reporters before leaving for Crawford, Texas. He is scheduled to meet President Bush today.

The defense secretary said the meeting is routine and will include discussions of missile-defense programs.

"We've reached a point in the evolution of the development of that program that it's appropriate to bring the president up to date and to give him an opportunity to hear General Kadish and J.D. Crouch, who works on it from the civilian side, and give any guidance or direction he may care to give after learning how the program has developed to this point," he said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish is head of the Missile Defense Agency and the Pentagon's central officer for missile-defense development efforts. Mr. Crouch is assistant secretary of defense for international security policy.

Mr. Rumsfeld also said he will tell Mr. Bush about Pentagon budget planning.

Referring to Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. Army civil affairs teams are working to rebuild the country.

"Our goal in Afghanistan, clearly, is to create conditions so the country does not again become a terrorist training camp," he said. "Terrorists are like parasites; they seek out weak and struggling countries to serve as hosts for their attacks on innocent men, women and children."

The key to preventing the return of terrorist networks to Afghanistan is to "help the Afghan people build the infrastructure that will allow them to achieve true self-government and self-reliance," he said.

The U.S. government has provided about $500 million to Afghanistan since October.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide