Bush insists Iraq, al Qaeda had 'relationship'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday said that there were "numerous contacts" between Iraq and the terror network.
Bush, in a brief appearance before reporters, was asked why the administration insists that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda had a relationship "when even you have denied any connection between Saddam and September 11, and now the September 11 commission says that there was no collaborative relationship at all?"
The president answered:"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
Bush reiterated that the administration never said that "the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda," he said.
He referred to meetings in Sudan between Iraqi intelligence agents and al Qaeda and said Saddam had connections with organizations considered by the United States to be terror groups -- including Abu Nidal. That group is a spinoff from the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush had made stronger statements alleging cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda. In a October 2002 speech, he said, "Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."
The initial report from the 9/11 commission, which held a public hearing Wednesday and Thursday, said Osama bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to (Saddam) Hussein's secular regime."
It says the contact was pushed by the Sudanese "to protect their own ties with Iraq." After bin Laden asked for space in Iraq for training camps, the report said, "Iraq apparently never responded."
It also said:"There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."
"I always said that Saddam Hussein was a threat," Bush said. He was "a threat because he provided safe haven for a terrorist like (Abu Musab al-) Zarqawi, who is still killing innocents inside of Iraq."