Thursday, Aug 22, 2002
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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
For the second time in recent weeks, the hawkish Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said that fleeing Al-Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan have found refuge in Iraq. "I suppose at some moment it may make sense to discuss that publicly," Mr. Rumsfeld said. He rejected the view that Al-Qaeda terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan might have slipped into Iraq without the knowledge of the leadership there.
"In a vicious repressive dictatorship that exercises near total control of its population, it's very hard to imagine that the Government is not aware of what is taking place in the country," the Defence Secretary said. "But what I have said is a fact, that there are Al-Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq and the suggestion that those people who are so attentive in denying human rights to their population aren't aware of where these folks are, or what they're doing, is ludicrous," Mr. Rumsfeld added.
It is no secret that the Bush administration is looking for a "terrorism" link to Iraq which can then be used to justify any military action against that country. The White House has tried to make a case out of reports that Iraqi intelligence agents may have met at least one of the hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks but American intelligence agencies have said that there is no conclusive proof yet of Iraqi involvement in the terrorist acts last year.
The Bush administration has also repeatedly said that the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, is a threat to regional and world peace as he is bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction and is a ruthless dictator. Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks on Iraq and the Al-Qaeda connection come in the context of the meeting today at Crawford, Texas, where the President, George W Bush, is meeting his top military advisors to discuss defence policy and budgeting for 2004.
Iraq is expected to figure in the talks that will include the Vice-President, the National Security Adviser, the White House Chief of Staff and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Can I guarantee you that that word (Iraq) will never come up? No, of course not.
But the purpose of the meeting, the focus of the meeting, is much bigger than that," the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said.
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