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President Bush Defends Iraq War Despite New Senate Report

President Bush defended the invasion of Iraq this week, drawing criticism from Democrats who claimed he was politcizing the Sept. 11 anniversary. Two senators debate the war and the disputed link between Iraq and al-Qaida.

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    After spending the day marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President Bush used a prime-time speech last night again to tie together those attacks and the war in Iraq.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I am often asked why we're in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat.

    My administration, the Congress and the United Nations saw the threat.

    The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.

    Osama bin Laden calls this fight the Third World War, and he says that victory for the terrorists in Iraq will mean America's defeat and disgrace forever.


    His comments came after a newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report was released Friday.

    It found that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, U.S. intelligence disputed alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaida. But, despite that, senior Bush administration officials publicly pushed those alleged ties as part of the justification for the war.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaida, going back for actually quite a long time. We know, too, that several of the detainees, in particular, some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaida in chemical weapons developments.


    The report also upheld postwar findings that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction before the March 2003 invasion.

    An additional committee report said, intelligence analysts warned the administration that exile groups, such as Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, were providing suspect information.

    On several recent occasions, Bush administration officials have backed away from broader claims linking Iraq and al-Qaida.

    During a "Meet the Press" appearance on Sunday, Vice President Cheney was pushed to square the Senate committee's report with his prior prewar assertions Iraq had strong ties to al-Qaida prior to the 9/11 attack.

    RICHARD B. CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: We have never been able to confirm any connection between Iraq and 9/11.

    TIM RUSSERT, Host, "Meet the Press": Then, why, in the lead-up to the war, was there the constant linkage between Iraq and al-Qaida?


    That's a different issue. Now, there's a question of whether or not al-Qaida — or whether or not Iraq was involved in 9/11. There's a separate — apart from that, is, the issue of whether or not there was a historic relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida.

    The basis for that is probably best captured in George Tenet's testimony before the Senate Intel Committee, in open session, where he said specifically that there was a pattern, a relationship that went back at least a decade between Iraq and al-Qaida.


    Most Republican committee members supported the report's finding of no Iraq/al-Qaida links, but four voted against the report on the Iraqi National Congress.