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UPDATED: 09:17, June 18, 2004
Bush insists on Iraq-Al Qaeda link
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US President George W. Bush on Thursday repeated charges that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had "a relationship" with al-Qaeda, although a commission investigating the Sept.11, 2001 attacks said there was "no credible evidence" of that cooperation.

"There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," Bush saidafter a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

"This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda," Bush said. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, for example, Iraqi intelligence agents met with bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda in Sudan."

The Sept. 11 panel said in a report issued Wednesday that bin Laden had explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Saddam Hussein's secular regime, but Iraq apparently never responded.

A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden was said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Baghdad did not respond tothis request, the report 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," the report said.

One of the justifications the Bush administration used to go to war with Iraq was charges that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda. Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday repeated those charges, without providing details, although the assertion has been widely challenged.

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