- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — The purported audiotape of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden exhorting the Iraqi people to jihad against the United States underscores U.S. arguments of the danger of a “nightmare” link up between Iraq and al Qaida, the White House said Wednesday.

The presumption al Qaida’s fundamentalist Islamist philosophy negated the possibility of cooperation with secular, socialist Iraq, is false, it said.

“He is exhorting the people of Iraq to engage, to roll up their sleeves, to prepare for jihad, a cause that he shares,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

In Fleischer’s quoting of the tape, the voice Washington says belongs to bin Laden says, “It will not hurt under these circumstances that the interest of the Muslims would meet with the socialist to fight the crusaders.”

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath party is regarded socialist. In the tape played on the pan-Arab Al Jazeera television network, the voice identified as bin Laden labels Baghdad’s leaders “infidels.”

Fleischer said Wednesday the tape showed bin Laden and Iraq were linked.

“If that is not an unholy partnership, I’ve not heard of one,” he said.

Existence of the tape was disclosed in a congressional hearing by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said it was to be played on Al Jazeera, which has played audio and videotapes from the suspected terrorist mastermind in the past. How the United States obtained the transcripts of the tape before the station even acknowledged having it has not been disclosed.

Powell last week appeared before the U.N. Security Council detailing Iraq’s defiance of disarmament mandates and urging strong action against the Baghdad regime. During that appearance, he linked Iraq with al Qaida, noting contacts between them, the presence of an al Qaida training camp in the north of the country and the presence of what he called an operating cell in Iraq.

“Now lay on top of that an audiotape of the leader of al Qaida urging his followers, wherever they are, and explicitly in Iraq as mujahedin brothers … to roll up their sleeves and join in jihad, this is the nightmare that people have warned about, the linking up of Iraq and al Qaida,” Fleischer said.

Al Qaida is the organization believed responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in September 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people. The group is also believed responsible for the attacks on two U.S. Embassies in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole, and more recently the assassination in Jordan of a U.S. government worker.

Tuesday’s audiotape is being studied to authenticate it, but it is widely believed the voice on the tape is indeed that of bin Laden. The al Qaida leader is believed to have escaped U.S. military operations in Afghanistan that dismantled his organization in that country.

Fleischer said the tape was not connected with the government’s decision last Friday to increase the terror alert status to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack.

In Iraq Wednesday, Muhammad Muzaffar al-Adhami, a member of Iraq’s National Assembly, or parliament, said the tape did not prove anything.

“This message is new evidence that there is no relationship between al Qaida and Iraq,” he told Al Jazeera. “There is clear evidence in the message showing that there is no such relationship.”

He said if the tape were authentic, Baghdad could not speak for bin Laden’s comments.

“This is his own viewpoint and Iraq has nothing to do with it,” he said.

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