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Bush: Al Qaeda fighters entering Iraq

More troops will protect infrastructure, president says

U.S. soldiers inspect damage at the site of this week's bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
U.S. soldiers inspect damage at the site of this week's bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

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SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Three days after a truck bomb demolished the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, President Bush said anti-U.S. fighters have been moving into Iraq, determined to derail the fledgling free society in that country.

"These would be al Qaeda-type fighters," the president told reporters during a fund-raising stop in Seattle. "They want to fight us there because they can't stand the thought of a free society in the Middle East."

"If you notice what's happening, of course, is that as the life of the average Iraqi begins to improve, those who hate freedom destroy the infrastructures that we've been improving," Bush said. "It's part of their strategy."

The fighters who have been carrying out attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq are heading into the country from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Arab nations, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in an interview with the Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera.

"These fighters are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern," Armitage said.

He told Al-Jazeera that the United States has captured fighters in Baghdad and around Iraq who entered from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. He noted that the "borders are quite porous" in the region but stopped short of placing any blame on those governments.

He said: "At a minimum, we know they're not being stopped from entering."

Bush said more troops would be sent to the country to protect vital points of Iraq's infrastructure.

Those troops might come through the auspices of another U.N. resolution, which is now under discussion, that might give some countries the official mandate they want before contributing their forces.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that a new resolution for a broader multinational role in Iraq under a U.N. mandate is possible, but only if decision-making is shared among countries that commit their resources. (Full story)

Responding to a question about the United Nations' role in postwar Iraq, Bush said the world body has an important mission there.

"They are playing a vital role in Iraq. Such a vital role that the killers decided to destroy the very people that were providing food for the hungry and medicine for the afflicted," the president said of Tuesday's bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Iraq that killed 22 people. "Now what kind of a mindset is that? It is that type of mentality that we must defeat if we expect the world to be secure and peaceful."

Raw nerve in Saudi kingdom

The fact Armitage mentioned Saudi Arabia as an entry point for anti-U.S. fighters could touch a raw nerve in the kingdom, which has insisted it is doing everything it can to combat terrorism.

The Saudi government has yet to respond to Armitage's remarks. Fifteen of the 19 al Qaeda hijackers on September 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia.

Armitage said the United States has been speaking with the Saudis "on a number of issues," and did say the Saudi government "has had a renewed effort to try to bring extremism under control" ever since the May suicide attacks in Riyadh that targeted three compounds housing Westerners. Twenty-three people were killed in those attacks; 12 bombers also died.

"Those who perpetrated the bombing in Riyadh are as intent on harming the people of Saudi Arabia as they are in attacking American or foreign interests," Armitage said.

But the Saudi crackdown on al Qaeda since the Riyadh attack might have given al Qaeda members an additional incentive to leave the kingdom.

A counterterrorism official told CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen that most of the militants in Iraq are coming from Saudi Arabia. Another counterterrorism official said Iraq provides "unlimited targeting. It's right in their back yard and is a very attractive cause for them."

Bergen said a half dozen U.S. officials who analyze al Qaeda say that Iraq "has become an important battleground for (al Qaeda) in the past several months." (Full story)

Police hunting down the perpetrators of the deadly U.N. bombing are chasing down a theory that the terror blast could have been an inside job, and they have begun questioning Iraqis who worked at the headquarters building, a top U.S. security official told CNN on Friday.

Bernard Kerik, former New York City police commissioner and a senior adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said: "There are indeed concerns about some of the people who worked at the Canal Hotel" and their connections with Iraqi intelligence services during the Saddam Hussein regime.

Authorities think the bombing could have been carried out by remnants of Saddam's regime or anti-U.S. terrorists such as al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam. A previously unknown group claimed responsibility Thursday for the blast, but its claim could not be confirmed. (Full story)

Two U.S. troops killed

The death toll for American service members in Iraq rose again Friday with the announcement of two more deaths.

On Thursday, a member of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was shot and killed while riding in a sport utility vehicle in congested traffic in Hillah, 60 miles [96 kilometers] south of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said.

A soldier with the 1st Armored Division died and six others were wounded in a fire in Baghdad's Karadah district, the command said.

Officials said the soldier died from burns and smoke inhalation. The others were evacuated to military hospitals.

Since Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 135 U.S. troops have died, including 61 as a result of "hostile fire." Before May, 138 U.S. service members had died in Iraq.

CNN correspondents Rym Brahimi and Barbara Starr, and producer Marga Ortigas contributed to this report.

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