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Bush: Iraq, al Qaeda linked

Powell offers to help Saddam find exile

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GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (CNN) -- President Bush spent Wednesday trying to draw a link between a possible war in Iraq and the war against terrorism. He repeated accusations that Iraq is linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Bush said the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should be considered part of the war on terror "because of the nature of Saddam Hussein."

"He is a danger not only to countries in the region but, as I explained last night, because of his al Qaeda connections, because of his history, he is a danger to Americans," Bush said, referring to Tuesday's State of the Union address. "And we're going to deal with him. We're going to deal with him before it's too late."

Saddam also spoke out Wednesday, saying that Iraq is prepared for America's "brute force."

"When they amass big armies for a second time against Iraq, they should take into account that the Iraqis are not easy to defeat and that the Iraqis have prepared everything they can," Saddam said. (Full story)

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell offered to help find a place for Saddam to live in exile if he leaves Iraq voluntarily.

"If he were to leave the country and take some of his family members with him and others in the elite that have been responsible for so much trouble within his regime, we would of course help find a place for them to go," Powell said.

In a key element of the administration's strategy, Powell is to present to the Security Council February 5 some newly declassified intelligence the White House says shows Iraq has been keeping close tabs on weapons inspectors and racing to sanitize sites before they arrive for inspections. (Full story)

One senior U.S. official said the intelligence includes satellite photographs, intercepted conversations and communications by Iraqi officials, and other "human intelligence." (David Ensor report)

The Bush administration has been trying for months to link Iraq with al Qaeda, the organization that coordinated the September 11, 2001, attacks that claimed about 3,000 lives. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, has been the subject of a extended manhunt.

Bush said Wednesday that Saddam could use al Qaeda as a "forward army" that could attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction "and never leave a fingerprint behind."

Iraq has adamantly denied the president's allegations, and Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, accused the United States of being "blinded by oil fever." (Full story)

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz also denied the allegations in an interview on American television and challenged the Bush administration to present any evidence.

"Historically speaking, everybody in the region -- everybody in the world -- knows that Iraq has no connection with al Qaeda," Aziz told ABC's "Good Morning America." "We are quite different people, different in ideology, different in practice. And since the events of the 11th of September 'til now, this false accusation was repeated many times, and no evidence was presented."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that Iraq has links to al Qaeda but no known ties to the September 11 attacks. And in September, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said al Qaeda prisoners have said Iraqi officials helped train some of the terrorist group's members to develop chemical weapons.

Coalition intelligence sources say a Jordanian al Qaeda leader, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, may have traveled through Iran to Baghdad, then to Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Jordanian officials suspect al Zarqawi of masterminding the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan in October.

Other developments

• Prince Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, is to meet with President Bush Thursday to discuss his country's efforts to convince Saddam Hussein to step down to avoid a war. Al Faisal requested to meet with the president and U.S. officials confirmed the Saudis had voiced concerns about the president's tough talk about Iraq in his State of the Union Address.

• Eight European leaders declared their solidarity with the United States in a statement published in newspapers across Europe Thursday. The joint statement is signed by leaders of the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Noticeably absent from the declaration are Germany and France. (Full story)

• Pentagon officials acknowledged that U.S. military personnel are working with CIA teams conducting "liaison" missions with Kurds in northern Iraq. The CIA teams are advising Kurdish leaders on how to protect themselves in the event of war, and determining what help the Kurds may be able to provide, they said. (Full story)

• NATO postponed plans for sending planes and missiles to defend Turkey in the event of war with Iraq. France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg promoted the postponement, saying it was premature to consider such military planning while the weapons inspections continued and diplomatic avenues had not been exhausted.

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