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2/7/03 - IRAQ'S AL-QAIDA CONNECTION - 2003-02-07

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council, "Iraq and terrorism go back decades." Potentially most sinister, Secretary of State Powell warned, is the "nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network."

Mr. Powell said, "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi [ah-boo moos-ahb ahl-zahr-kah-wee], an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants." Zarqawi, a Palestinian born in Jordan, went to Afghanistan in 2000 and ran a terrorist training camp specializing in the use of poisons.

Secretary of State Powell pointed out that when coalition forces "ousted the Taleban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp." This camp is located in an area of northeastern Iraq controlled by Ansar [ahn-sahr] al-Islam, an extremist Muslim group seeking to impose a Taleban-style regime on Iraqi Kurds. Saddam Hussein has an agent in the highest levels of the Ansar al-Islam leadership. This agent offered al-Qaida members safe haven, an offer some have accepted.

In May 2002, Zarqawi was given medical treatment in Baghdad and stayed there two months. During this time, nearly two dozen other al-Qaida terrorist associates established a base of operations in the Iraqi capital. As Mr. Powell said, "these al-Qaida affiliates" have "been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months."

The Zarqawi network supplied the money and weapons used to murder an American aid worker in Jordan in October. Last year, two suspected al-Qaida terrorists linked to Zarqawi were arrested crossing from Iraq into Saudi Arabia. Mr. Powell said, "Zarqawi and his network have plotted terrorist actions against countries including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Russia."

Iraqi intelligence has been giving assistance to al-Qaida since the mid-1990s. According to a captured high-level al-Qaida terrorist, an al-Qaida representative known as Abu Abdula Al-Iraqi [ah-boo ahb-dool-ah ahl-ee-rah-kee] was sent to Iraq from Afghanistan several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in obtaining chemical weapons. Nor should this cooperation surprise us. As Secretary of State Powell said. "Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al-Qaida together, enough so al-Qaida could learn how to build more sophisticated bombs and learn how to forge documents, and enough that al-Qaida could turn to Iraq for help in acquiring expertise on weapons of mass destruction."

The task before the U-N Security Council is clear. As Mr. Powell put it, "When we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction, and provides haven and active support for terrorism, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future."